Stage 20 of Vuelta 2019 – the final mountain stage and traditionally the last stage for GC podium action. However, let’s face it, with this Vuelta, anything could happen tomorrow in Madrid! But back to today. It was the last-chance saloon for Astana and Movistar to try either to unseat Primoz Roglic or challenge or solidify the other podium places. But it was the youngster Tadej Pogacar who had the boldness to take the race by the scruff of the neck. Taking his chance from 40km out, he quickly got the better of the red jersey group, keeping them at a safe distance the whole way. During his 40km solo ride, he took the white jersey off of Miguel Angel Lopez, picked up bonus seconds for winning the intermediate sprint (with himself), pushed Nairo Quintana off the third step of the podium and even briefly threatened Alejandro Valverde‘s second step before taking his third stage in his very first grand tour. What do we say to that? Hell YEAH!
It was a day of six categorised climbs – and a few little ramps that the organisers didn’t think merited mention but continued to sap the peloton’s energy. With a small break in front and not allowed to get much time at all (certainly not the 18 minutes we’ve seen in week two), it was just a matter of time before someone tried something. And it was Astana and Jakob Fuglsang who pounded the pain into the peloton, shelling out riders left, right and centre, but not dropping any of the main GC rivals.Embed from Getty Images
Roglic, Valverde, Quintana weren’t going anywhere, although as the group were on the slopes of the final climb, it was the Astana’s own rider, Lopez, who fell off the back. Roglic rode calmly on Valverde’s wheel, following his sporadic attacks all the way to the finish, only dropping off the pace in the last 100m. Nairo Quintana didn’t fare well on the last climb, losing nearly a minute and his place on the final podium to Pogacar. Once again, it was a day of double delight for Slovenian fans – a spectacular stage win and the red jersey safely on Roglic’s shoulders going into Madrid.Embed from Getty Images
Rider(s) of the Race
I have two. Well, three, really. One of them was almost Jakob Fuglsang, for his never-say-die riding in the last 60km. He put all his energy at the service of Lopez – it’s a shame the Colombian couldn’t capitalise on it.
But the awards go, firstly, to the stage winner, Tadej Pogacar. It was a bold, gusty ride that was beautiful to watch – the last few days, we might have thought he was spent, but he saw the opportunity, picked the right moment and he never looked back. That he reaped so many rewards with this ride – jerseys! podium places! a third stage win! – was fabulous.
The second – and third – Riders of the Race are the Vuelta bromance couple, James Knox and Philippe Gilbert.Embed from Getty Images
Knox has been the surprise of the QuickStep team this Vuelta and this morning was number 9 in the GC – an amazing accomplishment. But yesterday’s stage, he went down in that terrible crash and was one of the riding wounded today. But his Vuelta roommate and talisman of the team, Philippe Gilbert, made sure that he was supported as he suffered through the stage.
At the end of the stage, we saw Knox in the background of the Eurosport team, sobbing at the barriers – from pain, from disappointment that he lost his top 10 place (he’s 11th). Then we saw PhilGil roll up, hug him and offer words of encouragement, then lead him back to the tents. The emotions were still close to the surface when Knox had a few words with commentator Matt Stephens – giving credit to his team, he was getting choked up and caused many a tear to fall at VeloVoices Towers.
Those young guys sure are going to miss Gilbert when he goes to Lotto next year.
The Movistar Conundrum (a never-ending series)
There was a theory that the Astana pain ride today was to punish Movistar for yesterday’s attack after the crash that brought down their teammate Lopez. Possibly – and they did play their part in knocking Nairo Quintana off the third step of the podium, but then so did Alejandro Valverde, who once again dropped his teammate on the final climb. Maybe Quintana didn’t have the legs and the team wanted at least one of their riders to stay on the podium – or it might have been another reason … Whatever it was, for winning the team classification in all three grand tours this year, Movistar is perhaps the least team-like of any in the peloton. That said, they have three riders in the top 10 …
Speculation on Valverde’s momentary attack before stopping was that he didn’t like the fact that Bora was chasing (he wanted Roglic to), or that he wanted Roglic to follow him and they ride away into the sunset, or that he and Quintana had a plan to attack together and Quintana didn’t … who knows?
There’s appreciation, however, for the tactical chaos of the Spanish team
The last word
1 Tadej Pogacar (UAE) 5:16:40
2 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:32
3 Rafal Majka same time
4 Hermann Pernsteiner s/t
5 Primoz Roglic +1:41
1 Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 71:16:54
2 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +2:33
3 Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) +2:55
4 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +3:46
5 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) +4:48
6 Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) +7:33
7 Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb)+10:04
8 Carl Fredrik Hagen (Lotto Soudal) +12:54
9 Marc Soler (Movistar) +22:27
10 Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton Scott) +22:34
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey: Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)
Points jersey: Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)
Climber’s jersey: Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2r La Mondiale)
Young Rider’s jersey: Tadej Pogacar (UAE)
The official Vuelta website is here; for full race review, go to cyclingnews.
Header image: Justin Setterfield/AFP/Getty Images