Vuelta a Espana 2021 : Stage 18 – Superman conquers the Gamoniteiru, Roglic stays cool and calm in red

Miguel Angel Lopez finally brought Movistar their Grand Tour victory on Stage 18 of La Vuelta. The Colombian broke clear of the creme de le creme of the GC contenders and rode through the mist to raise his fist at the summit of the Vuelta’s latest fearsome climb. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) cemented his red jersey ambitions with a second place, scampering away from Enric Mas (Movistar) and Egan Bernal in final metres. The blue polka dots stay with Team DSM but switch to the shoulder of Michael Storer after another amazing raid of a ride.

The last true climbing stage of  La Vuelta. Last chance for the true climbers to grab stage winning glory. Last chance for riders to make their podium move. Last chance for some to take a sought after top ten finish. Would Roglic go on a raid? Would the INEOS Grenadiers try again with Bernal? Would the Movistarlets go for glory? Would Jack Haig and his Bahrain Victorious team be able to muscle their way onto the third step of the GC podium?

Here’s the highlights…

For me the day turned out to be a story with several fascinating chapters. Grab a drink and get yourself comfy while I weave the Tale of the Queen Stage.

Chapter One: Into the unknown

The stage 18 route profile looked like everything a Queen stage of a Grand Tour should be. Just shy of 5000m of climbing over 162km, ending atop the new-climb-on-the-block,  the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru.

The bare stats give us 14.6 km at an average gradient of 9.8% per cent, ramping up to a plain cruel 17% at the finish.

Watching the riders tackle this was both sobering and awe inspiring in equal measure. The narrow road winding through barren rocks, soaring upwards into the mist and pain. And the suffering went on and on – every kilometre seemed to take an eternity. You know it’s a beast of climb when the riders have teams of people to catch them as they collapse over the finish line.

I don’t know how Grand Tour route planners keep finding these new climbs -but they do keep La Vuelta spicy.

Chapter Two: Storer and the Polkas

A massive breakaway of 32 riders established itself very early after the start. It contained every team except Bahrain-Victorious leaving Haig’s troops to keep the gap under control. As the names rolled in, one stuck out. Yep, Team DSM’s Michael Storer was set to add even more plaudits to his palmares.

The Aussie hotshot revved it up on the first climb of the day to take maximum polka points and edge closer to taking it from the shoulders of his teammate Romain Bardet.

On the second ascent of the day, young Michael saw his chance and launched one his trademark solo efforts, cresting the summit in the lead and taking full possession of the virtual King of the Mountains title.

I could barely watch as he fairly skipped his way down the sketchy descent of the Altu de la Cobertoria, but he kept both wheels on the goat track and flew onto the valley roads with over two minutes in hand. Despite fierce chasing from the rapidly slimming down breakaway, that gap remained stubbornly unmoved.

Onto the penultimate climb and Storer was in full flight – increasing his gap to 2.30mins. The GC group were picking off the remnants of the break with alacrity, Movistar, Bahrain Victorious and UAE-Team Emirates cracking the whip in turns. At which point…


What was going on? Twitter had the answers…

Alas this dream scenario was not to be. Storer led onto the final climb with two minutes in hand but both he and Bedhead were swept up. However, this doesn’t diminish his extraordinary effort today. What a phenomenal Vuelta he has ridden so far, a trip to the podium for gorgeous blue polka dots is just reward to add to his two stage victories.

Only 5 KOM points separate the two DSM riders…

Chapter Three: David De La Cruz and glory for Spain and UAE

You know what this Vuelta has lacked so far? A stage victory by a Spanish rider. David De La Cruz (UAE Team-Emirates) gave it a damn fine shot though. He made his bid for glory on the final climb with 10km to go after his team drove the pace on the front.

He caught Storer with 7km to go and went solo with 5km of pain ahaead. Thank goodness he didn’t hear Eurosport UK’s King Kelly in his earpiece or he may have given up the ghost.

Eventually he was reeled in as the cream of the GC contenders made their own plays. But WOW he gave everything and looked shattered on the line. A day of pain, a little disappointment and no regrets – peak Vuelta.

Chapter Four: Movistar pull it together in the mist

We have often been perplexed over Movistar tactics. Not today, today every single one of the five remaining Movistarlets played a blinder to take victory and retain their podium spots. They got a rider in the break and pulled him back at just the right time. They drove it with Bahrain-Victorious on the valley road between the second and third climbs – shredding the gap to both Storer out front and the remnants of the break. A huge shout out to Imanol Irviti, Nelson Oliveira and JJ Rojas  last seen ashen faced before peeling off to leave their leaders well placed for the final climb.

As the red jersey group winnowed out, the GC cream rose to the top to play out for the finale. Superman picked the perfect time to spin it up and accelerate away as the insane gradient lessened into single digits. He lit it up again to cruise past De La Cruz and ride his way to the summit. The mist so thick that he was hidden from his chasers.

The road narrowed as Lopez battled the gradients and the pain his legs, the merest hint of a clenched fist as he crossed the line, the first man to add the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru to his race palamares.

Chapter Five: The podium remains unshaken

Just like yesterday we were treated to a battle royale between Egan Bernal and Primoz Roglic.

Just like yesterday Egan threw it all on the line and just like yesterday Roglic was equal to it

Until he laid his own killer punch in the finale.  Another day ticked off for the Slovenian.

With Lopez out front Enric Mas stuck like glue to Roglic and Bernal. He may not have had the stage glory but he retains 3rd overall just 23 seconds adrift of his teammate. Now, who has the better time trial out of these two?

Chapter Six: Bahrain Victorious ride their socks off for Jack Haig

If I have laid roses of the feet of the Movistarlets I surely have to shower Team Bahrain-Victorious with petals.  What a ride!! The only team not to have a rider in the break of the day meant they had to chase, and chase they did.

Huge turns by Damiano Caruso, Wout Poels and Jan Tratnik made it tough for everyone on the stage. And let’s not forget an immense ride, yet again, from Gino Mader in the finale who kept bringing Jack back to the red jersey group and when the pace grew too much ensured he was able to stay fourth on GC.

I wanted a really hard day to see if anyone cracked. We had a really hard day yesterday and I thought to put everyone under pressure, we’d ride hard all day with a super high tempo and then someone might crack on the final climb. But everyone was super strong and I’m not sure GC changed too much. I can’t say enough good things about Gino, he was amazing again today. So were Wout, Damiano and Jan  – everyone to be honest, everyone is super strong.

The Last Word

Goes to our own Journal Velo in his time of need. I hope these gorgeous black and white photos go some way to alleviate the pain of Guillaume Martin and the Mighty Dis tumbling to 9th on GC

All the results

Stage results 

1 Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar) 4:41:21

2 Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) +0:14

3 Enric Mas (Movistar) +0:20

4 Egan Bernal (INEOS Grenadiers) +0:22

5 Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) +0:58

GC Top 10 

1 Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 73:24:25

2 Enric Mas (Movistar Team) +2:30

3 Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar Team) +2:53

4 Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious) +4:36

5 Egan Bernal (INEOS Grenadiers) +4:43

6  Adam Yates (INEOS Grenadiers) +4:45

7Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) +5:04

8 Gino Mader (Bahrain Victorious) +6:58

9 Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) +4:16

10 Louis Meintjes (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert Materieaux +9:02

All the jerseys

Leader’s jersey : Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)

Points jersey : Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick Step)

King of the Mountains: Michael Storer (Team DSM)

Best young rider : Egan Bernal (INEOS Grenadiers)

Team : Bahrain Victorious

For full race results, go to CyclingNews

Official Vuelta website is here 

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