The final mountain stage – six categorised climbs including an HC summit finish – and only two riders in the top 10 finished in the place they had started the race in. Yes, Stage 20 was the Vuelta’s version of musical chairs and it was a fitting end to a surprising, spicy and most of all well-fought Grand Tour.
Just when you think it couldn’t get better … Stage 19 was the first of two Andorran stages – and the second-to-last chance for riders to put some serious time into their rivals. A lot of speculation was that it was going to be Alejandro Valverde‘s day – he’s been threatening the red jersey for days now. But the Spanish rider was nowhere to be seen as Thibaut Pinot crossed the finish line for his second stage win in this Vuelta, Simon Yates took over a minute on his Spanish nemesis and Steven Kruijswijk bumped Enric Mas off third overall to take his place on the virtual podium. Boom!
No breakaway packed with big names? No double-digit gradient wall to climb before the finish? No subtle change in the GC top ten? Was this really the Vuelta as we know it? It was. Stage 18 gave the sprinters one last day to compete before Madrid. However, they blew it by millimetres and let the two remaining riders from the day’s break contest the win. Jelle Wallays of Lotto-Soudal crossed the line first, UAE’s Sven Erik Bystrom was second and a hard-charging Peter Sagan third.