The surprise package of the 2018 Vuelta a España, Spaniard Enric Mas of Quick Step, won the penultimate day of the last Grand Tour of the season to nail down the GC runner-up spot. It has been an amazing performance from an unfancied fellow on a team that was set up more for sprints than a GC run. Simon Yates finished in third place to cement his first ever Grand Tour victory.

The Course

Short and sweet, the 97.3-km served up six categorized climbs including the summit finish of Collada De La Gallina, 7.6-km of 8.1 percent. Surely the two top men of the KOM battle, Thomas De Gendt and Bauke Mollema, would go out on the breakaway to skirmish.

The GC Situation After 19 Stages

After Alejandro Valverde faltered on the Friday’s summit finish, he was a minute and half behind Yates. Three riders were fighting for the final podium spot, but Valverde’s runner-up position was by no means safe.

1) Simon Yates (Great Britain/Mitchelton-Scott) 76:44:41
2) Alejandro Valverde (Spain/Movistar) +1:38
3) Steven Kruijswijk (The Netherlands/LottoNL-Jumbo) +1:58
4) Enric Mas (Spain/Quick Step) +2:15
5) Angel Lopez (Colombia/Astana) +2:29

Michael Woods in Another Breakaway

Sure enough, De Gendt and Mollema bounced away with Michael Woods and three others, De Gendt grabbing the maximum points on a Cat. 1 and Cat. 2. On the Cat. 2 Nairo Quintana tried to dash away from the peloton, but it was another disappointment for the Colombian.

By the base of the next climb, another Cat. 1 called Coll de Ordino, the breakaway was 2:15 in front of the red jersey peloton, with three small groups in between them. Soon the breakaway ballooned, as Astana took control of the peloton.

One-time race leader Jesus Herrada attacked the breakaway and tipped over the Ordino solo but was brought back to the fold before the second climb of Cat. 1 Beixalís.

It was on Beixalís that Lopez attacked, bridging over to two teammates in the breakaway. Canadian Hugo Houle cheered on his Astana mates.

At the top, the favourites, now about 15 strong, caught the last of the breakaway and Astana moves.

Quintana attacked on the descent, but with little effect. However, Lopez thrust out again, catching Quintana at the start of the penultimate climb, a Cat. 3. This drew over Yates and Mas. The four gelled before the drop down the other side.

The Gallina Climb

Yates, Mas, Lopez and Quintana started the final climb of the 73rd edition with a 32-second gap over Valverde and Kruijswijk. Mas and Lopez left the others behind as Gallina’s slopes began. Behind Mas and Lopez, Valverde cracked and his hopes of finishing on a ninth Grand Tour final podium fizzled.

Kruijswijk’s podium was under threat as well, and he led a chasing group a minute behind with 3-km to go. Lopez had to think about dropping Mas if he wanted to be the Vuelta runner-up. Instead, it was Mas outgunning the Colombian, only the Spaniard’s second career victory. However, Lopez will pick up two Grand Tour third place spots in 2018. Although Kruijswijk lost his podium spot, he will add a fourth place in the Vuelta to his fifth in the Tour de France.

Valverde sifted down to fifth overall. Wilco Kelderman, who narrowly lost a podium scrap to Ilnur Zakarin in the last Vuelta, stole Tony Gallopin’s last spot in the GC top-10.

Michael Woods finished 20th on the day.

Sunday is the processional into Madrid for one last sprint.

2018 Vuelta a España Stage 20
1) Enric Mas (Spain/Quick Step) 2:59:30
2) Angel Lopez (Colombia/Astana) s.t.
3) Simon Yates (Great Britain/Mitchelton-Scott) +0:23
20) Michael Woods (Canada/EF-Drapac) +5:45

2018 Vuelta a España GC
1) Simon Yates (Great Britain/Mitchelton-Scott) 79:44:30
2) Enric Mas (Spain/Quick Step) +1:46
3) Angel Lopez (Colombia/Astana) +2:04
4) Steven Kruijswijk (The Netherlands/LottoNL-Jumbo) +2:54
5) Alejandro Valverde (Spain/Movistar) +4:28
34) Michael Woods (Canada/EF-Drapac) +1:22:33

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