Michael Woods became only the second Canadian to win a stage of the Vuelta a España on Wednesday when he beat his breakaway mates on Stage 17’s summit finish atop Balcón de Bizkaia. Ryder Hesjedal won stages in 2009 and 2014. In the GC battle Alejandro Valverde gained back a little time on red jersey Simon Yates, and a new rider jumped up into a podium position: Enric Mas of Quick Step.

The Course

Another big day for the GC awaited the riders after the shakeup of Stage 16’s time trial. There, Simon Yates put more time into all this rivals except Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk, who leaped over Nairo Quintana and Angel Lopez onto the podium.

Four Cat. 3 climbs and one Cat. 2 ascent were spread out over 157-km of Basque Country, with a sting in the tail as Balcón de Bizkaia acted as the Vuelta’s latest summit finish. The climb, new to the race, was 7.3-km of 9.7 percent, and a maximum of 28.3 percent.

Woods in Another Breakaway

Crashes have scuppered Michael Woods’ GC chances, but he’s being trying in the breakaways. On Wednesday, Rusty was part of a 21-man escape that shuffled off before the first climb. At the crest of that climb, Thomas De Gendt took the maximum KOM points. With no Angel Luis Maté in the break, but the next three riders–De Gendt, double stage winner Ben King and Bauke Mollema–up the road, the blue polka dot jersey seemed likely to change hands.

Michael Woods moved up one spot on GC to 41st after Tuesday’s time trial. Photo: Sirotti

By the peak of the second Cat. 3, which was also the near the midway point of the race, the break had a 8:30 lead over the peloton led by Mitchelton-Scott. Surely the winner was in the now 26-strong group. De Gendt took the KOM jersey in the lead up to the day’s concluding climb.

Summit Finish Balcón de Bizkaia

Astana powered the GC group to the base of the finishing climb where the breakaway had started 3:50 ahead. As on Covadonga, mist shrouded the peak.

In the breakaway, EF-Drapac’s Simon Clarke initiated the digs. In the GC group Fabio Aru crashed and lost the majority of his shorts. Astana and then Alejandro Valverde shredded the GC group with Rigoberto Uran, Thibaut Pinot, Wilco Kelderman and Manny Buchmann dropped. Nairo Quintana faded away.

Woods, Dylan Teuns, Rafal Majka and Eritrean Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier skipped up the narrow, poorly-surfaced road.

Simon Yates still had plenty of help in teammates. Sky’s David de la Cruz grabbed onto the Woods group and tried to tear clear, with Woods able to hang on. In the red jersey group Kruijswijk fell back.

When Majka returned to the front and attacked near the red kite, Woods counterattacked. With Kruijswijk on the ropes, Angel Lopez flashed away from Yates. Woods also had to counter punch Tuens with 300-metres to go on 16 percent grade. It was a well-deserved victory for the Canadian, the biggest triumph of his cycling career. Rusty rises seven spots on GC to 35th.

Valverde out pushed Yates in the final kilometre to gain back eight seconds. Enric Mas is the surprise packet of the 2018 Vuelta. He jumped up on the podium, and leads Lopez by 14-seconds.

2018 Vuelta a España Stage 17
1) Michael Woods (Canada/EF-Drapac) 4:09:48
2) Dylan Teuns (Belgium/BMC) +0:05
3) David de la Cruz (Spain/Sky) +0:10

2018 Vuelta a España GC
1) Simon Yates (Great Britain/Mitchelton-Scott) 69:04:34
2) Alejandro Valverde (Spain/Movistar) +0:25
3) Enric Mas (Spain/Quick Step) +1:22
4) Angel Lopez (Colombia/Astana) +1:36
5) Steven Kruijswijk (The Netherlands/LottoNL-Jumbo) +1:48
35) Michael Woods (Canada/EF-Drapac) +56:55

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