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Superman Lopez soars to victory on queen stage of the Vuelta

James Piccoli in the day's breakaway

Photo by: Sirotti

Angel “Superman” Lopez earned Movistar’s first Grand Tour victory of the season by winning Thursday’s queen stage of the Vuelta, the Colombian the fastest on a new summit finish, the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru. It was Lopez’s third career Vuelta stage win and fourth Grand Tour stage triumph. Race leader Primož Roglič was runner-up, putting time into everyone but Lopez, who reinforced his podium spot.

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The Course

Thursday’s big stage was only 163 km, but held a lot of climbing. Cresting at the 54 km mark was Cat. 1 Puerto de San Lorenzo, followed by another Cat. 1, Alto de la Cobertoria. Cat. 2 Altu la Segá o del Cordal was the appetizer for the day’s taxing conclusion, HC-rated Altu d’El Gamoniteiru, a 14.6-km, 9.8 percent brute making its Vuelta debut. There was more rain in store for the riders.

Canada’s James Piccoli was part a huge breakaway that formed on the way to Puerto de San Lorenzo. Mountains classification leader Romain Bardet wasn’t part of the platoon, but his teammate Michael Storer, double stage winner and second in the KOM, was there. Piccoli tried to dash away on the Cat. 1’s slopes, but was brought back and Storer peaked first.

Piccoli attacks the breakaway on the Cat. 1 Puerto de San Lorenzo.

On the Alto de la Cobertoria the breakaway shattered to pieces, with Piccoli in the third group. Storer attacked and once more claimed the maximum KOM points, assuming the lead in the competition. Storer was 5:00 ahead of the peloton with 68 km to ride.

Storer pushed his advantage out on the descent of the Cobertoria. A 17-strong gang pursued 2:00 back. But there were still 25 km before the Altu la Segá o del Cordal. Bahrain-Victorious and Movistar picked up the pace in the red jersey group and absorbed all the fugitives save Storer with 28.5 km to go. UAE-Emirates snatched the wheel from Bahrain and Movistar’s hands on the Altu la Segá o del Cordal.

UAE didn’t make any inroads into Storer’s gap. Once more, he took the maximum KOM points and Bardet popped out from the field to take a few himself.

The Monster: Altu d’El Gamoniteiru

Storer’s lead was around 2:00 by the time he started the clamber of Gamoniteiru. With Bahrain and Movistar back driving the bunch, the gap stayed steady in the first couple of kilometres. It would take a serious attack from someone in the top-10 to reel in the young Australian.

Thirteenth-place David de la Cruz lit out after Storer as the mist began to crowd the riders. De la Cruz, hoping to become the first Spaniard to win a 2021 Grand Tour stage, made the junction with 7 km to go. When ninth-place Felix Grossschartner went backwards from the red jersey group, 12th-place Louis Meintjes’ Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert team went to the front.

Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert look to put Louis Meintjes into the top-10.

De la Cruz dropped Storer with 5.6 cloudy kilometres left to climb.

In a repeat of Wednesday, Egan Bernal attacked and Roglič followed. The Movistar duo of Angel Lopez and Enric Mas latched on, as did Roglič’s teammate American Sepp Kuss. De la Cruz pulled all sorts of faces trying to stay away.

Lopez put in his winning dig with 4 km remaining. Several riders made it back to the Roglič group. Lopez passed de la Cruz with 2.8 km to go.

Roglič made a thrust to bring Lopez closer and Bernal and Mas were able to go with him.

With Lopez up the road, Roglic makes a move.

Bernal kept trying to bust free, but the Slovenian and Spaniard matched him. Superman Lopez went under the red kite with 24 seconds in hand. Lopez finished 14 seconds in front of Roglič, who managed to pull away from Mas and Bernal in the final 100 metres.

Guillaume Martin couldn’t keep his fifth spot, with Bernal taking that over and the Frenchman tumbling to ninth. Jack Haig warded off Bernal’s attempts to snatch the Australian’s fourth place. Meintjes did crash the top-10 and it will be a fine scrap over the final three stages between the South African and de la Cruz for that final spot in the top-10.

The top-8 is comprised of two riders from four teams: Jumbo-Visma, Movistar, Ineos and Bahrain-Victorious.

Although still a hilly day, Friday’s stage has all its categorized climbs in the first half.

2021 Vuelta a España Stage 18
1) Angel Lopez (Colombia/Movistar) 4:41:21
2) Primož Roglič (Slovenia/Jumbo-Visma) +0:14
3) Enric Mas (Spain/Movistar) +0:20

2021 Vuelta a España GC
1) Primož Roglič (Slovenia/Jumbo-Visma) 73:24:25
2) Enric Mas (Spain/Movistar) +2:30
3) Angel Lopez (Colombia/Movistar) +2:53
4) Jack Haig (Australia/Bahrain-Victorious) +4:36
5) Egan Bernal (Colombia/Ineos Grenadiers) +4:43