On the last stage before the final 78th La Vuelta Ciclista a España rest day, the breakaway had its way again, with 2013 World Champion Rui Costa earning his first Vuelta victory after three career Tour de France stage wins. For the second day in a row, Remco Evenepoel was very active. The GC favorites took a day off and Sepp Kuss kept the red jersey.
The big mountains wouldn’t return until Week 3, but Sunday’s fare was a Cat. 3 and a double ascent of Cat. 2 Puerto de Zuarrarrate, the second of which peaked 8.5 km above the finish town of Lekunberri.
Pamplona – the home of the famous San Fermin Festival, popularized by Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" novel, which depicts the decadent and disillusioned Lost Generation – hosts the start of #LaVuelta23 stage 15. pic.twitter.com/GogQ6B3lpy
— Soudal Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team (@soudalquickstep) September 10, 2023
There were several attempts to fly free in the opening 50 km. Remco Evenepoel, Filippo Ganna and Egan Bernal were among those who tried to slip away, but none of the moves got any traction.
Evenepoel once more lit the fuse at the start of Cat. 3 Puerto de Lizarraga, a long, languid ascent. Eighteen chaps joined him, and then the GC heavyweights started making moves behind. Third place Jonas Vingegaard, sixth place Marc Soler and eighth place Alexandr Vlasov came across. Ninth place Cian Uijtdebroeks struggled to keep with the red jersey. When this breakaway was brought back before the peak, Evenepoel took off again on the steepest grade and he received some allies. The Belgian champion took more KOM points in his bid to wear the blue polka dots in Madrid next Sunday.
On the valley floor between Lizarraga and the first run at Zuarrarrate, 15 fellows were 3:00 ahead of the GC favorites group. The day’s escape was finally established.
Puerto de Zuarrarrate I saw Evenepoel light out for glory again, thinning the numbers. The Belgian, who is making the Vuelta a redemption tour, sopped up more KOM points. Poor Geraint Thomas, not having the best of Grand Tours in Spain, crashed on the descent, his third wreck of the 78th edition.
By the start of Puerto de Zuarrarrate II it was clear that a fugitive would take the day’s flowers. Moves flared off as soon as the road tilted up. Rui Costa and Santiago Buitrago had aspirations that encouraged their attack. Evenepoel led the chase. Stage 9 winner Lennard Kämna bridged over. Buitrago attacked over the top. The trio, demonstrating plenty of discord, had a 27-second buffer tipping over.
Kämna got a gap on the descent but crashed on a grassy corner. With the Iberian duo still remonstrating, the German came back to them before the red kite. They had to be careful as the Evenepoel chase was coming fast. Timing it late, Costa went hard on the left hand side to take the win.
Monday is the last, well-deserved rest day.
78th La Vuelta Ciclista a España Stage 15
1) Rui Costa (Portugal/Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) 3:30:56
2) Lennard Kämna (Germany/Bora-Hansgrohe) s.t.
3) Santiago Buitrago (Spain/Bahrain-Victorious) s.t.
78th La Vuelta Ciclista a España GC
1) Sepp Kuss (USA/Jumbo-Visma)
2) Primož Roglič (Slovenia/Jumbo-Visma) +1:37
3) Jonas Vingegaard (Denmark/Jumbo-Visma) +1:34