The 73rd Vuelta a España ended on Sunday with Elia Viviani completing his stage hat trick by taking the bunch sprint in Madrid, thus bringing the year’s most exciting Grand Tour to a close. As Canadian Cycling Magazine wrote in its contender preview, it was a Grand Tour of redemption, as several riders who had a disappointing or even disastrous Giro d’Italia or Tour de France were in the GC once again. Let’s look back at the highs and lows of this year’s Vuelta.

2018 Vuelta a España Final GC
1) Simon Yates (Great Britain/Mitchelton-Scott) 82:05:58
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
6) Thibaut Pinot (France/Groupama-FDJ) +5:57
7) Rigoberto Uran (Colombia/EF-Drapac) +6:07
8) Nairo Quintana (Colombia/Movistar) +6:51
9) Ion Izagirre (Spain/Bahrain-Merida) +11:09
10) Wilco Kelderman (The Netherlands/Sunweb) +11:11
34) Michael Woods (Canada/EF-Drapac) +1:22:33

Woods Wins

It had been coming ever since Michael Woods jumped up to WorldTour level: the big win. His first race for Cannondale was the 2016 Santos Tour Down Under where he came fifth, and a runner-up at Milan-Torino that season after a long recovery from injury showed that he was both tough and versatile. The next year his seventh place at the Vuelta, the best ever showing by a Canadian, revealed that he could climb with the best.

This year’s 19th in the Giro, after coming runner-up in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, was a bit disappointing, and crashes in the first half of the Vuelta scuppered any chance he had at matching 2017’s high mark.

But his victory on Stage 17 was a magnificent one. Having dropped as low as 62nd on GC, Woods was free to fly in breakaways, and he seemed ever present in the escapes. When push came to shove in the final kilometres of Bizkaia, Woods withstood the pace of David de la Cruz and the moves of Dylan Teuns to take a win so exhausting he could barely celebrate. Dedicating the triumph to his stillborn child was the grace note.

The mist of Bizkaia couldn’t obscure the beauty of Woods’ first WorldTour win. Photo: Sirotti

Simon Yates and the British Sweep

Simon Yates’ first Grand Tour victory means that three different Brits–Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas and Yates–swept the 2018 Grand Tours, a tremendous feat.

Yates was one of those riders looking for redemption after he imploded on the final two GC days of the Giro, having worn the pink for 13 days. He won the Vuelta with panache, attacking with aggression a la Alberto Contador. He has arrived as a Grand Tour Big Dog, just like Tom Dumoulin did last season and Geraint Thomas did in July.

Who Else Redeemed His Grand Tour Season?

Thibaut Pinot was in third place on the last GC day of the Giro when illness plummeted him to 16th and then forced him to miss the next day’s procession into Milan. Two stage wins–the most by a Frenchman in a Vuelta since Laurent Jalabert in 1995–and 6th place will do nicely, merci beaucoup. Pinot’s success was only part of the impressive accomplishments of French riders and French teams in this race.

Rigoberto Uran will take seventh–his third seventh place in a Grand Tour–after his crash-ruined Tour de France. EF-Drapac had a GC top-10 and two stage victories in this Vuelta.

Who Didn’t Redeemed His Grand Tour Season

Richie Porte was in this race–did you know that? After crashing out of the Tour de France again, he was 84th in Spain.

Fabio Aru had another bummer. Having climbed off the bike in the Giro, he just couldn’t deliver in the Vuelta and placed 23rd. A third in the Giro and a Vuelta title in 2015 seems a long time ago.

Vincenzo Nibali clearly hadn’t recovered from his back surgery following his sad exit from the Tour de France. However, there are signs he might be coming good just in time for the World Championships.

The Arrival of Mas

Not only did Simon Yates stake a claim for the designation of Grand Tour Big Dog, but Enric Mas also threw his casquette into the ring as One To Be Wary Of. Mas came out of nowhere, his fourth place in this year’s Tour de Suisse and sixth in the Itzulia Basque Country aside, racing for a team that was out to support sprinter Elia Viviani. Mas instantly overleaps Bob Jungels as Quick Step’s best Grand Tour rider and it will be interesting to see which three-week races the young Spaniard enters next season.

A stage triumph and GC runner-up spot in your second ever Grand Tour? Not too shabby. Photo: Sirotti

More Movistar Disappointment

The closest Movistar got to a Grand Tour podium in 2018 was Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz’s fourth in the Giro. The Tour de France Trident was a bust, with Mikel Landa’s seventh the best of the trio. And now the Vuelta witnesses Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana enter the final week in second and third respectively and wobble out the other side at fifth and eighth. Does Movistar really care about another Grand Tour best team award?

Whither Quintana? It’s difficult to tag a fellow who has both Giro and Vuelta titles on his palmares as a disappointment, but five years ago he looked like he would join the pantheon of 21st Century Grand Tour Giants alongside Contador, Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali. However, he has definitely gone off the boil. Excluding a DNF in the 2014 Vuelta, when he crashed out while wearing red, Quintana raced seven Grand Tours in a row from 2013 to 2017 in which he never placed below fourth. In his last three Grand Tours he has finished 12th, 10th and now eighth. Always one to watch, he is no longer a top Grand Tour contender.

Movistar will have to console itself with Valverde’s two stage wins. Photo: Sirotti

Consistency

Angel “Superman” Lopez was third in both the Giro and the Vuelta. Steven Kruijswijk will have to console himself from losing the podium on Saturday with the realization he was fifth in the Tour and fourth in the Vuelta. (The most consistent of 2018 is Dumoulin, runner-up in both the Giro and Tour.)

Something For Everyone

Rohan Dennis, Alejandro Valverde, Elia Viviani, Ben King and Thibaut Pinot all won multiple stages.

Wildcard teams won a stage and held the red jersey for two days.

Thomas De Gendt became the first Belgian to win a Vuelta King of the Mountains title. Another Belgian from his Lotto-Soudal team won a stage.

Frenchmen won five stages, Spaniards and Italians four, Australians three and an American took two. There are three Colombians, three Spaniards and two Dutchmen in the GC top-10.

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