After Friday’s GC battle in Andorra, Simon Yates has one hand on the trophy of the 2018 Vuelta a España. Second place overnight, Alejandro Valverde saw his Movistar team work hard all day to no avail, as the Spanish veteran faltered on the summit finish and lost over a minute to Yates and nearly lost second place on GC. Frenchman Thibaut Pinot won his second stage of the 73rd edition with Yates runner-up. Yates now leads Valverde by 1:38.
2 victoires sur le Tour de France
2 victoires sur le Tour d'Espagne
1 victoire sur le Tour d'Italie
Ca fait donc…
— Équipe Cycliste Groupama-FDJ (@GroupamaFDJ) September 14, 2018
It was time to head into Andorra for the last two GC days. A relatively short day at 154.4-km, the profile would rise almost imperceptibly without any categorized climbs until the big finale on the Coll de la Rabassa climb. Seventeen kilometres long at 6.6 percent average, Rabassa’s toughest grades came right at is foot, with the final 10-km averaging only 5 percent. The finish line was over 2000-metres above sea level.
.@EnricMasNicolau starts in third overall the penultimate mountain stage of #LaVuelta18, which will travel from Lleida to Andorra and its Coll de la Rabassa (17km, 6.6%), for just the second time in history a stage finish at the race. pic.twitter.com/HAoUSIJm1W
— Quick-Step Cycling (@quickstepteam) September 14, 2018
The GC Picture Overnight
Heading into Friday’s stage, Simon Yates had a thin lead at the top, with not much separating the riders in the podium hunt:
1) Simon Yates (Great Britain/Mitchelton-Scott) 73:02:37
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
34) Michael Woods (Canada/EF-Drapac) +59:05
The field sensed that it wouldn’t be a great day for a breakaway to stay away–the GC men would be going for the win and the bonus seconds. After a few failed attempts, a trio managed to open up a gap. Michelton-Scott didn’t have to do much work after the first hour, as Movistar took over with intent.
Movistar was rolling too hot for the threesome, and after it came back to the peloton, there were a few new moves, including one with two former red jersey wearers, Michal Kwiatkowski and Jesus Herrada. Finally, a duo dashed free and the peloton relented.
Heading into Andorra, Movistar detected enough wind to try echelons. At first the Spanish team unhitched Simon Yates, but the Brit latched back on.
— Canadian Cycling Mag (@CanadianCycling) September 14, 2018
The breakaway duo’s gap heading onto Rabassa was wee. Movistar and LottoNL-Jumbo kept the pressure on. Winner Anacona of Movistar turned himself inside out in the first three kilometres before LottoNL-Jumbo took over.
Nairo Quintana attacked with 13-km to go, drawing Kruijswijk and his Kiwi teammate George Bennett. Quintana clung to Kruijswijk after Bennett dropped back.
— LottoNLJumbo Cycling (@LottoJumbo_road) September 14, 2018
Ninth place Thibaut Pinot, winner of Stage 15 on Covadonga, bridged over, but Mitchelton-Scott kept the duo in sight. Simon Yates then attacked to bridge over.
Quintana was called back to help a flagging Valverde, something made more difficult by the Colombian’s flat tire. The Yates group kept pulling out time, and fourth place Angel Lopez, worried about Kruijswijk, tried to minimize the damage by attacking.
Kruijswijk was at his limit and dropped away from Yates and Pinot. Lopez attacked again, with third place Enric Mas and Rigoberto Uran able to go with him.
Up ahead Yates, satisfied with his gains, saw Pinot shuffle away for the brace of wins, becoming the first Frenchman to win two stages of the Vuelta since Laurent Jalabert in 1995. Kruijswijk did enough to take over the final podium spot from Mas and is only 20-seconds back of Valverde for second place.
Saturday is the final GC skirmish. The 97-km stage shoehorns six categorized climbs into the route, with HC-rated Coll de la Gallina the setting of the GC climax.
2018 Vuelta a España Stage 19
1) Thibaut Pinot (France/Groupama-FDJ) 3:42:05
2) Simon Yates (Great Britain/Mitchelton-Scott) +0:05
3) Steven Kruijswijk (The Netherlands/LottoNL-Jumbo) +0:13
81) Michael Woods (Canada/EF-Drapac) +18:01
2018 Vuelta a España GC
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
37) Michael Woods (Canada/EF-Drapac) +1:17:07