The Tour Take | Vuelta a Espana Stage 18
1st – Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal)
2nd – Sven Erik Bystrom (Team UAE Emirates)
3rd – Peter Sagan (Bora - hansgrohe)
Red - Simon Yates (Mitchelton- SCOTT)
Green - Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Polka Dot - Thomas De Gendt (Lotto - Soudal)
1st - Simon Yates (Mitchelton - SCOTT)
2nd - Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) @ 0:25
3rd - Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) @ 1:22
4th - Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) @ 1:36
5th - Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto- Jumbo) @ 1:48
6th - Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) @ 2:11
7th - Ion Izagirre (Bahrain - Merida) @ 4:09
8th - Rigoberto Uran (Team EF Education First - Drapac p/b Cannondale) @ 4:36
9th - Thibaut Pinot (Groupama - FDJ) @ 5:31
10th - Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale @ 6:05
A day with no categorised climbs for once at La Vuelta, as the 186km route from Ejos de los Caballeros to Lleida contained only 900m of climbing for the day.
A fairly flat day through Catalonia was supposedly always destined for a sprint, as the GC contenders take a brief break before a big two days in Andorra.
The Key Point
Heading into Lleida for the sprint, it wasn’t an easy final few kilometres, as the race took 3 difficult corners in between 2 and 1 kilometres to go, and slight false flat began with 750m to go, before a flat final 200m.
Stage 18 looked sure to end in a sprint, and as such, only 3 men tested their legs out front. Jelle Wallays, Jetse Bol, Sven Erik Bystrom found a 3:00 gap, but when that was still the gap with 25km to go, the sprint teams got a little bit worried.
The leading three were working well - so well that Quick-Step Floors alone couldn’t catch them. Bora - hansgrohe and LottoNL-Jumbo had to come and pitch in, having sat back for most of the day.
With 6.5km to go, Bol was dropped, while Wallays and Bystrom still had 45 seconds gap.
With 5km to go, it started to look like the break had a chance, as the leading two still carried 36 seconds lead. They were splitting the work equally, and the big tailwind on slightly downhill roads was helping them keep a high pace.
With a kilometre to go, it looked like the break would succeed and Wallays would no longer come through. Bystrom led them up the false flat, and opened the sprint with 300m to go.
It turned out to be a moment too soon, as Wallays came around in the final 100m. Despite Peter Sagan taking a long sprint from the field and closing quickly, Wallays held on for his maiden Grand Tour Stage Win, while Bystrom held on for second with Sagan on his wheel.
3 - Jelle Wallays. That’s why you never stop believing when you’re out front in the break
2 – Sven Erik Bystrom. Just outfoxed by Wallays, and that was all that separated him from the win.
1 – Peter Sagan. Sagan was let down by the bunch never catching the break, but his sprint was superb - thats the form we’ve been waiting to see from him.
Leaders: S Yates (10), Valverde (9), Sagan (6), Dennis, King (5), Herrada, Mate, Kwiatkowski, Woods, Viviani (4), Bouhanni, Clarke, De Marchi, Gallopin, Geniez, Mollema, Pinot (3) Quintana, Wallays (3) Bystrom, Kruijswijk (2) De Plus, Mollard, Postlberger, Rodriguez, Rhestrepo, Campenaerts, Cortina, Lopez, Majka, Porte, Rolland, Van Baarle (1),
The Next Stage
Just the one categorised climb on Stage 18, but its a doozy. Starting in Lleida, the peloton meanders it’s way to the base of the Col de la Rabassa over the first 135km of the stage, before then heading uphill for 17.5km. Rabassa averages only 6%, so it’s a different sort of climb to what we’ve seen in the rest of this Vuelta, reaching double digit gradients at the very bottom of the climb, before easing off slightly.
With only one climb on the menu, its hard to see huge gaps coming from this stage, especially as it’s not an overly steep climb. You imagine that a somewhat-intact GC group will arrive at the finish together, so we’ll take Simon Yates who’s always good on a finish at these gradients, rather than the hellish ones that Valverde dominates.
See you back at the social club,