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Vuelta a Espana 2018: Gallopin pounces late to win Stage 7

Frenchman times solo effort to perfection but Kwiatkowski and others lose time on red jersey Molard

Martin James
31 Aug 2018

Veteran Tony Gallopin (AG2R) won Stage 7 of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana in a late solo break after a tricky stage thrown into chaos by a succession of incidents in the closing stages of the race.

Gallopin went clear from a reduced main field 2km from the end, and never looked like being caught. In the end he finished 5 seconds clear of Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who outsprinted Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in the race for second. 

Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) finished safely in the reduced main field to successfully defend his red jersey, but Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) was one of many caught out by an extremely difficult end to the stage featuring dramatic changes of gradient and direction on hot and dusty roads.

In the end, Kwiatkowski lost nearly 30 seconds, unable to get back on terms as the pace increased over the final kilometres. He drops to sixth overall, with Valverde taking over as nearest GC contender to Molard.

Nearly a full week into the 2018 Vuelta a Espana and it still feels like the race hasn’t quite taken shape yet. Yes, there are some significant time gaps right the way down the GC order, but that’s more down to general attrition and the inevitable crashes and time splits involved than any real moves to stake a claim for victory.,

Would Stage 7 change any of that? Unlikely, on the face of it. A ride of 185.7km would take the peloton inland from Puerto Lambreras to Pozo Alcon over relentlessly hilly terrain but with only a pair of 3rd category efforts in terms of classified climbs.

Barring disaster, then, it would be another red jersey at the end of the stage for Groupama-FDJ’s Molard, who was defending a 41-second lead over Kwiatkowski as the stage got underway.

But there were still challenges to be overcome, particularly towards the end of the stage. A rapid run-in on wide roads would pitch the riders straight onto the second of those two categorised climbs on far narrower roads just 12km from the line. And from there the climbing would continue all the way to the end, with the final 7% ramp to the line tailor-made for the likes of Alejandro Valverde, just 53 seconds down in fifth place overall.

The day’s breakaway saw a group of seven riders go down the road in the early phases of the day. The best placed overall was Canadian Michael Woods (EF-Drapac) at 8’25”, with Alexis Gougaerd (AG2R), Floris De Tier (LottoNL-Jumbo), Nicola Conci (Trek-Segafredo), Edward Ravasi (UAE Team Emirates), Alex Aranburu (Caja Rural-Seguros) and Oscar Rodriguez (Euskadi-Murias) making up the numbers.

As with yesterday’s stage, however, the leaders weren’t allowed to get too far down the road. Peter Sagan’s Trek-Segafredo were prominent in controlling the pace, perhaps a sign that the Slovakian fancied the tricky stage finish.

Either way, it meant the break never looked like going the distance, and sure enough as the race approached the difficult final phase of the stage the gap had come down to well under a minute.

However, 18km from the end the relentless push to be near the front of the peloton as the road narrowed led to the outcome we all feared as several riders hit the deck a third of the way down the pack.

The incident caused an instant split in the field, but the pace eased slightly at the front, allowing those behind to rejoin.

It gave what was left of the break a stay of execution up ahead, but it was all back together before the top of the climb – at least at the front of the race. Bahrain-Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali, already 13 minutes down at the start of the day, was one of those dropped on the relatively gentle incline – clearly far from peak condition as he continues to recover from injury.

The sinuous, dusty roads continued to play havoc in the fast-moving field, with both Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and Kwiatkowski caught out, the latter while leading the peloton with a couple of Team Sky teammates.

Going into the final 10km, Luis Mas (Caja Rural) made a bid for glory as those behind jockeyed for position. By now the various incidents had broken the peloton apart into multiple groups, the day having become less a bike race than a high-speed game of last man standing.

Still the digs continued off the front, but the drastically reduced peloton somehow managed to pull back each effort before Gallopin timed his effort perfectly and claim the victory.

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