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Vuelta a Espana 2018 Stage 19: Pinot wins but Yates takes massive stride towards overall glory

Martin James
14 Sep 2018

Yates survives Movistar onslaught to extend lead as Valverde is left floundering in rivals' wake

Thibaut Pinot won Stage 19 of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana high in the Andorran mountains, but it was Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) who was standing tallest after taking a huge stride towards overall victory in Madrid on Sunday.

Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Yates had attacked on the lower slopes of the 17km Coll de la Rabassa that finished an otherwise flat 154km stage to join Stephen Kruijswijk (Lotto-NL Jumbo) in a lead group of three ahead of the other main favourites.

And with Yates having countered the threat of second man overall Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), whose team had set a high pace throughout the stage then sent Nairo Quintana on the attack earlier on the climb, instead it was Yates who looked strongest, extending his lead over Valverde by more than a minute.

Yates now leads Valverde by 1'38", with Kruijswijk now up to third after a strong ride today.

Stage 19 in detail

And so the 2018 Vuelta finally entered its end game. Tomorrow's relentless high-altitude up and down will decide the ultimate destiny of the leader's red jersey, but there was still plenty at stake today.

As with Stage 17 on Wednesday it would be a primarily flat day ending in a difficult climb, but that's where the similarities ended.

The climb in question today, the Coll de la Rabassa in Andorra, was a proper mountain summit at 2,025m, with the steepest 13.5% ramps of the 17km climb coming right at the start.

Tantalisingly, there would also be the lure of some bonus seconds to be had at an intermediate sprint just before the start of the climb.

With Alejandro Valverde in the green jersey and just 25 seconds down on Simon Yates overall, would Movistar look to set him up for a surprise smash-and-grab?

Judging by the first couple of hours of racing, it certainly looked a possibility. Movistar were a relentless presence at the front of the peloton, driving the pace along faster than even the most optimistic forecasts.

In truth it was a surprise that a breakaway managed to get off the front at all, but after a few false starts a trio of riders did open up a decent gap.

Tom Van Asbroeck (EF Education First), Jonathan Castroviejo (Team Sky) and Benjamin Thomas (Groupama-FDJ) were the three in question, steadily building a lead of just over a minute with around 70km to go.

Their prospects weren't helped by Van Asbroeck then sitting up and returning to the peloton behind. Three had become two, but Castroviejo and Thomas managed to extend the gap beyond 2 minutes despite Movistar's monstering of the peloton behind.

Clearly they were in no mood for the break to stay clear as it had on the past couple of days, though by now it seemed they would at least contest the intermediate sprint still ahead of the pack.

Still Movistar were doing all the work, and anyone questioning the wisdom of their tactics got their answer with 36km remaining. 

Hitting a section of open terrain the conditions and Movistar's urgency suddenly saw a gap open in the peloton, with Yates in the red jersey on the wrong side of the divide.

Luckily for Yates, so too were plenty of others, including the likes of Peter Sagan, and their collective efforts brought things back together before any significant damage was done, but it showed just how hard everyone was being forced to work by the Spanish team.

The race swept its way into Andorra, and the peloton prepared to sweep up the two escapees. Castroviejo led Thomas through the intermediate sprint still ahead – just – while Movistar were unable to get Valverde over the line to claim the 2 remaining seconds for the peloton to fight over. 

Then it was all over for the break and time to switch gears into climbing mode. The jump straight to gradients of 10%-plus immediately reduced the peloton by half, the contenders pushing on at the front and everyone else making their way up behind as best as they could.

Winner Anacona and Nairo Quintana were setting the pace for Movistar, then Quintana eased off and dropped back to ride alongside teammate Valverde, perhaps to get a better view of Yates and discuss how to prise the red jersey from his shoulders.

Just under 14km from the top Anacona's job was done, and it was Lotto-NL Jumbo taking over the pace-setting to keep things steady for Steven Kruijswijk.

But Movistar were just taking a breath before their next thrust, and it came on 13km when Quintana went on the attack.

It wasn't an all-out assault – we were still too far from the top of the climb for that – but the intent was to force Yates to respond and keep Valverde's powder dry for later.

Kruijswijk decided to go with him, leaving the 5th and 6th placed riders overall clear of the field. Soon they were joined by 9th placed rider Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), a true climber clearly looking for a stage win.

He didn't wait long before trying to drop his compatriots, but they held his wheel, the injection of pace adding a few more seconds to their advantage. The gap was still just 15 seconds, but that was enough for Yates.

No sooner had teammate Jack Haig sat up, his job done for the day, than Yates himself danced away up the road to bridge over to the three leaders. It was an eye-opening turn of pace, but we still had 9km of climbing to go.

Yet that didn't seem to bother Yates, and soon Quintana was struggling to hold on to the pace the red jersey was generating. And sure enough soon he was dropped, while behind it seemed Valverde had no answer – for now at least.

Quintana now took up the pace-setting at the head of the chase group, suggesting that perhaps he'd sat up and waited for Valverde rather than being dropped.

The gap suggested otherwise, however, hitting first 15 seconds, then 20, then 25. Finally the response came, though not from Valverde but Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb). And Movistar's gameplan was further undone when Quintana picked up a rear puncture at the same moment.

He managed to rejoin the group with 5.7km to go, and went straight to the front again, but by now Yates was a full minute down the road.

Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) then made a move, with Valverde quick to counter but Quintana left stranded. Everything was falling Yates's way, yet he had enough in reserve to counter a couple of big attacks from Pinot as the kilometres to the line counted down.

The gap to Valverde and co remained at just over a minute, with Kelderman stuck somewhere in between but no longer making progress.

Yates and Pinot were now trading attacks, yet Kruijswijk continued to keep pace, knowing he was riding his way into contention for a podium place overall – Enric Mas (Quick-Step), who started the day third, had only just rejoined the Valverde group.

As they passed under the kilometre flag, finally Kruijswijk was distanced, leaving Yates and Pinot to fight for the stage win.

Behind, meanwhile, Valverde finally ran out of steam and was dropped by all the rest of the GC contenders. At the front, Pinot pushed on for victory, but it was Yates who was moving to within grasping distance of a much bigger prize.