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Vuelta a Espana 2018: Simon Yates seals historic British treble on Stage 20

Pete Muir
15 Sep 2018

Three Grand Tours; three different British riders

Simon Yates of Mitchelton-Scott took third place on Stage 20 of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana – enough to secure victory in the overall race. The win is not yet official, as there is still Stage 21 to go, but Sunday's stage to Madrid is mainly ceremonial and should not affect the outcome.

The stage was won by Quick-Step Floors' new wünderkind, Enric Mas, who had to battle with Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez all the way to the line. Yates was 23 seconds behind them, but far enough ahead of his main rivals to extend his lead on the GC.

It's Yates' first Grand Tour win, and makes up for the disappointment of missing out on a win at the Giro d'Italia, where he spent 13 days in pink.

The win for the 26-year-old from Bury, Lancashire, comes on the heels of Geraint Thomas's Tour de France victory in July, and Chris Froome's victory at the Giro d'Italia earlier in the year. As such, it puts the seal on an historic treble for Great Britain.

Never before has one country held the titles of all three Grand Tours with three different riders. 

Yates’s win also marks the fifth successive Grand Tour victory for a British rider (Froome having also won last year's Tour and Vuelta). If there was any lingering argument that Britain is now the pre-eminent Grand Tour racing nation, Yates has put it to rest.

The story of the stage

Stage 20 was the last chance for many riders – and their teams – to make a mark on the 2018 Vuelta a Espana.

Yates came into the stage with a 01'38" cushion over his nearest rival, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and 01'58" over third placed Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto NL-Jumbo), and the Brit just needed to stay in touch with them to secure overall victory.

However, the fiendish organisers of the Vuelta (ASO, the same people who organise the Tour de France) had devised a stage where anything could happen. In and around the mountains of Andorra, the stage was short at 97.3km but with six punchy climbs along the way, including an uphill finish to Coll de la Gallina.

It was tailor made for attacks, and sure enough the first attack came from the gun, with Team Sky's Tao Geoghegan-Hart heading off alone up the first climb to Col de la Comella. 

His time at the front of the race was short-lived, however, as King of the Mountains jersey-wearer Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) pulled him back and summited first to add to his points tally on the climbers' classification.

After the first climb, a break of 15 established itself, including De Gendt, Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), Nicholas Roche (BMC), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). Of the breakaway group, the highest placed on GC was Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) at 12'48", so Yates's Mitchelton-Scott team were fairly unconcerned about keeping the break in check.

Soon afterwards, another group of four riders took off in chase of the front-runners, including Fabio Aru (UAE Emirates) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin).

On the second climb to Coll de Beixalis, Mollema sprinted off the front in an attempt to steal some mountain points (at the beginning of the stage he was 14 points behind De Gendt on the KoM classification), but De Gendt was having none of it. The Belgian chased Mollema down, sailed past him and powered up the road on his way to another set of mountain points.

Half way up the climb to Beixalis, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) sprinted out of the bunch and managed to get some clear daylight between him and the peloton. Depite being over four minutes behind Yates on GC, Quintana was considered too much of a threat for Mitchelton-Scott to let loose, so the Australian squad chased him down.

This had the effect of stretching out the peloton. By the time the race had moved past the summit of Beixalis and was onto the descent there were several groups scattered along the road.

The next climb – the biggest of the day to Coll de Ordino – saw the cessation of attacks for a brief moment, and the race settled back into a more familiar format. The disparate groups were sucked back into the main peloton, leaving only the main break of 15 riders up the road.

With a certain amount of nervousness among all the teams – all of whom were now focussed on getting the stage win – the break never managed to get much more than a minute of a gap. 

As the race turned back for a second helping of the Coll de Beixalis, the riders in the breakaway started attacking each other. Majka had a punt, dragging Team Sky's David de la Cruz with him.

They were chased by a group of four including Nibali and Mollema, who was still looking for KoM points. De Gendt meanwhile dropped back to rejoin the main peloton.

With a lunge for the line, Mollema took the points at the top of the Beixalis, but it was not enough to take the polka dot jersey from De Gendt's shoulders.

As the road tipped downwards the peloton swallowed up the break. It meant the whole race was back together by the start of the descent with 32km to go to the finish.

With nothing to lose, Quintana took his chance to attack on the downhill. He was later joined by Astana's Lopez, and the pair managed to pull out a lead of about 25 seconds over the main pack before Yates decided to remind everyone what he could do.

He skipped away from his rivals on the fifth climb of the day, and was quickly joined by Quick-Step's Mas, who could smell a podium place on GC.

The two of them took little time to bridge the gap to Quintana and Lopez, and the resulting foursome arrived at the foot of the final climb with around 30 seconds over a chasing group that included Valverde and Kruijswijk.

Early on the climb, Quintana dropped back to help his teammate Valverde, while Lopez and Mas pushed the pace at the front, both hoping to knock Kruijswijk from his third-place step on the podium.

Yates failed to match the speed of Lopez and Mas, meaning he spent some time in no-man's land between the duo up ahead and the chasers, who lagged about 40 seconds further back down the mountain.

With 4km to go, Valverde cracked. He lost contact with the chasing group, all but handing the GC victory to Yates. 

Quintana attempted to nurse Valverde up the slope, but as the gap widened, the Spaniard watched his chances of a podium place slip away.

Equally, despite a brave chase, Kruijswijk failed to close the gap to the leaders, meaning he too saw his podium hopes disappear.

Yates, meanwhile managed to keep the gap to Lopez and Mas at around 20 seconds, and he knew he simply had to finish without incident to secure the red jersey.

In the final few metres of the stage, Mas managed to outsprint Lopez to take the victory. Yates crossed the line alone 23 seconds later.

By the time it was all over, Yates had secured overall victory of the Vuelta a Espana with 01'46" over second placed Mas, and 02'04" over third placed Lopez.

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