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Vuelta a Espana 2019: Philippe Gilbert wins Stage 17 while Nairo Quintana gains over 5 minutes on GC

Jack Elton-Walters
11 Sep 2019

Stage 17 of the 2019 Vuelta a Espana was expected to be a quiet day but ended up being anything but

Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-QuickStep) won Stage 17 of the 2019 Vuelta a Espana on a day that saw an unexpected shake-up in the overall General Classification. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) retained the red jersey and the same margin over second place Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) but after that there were significant changes.

The day's win came from a breakaway which had originally contained over 40 riders. Key among the front group was Nairo Quintana (Movistar), whose ride helped him gain time and position on the GC.

This jump up the standings would have been even greater had his own teammates not taken up the chase behind. Even so, Quintana did something similar to Chris Froome in 2016, so could this be the start of a race winning comeback? Perhaps not, but it made for a great day's viewing.

So far ahead was the break that with around 75km to go Quintana was already up to virtual second place overall, before panic in the red jersey group fostered alliances and the chase started to bring the gap down in the closing 65km.

Astana - desperate to get Miguel Angel Lopez on the podium, UAE Team Emirates - aiming to keep Tadej Pogacar ahead of Lopez and on the podium, and Jumbo-Visma - defeding the lead of Roglic ahead of the race's final mountains, all sent riders to the front to try and bring the gap down. However, it wasn't until the intra-Movistar battle kicked off that the gap started to drop.

Quintana had strong allies in the shape of Deceuninck-QuickStep, who were instrumental in launching the original move and they kept it driving along at high speed as they hunted the stage and an advance in the GC for British rider James Knox.

In the latter stages the gap went back out and in the end there was over five minutes between the groups.

A day for the break, but not the way we'd predict

Stages like this, with a erolling profile and this late in the race, is almost always going to be a day for the breakaway. The overall leader and his nearest rivals ride around together, watching each other and sheltered by their domestiques. But today, Quintana had other ideas.

The initial break was so big it was be more accurate to call it Peloton 1 with the res jersey group seen as Peloton 2. Regardless, the rapid pace forced by Deceuninck-QuickStep, who were there in numbers, meant that a number of riders were shelled out the back and forced to return to the peloton long before the end of the stage.

Other riders, such as domestiques for Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Pogacar, were called back to add to the chasing power of the group behind.

In classic Movistar-style, they got on the front of the Roglic group with the break 5:09 up the road and 47km from the finish and started to chase down Quintana and reduce his chances of advancing in the overall.

Logic might suggest that Valverde's presence in the following group was reason enough for Movistar to chase, but then again they've done this to Quintana as recently as the Tour de France so it might have been as much about maintaining team orders as it was about protecting Valverde's position relative to other teams.

With Movistar taking it up, the gap came down below five minutes for the first time since it went up at the start of the day. At the same time, Movistar and Astana had numbers while Roglic and Pogacar were on their own, their isolation another by-product of (or excuse for) pushing on into Quintana's advantage on the road.

Splits in the Roglic group saw the pace lessened slightly by Movistar and some riders were able to regain contact, although none of those coming back wore the colours of Jumbo-Visma or UAE Team Emirates.

Both the lead group and that of the red jersey remained committed even in their depleted states. Indeed, so depleted were the two key groups that there were many riders left to roll in with one eye on the time limit.

At the front, Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) was the best sprinter in the group but his isolation told when he was forced to launch his sprint very early. As he faded, Gilbert came past and won the stage.