Champoussin attacks late for maiden victory
Unexpectedly coming from behind and riding with his mouth agape for a kilometre-and-a-half, Clément Champoussin scored the very first professional win of his burgeoning career on undoubtedly the best stage of the 2021 Vuelta a España.
On a day of spectacle with celebration and consequence depending on the rider, Champoussin was in the day’s break and most probably thought his chance of victory was extinguished when Ryan Gibbons went solo.
But when Gibbons was brought back on the final climb, 23-year-old Champoussin remained at the head of the chase and then attacked the group of GC favourites at the perfect moment, launching a leg-busting attack on a steep section that surely elevated his maximum wattage to previously unseen numbers.
The AG2R Citroën rider then dug deep to maintain his slender advantage, and though he was aided in his pursuit for victory by Primož Roglič’s group being content to let him go, the Frenchman stretched every sinew of his body to ensure that it was he who crossed the line first.
It’s a richly deserved triumph for Champoussin after finishing third and fifth in previous stages and goes into the final time trial 16th in the general classification.
He opened his victory account on a tremendous day of racing that will live long in the memory, and you feel that this is just the first time Champoussin will be the headline maker.
Jack Haig moves up to third with a day to go
Bravery, boldness and an unwavering belief that he could do what seemed improbable was the order of the day for Jack Haig.
Sitting in fourth place on GC, 1-43 adrift of Miguel Ángel López in third, the Australian admitted at the stage’s start that moving onto the final podium would be a difficult task, but by the end of the day the Bahrain-Victorious rider has done exactly that.
When Egan Bernal and then Adam Yates attacked with 60km to go, Haig was crucial in forming a group alongside race leader Primož Roglič that distanced López and Bernal.
By the end, Haig finished just six seconds shy of Roglič and now has a convincing advantage of a minute to Yates, the new occupant of fourth place.
It’s a terrific achievement by Haig, the 27-year-old having left BikeExchange last winter after six years, deciding that a change of environment was what he needed to push onto the next level after years of showing the occasional glimpse of his GC quality.
His decision to change teams was daring, and that attitude was replicated in his phenomenal, instinctive, and clever riding on Saturday. A first Grand Tour podium beckons.
López spectacularly falls off the podium
It looked a near-certainty that Miguel Ángel López would be on the final podium come Sunday evening.
Before the start of stage 20, the Colombian held a comfortable advantage of 1-43 to Jack Haig in fourth, a position he has enjoyed for almost the entire duration of the race.
Even if López isn’t a strong time trialist, it seemed implausible that he would cede his lead to Haig, but Saturday’s fireworks led to exactly that, and it only took a few kilometres for a small advantage to stretch to an unbridgeable one.
The rate at which the group of Haig and Primož Roglič sped away from López and co. was not only surprising, but would have been sickening for López and Movistar given how well he has performed in the past three weeks.
Clearly something was not quite right for López as he dropped away from Egan Bernal's group and word eventually came through that he'd abandoned the race.
Once again, it was a reminder that a Grand Tour really is a three-week race and nothing can ever be assured.
Dominant Roglič makes sure of a third Vuelta title
Stage 20’s excitement was instigated by several riders, and once again Primož Roglič was on the right side of the drama, cementing his stranglehold on the race.
On such a challenging parcours that invited attacks and counter-moves, if the reigning Giro d’Italia winner Egan Bernal can be dropped then anyone can be, so it was credit to Roglič that once again he proved unflappable.
As well as possessing his trademark punch, he’s so tactically astute and wise that he can respond to any danger, and stage 20 was another exhibition of that.
Enric Mas, the Slovenian’s closest contender in second, was alongside him in the final 60km but on the final slopes Roglič unleashed his attack and finished two seconds ahead of Mas, increasing his advantage to 2-38.
Tomorrow’s final time trial should see him increase his lead further and secure a third consecutive Vuelta title. And no-one can say he doesn’t deserve it. The best man in the race by a considerable distance.
Yates among the movers in GC shake-up
After a topsy-turvy, up-and-down, one day hot and the other day cold Vuelta a España, in the end, Adam Yates looks likely to finish in fourth place, a joint-best Grand Tour result for the Briton.
The Ineos Grenadiers man has looked Roglič’s biggest threat on occasions, only to fall away 24 hours later, but when it came to it the 28-year-old was attentive enough to work his way into the right group on stage 20 that moved him up from sixth to fourth.
He sits a minute adrift of Jack Haig, a difficult deficit to bridge in Sunday’s 33km time trial, but he can be confident that he will match his fourth place from the 2016 Tour de France.
His team-mate Egan Bernal, however, suffered in the final two hours, despite going over the top with Yates on the Alto de Mougás climb. Come the finish, he was almost seven minutes in arrears to Yates and the other GC favourites, meaning he drops one place to sixth on GC. Much like Yates, Bernal has been plagued by inconsistency.
Taking his place is Gino Mäder, jumping up to fifth, a great result for Bahrain-Victorious who will have two riders in the top-five.
Elsewhere, Felix Großschartner of Bora-Hansgrohe re-entered the top-10 but only holds a 16-second advantage to former race leader Odd Christian Eiking.
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