Miguel Ángel López took stage 19 victory on the Altu d'El Gamoniteiru at the Vuelta a España as race leader Primož Roglič gained time on everyone else yet again.
López (Movistar) went clear on the final climb with around 6km to go with some of the race's hardest gradients still to come. He immediately gapped the group of favourites from which he attacked, catching and dropping lone leader David De La Cruz (UAE Team Emirates).
Michael Storer (DSM) went on a move of around 100km solo from the original break but was caught with 7km to go by De La Cruz and by the peloton a few hundred metres later.
Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) gained time on everyone else aside from López thanks to his vicious acceleration to the line in the final 100 metres.
How it happened
Stage 18 of the Vuelta a España started in the town of Salas before the race took on four climbs over 162.6km, with a brutal summit finish on the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru (14.6k, 9.8 per cent).
In the early part of the stage a huge group of over 30 riders got up the road. In the break the closest challengers to the race leader Primož Roglič were Rafał Majka (UAE Team Emirates) and Gorka Izagirre (Astana-Premier Tech), at a touch over 54 minutes down on GC.
Michael Storer (DSM) was also in the break as he looked for points in the mountains classification and his third stage victory at the race. He went on a solo move after help from his team-mate, Thymon Arensman, with 108km to go over the top of the Altu de la Cobertoria.
When he was halfway to the penultimate climb of the day he had managed to pull the gap to over two minutes with 45km to go to the chasing group. But back in the peloton, at 4-50, Movistar and Bahrain Victorious looked keen to pull the gap down so their leaders could go for the stage win.
Fabio Aru (Qhubeka-NextHash), Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo), and Arensman all pushed out of the chasing group before they were swallowed up by the peloton like the rest of the chasers with 27km to go, as Storer kept a 2-14 lead.
All the chasers were brought back with Mikel Bizkarra (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Romain Bardet (DSM) kicking out of the peloton with 22km to go on the Altu la Segá o del Cordal. Storer, Bardet’s team-mate, still held 2-18 at this point to him and 2-30 to the peloton as he went over the top of the climb.
Bardet then left Bizkarra behind on the descent where the Frenchman was in his element as Storer started to take it steady making sure he did not take risks. However, as soon as they hit the final climb, Bardet and Bizkarra were brought back very quickly by the red jersey group.
Storer held his 2-17 lead over the bunch with 12m to go as Movistar and Bahrain Victorious continued to set the tempo. Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2r Citroën Team) went on a move but was just left a handful of seconds out in front.
David De La Cruz (UAE Team Emirates) went on a move to join Bouchard before dropping the Frenchman very quickly as he looked to regain time on his rivals for a top 10 position. With 10km to go, though, Storer still had 2-13 over the peloton.
De La Cruz managed to pull a minute out on the peloton very quickly with Damiano Caruso setting a strong, yet steady, pace. Storer was now just 35 seconds ahead of De La Cruz with 8km to go and 1-37 back to the peloton.
Suddenly, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux came to the front with Jan Hirt guiding South African leader Louis Meintjes with 7.5km to go. This change in pace saw the peloton get demolished down to around 15 riders.
De La Cruz joined Storer with 7km to go with 56 seconds back to what remained of the flying peloton with Hirt still hammering the tempo. Just 12 riders remained with 6.5km to go and a 40-second gap.
Storer was dropped by De La Cruz with 5.5km to go as the peloton were still just 34 seconds behind, quickly sweeping up Storer.
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) kicked hard with 4.7km to go and only Roglič could follow to begin with. López and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) jumped across with Enric Mas (Movistar) just about being able to latch on with Meintjes, Jack Haig, Gino Mäder (both Bahrain Victorious), and Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers).
Roglič then moved to the front with Kuss who started to drill the pace to try and break the will of all Jumbo-Visma’s rivals. De La Cruz still held 26 seconds with 4km to go.
López was the next to kick and he did manage to get a gap but Kuss continued to set a tempo that Roglič could follow comfortably. López was flying though as the superstar Colombian climber pushed across to De La Cruz.
Haig and co made it back to the group of Kuss, Mas, Roglič and Bernal with 3km to go as they sat 27 seconds down on De La Cruz who had now been caught by López, who then flew by the Spaniard gapping him immediately. Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) was dropped by the pace being set by Kuss but the Brit managed to just pace himself back again with 2km to go.
Roglič chose this moment to attack himself with only Mas and Bernal able to follow the move. This brought De La Cruz back incredibly quickly but Mäder set his gentle pace for Haig dragging him and Meintjes back as Kuss was dropped with Yates.
Bernal hit over the top of Roglič as Haig made contact again. Roglič and Mas were able to follow with Roglič coming straight back over the top again with Lopez holding 23 seconds with 1.5km to go. Bernal dropped to the back of the trio to hit again but his rivals could follow well.
Roglič continued to drill the pace after Bernal’s last dig which put the Ineos Grenadiers leader into difficulty, but he did manage to drag himself back to Mas’ wheel.
López held on all the way to the line and took the win by 14 seconds over a rapid finishing Roglič who put six seconds into Mas and a couple more into Bernal.
The Vuelta continues on Friday with stage 19; a tricky, hilly day from Tapia to Monforte de Lemos over 191.2km of racing.
Vuelta a Espana 2021, stage 18: Salas to Altu d'El Gamoniteiru (162.6km)
1. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Movistar Team, in 4-41-21
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Bahrain Victorious, at 14s
3. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, at 20s
4. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 22s
5. Jack Haig (Aus) Team Bahrain Victorious, at 58s
6. David De La Cruz (Esp) UAE Team Emirates
7. Gino Mäder (Sui) Team Bahrain Victorious
8. Louis Meintjes (RSA) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, all at same time
9. Sepp Kuss (USA) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 1-06
10. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1-07
General classification after stage 18
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma, in 73-24-25
2. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, at 2-30
3. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Movistar Team, at 2-53
4. Jack Haig (Aus) Team Bahrain Victorious, at 4-36
5. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 4-43
6. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 5-44
7. Sepp Kuss (USA) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 6-02
8. Gino Mäder (Sui) Team Bahrain-Victorious, at 7-48
9. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 8-31
10. Louis Meintjes (RSA) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, at 9-02
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