Five talking points from stage 20 of the Vuelta a España 2019
A day that will go down in history for Slovenian cycling
Primož Roglič wins the Vuelta a España
There was plenty of action and drama throughout today’s stage, but none of it involved Primož Roglič’s red jersey ever being put under pressure.
Despite so many of his Jumbo-Visma domestiques being caught up in yesterday's crash, the team rallied today and controlled the race impressively in the hazardous early stages.
Later, Roglič betrayed no weakness on the day’s toughest climb, the Puerto de Pena Negra, and was alert to a couple of attacks from Miguel Ángel López (Astana).
Once Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) launched his long-range stage-winning attack, all the focus was on the other podium spots, with Roglič’s overall victory virtually in the bag.
Notwithstanding an unlikely disaster on tomorrow’s ceremonial stage to Madrid, Roglič will be crowned overall champion of the Vuelta.
Tadej Pogacar boldly attacks for stage win and podium finish
The story of the day was a sensational ride from Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates), who embarked on a bold long-range attack that ultimately saw him both claim the stage win, and climb up to third in the overall classification.
On the Puerto de Pena Negra, with a whole 38km still to ride until the finish line, Pogačar went all-in, riding away from the group of favourites with no-one latching onto his wheel.
With no team-mates up the road to help pace him up, and so many riders in the group of favourites behind with the motivation to chase, Pogačar faced what appeared to be a very difficult task to hold on for the stage win.
However, the Slovenian was on an extraordinarily good day. Even when the chasing group at last stopped leaning on team-mates and playing games with each other to commit to a chase, he still maintained a gap of around 1-30.
Ultimately, not only did Pogačar hang on for his third stage win at the Vuelta, he also gained enough time to leapfrog both Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and López on GC to move up to third overall.
It seals what has been one of the most remarkable Grand Tour debuts in years, and confirmation that Pogačar is set to become one of cycling’s new superstars.
Alejandro Valverde seals second
A bad day for Movistar could have gotten even worse had Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) not rescued his second place in the overall classification.
Quintana lost his place on the podium to Pogačar, and for a while the Slovenian had Valverde’s second place in his sights too.
Unlike Quintana, who was dropped on the final drag to the finish, Valverde appeared to have the legs, but left it until late to commit himself. There was a strange moment on the Puerto de Pena Negra when he accelerated off the front of the peloton, only to knock off the pace and gesticulate towards the peloton, despite having immediately gained a sizeable gap.
Was he annoyed at Bora-Hansgrohe for trying to chase him down, despite having let Pogačar go up the road earlier on the climb? Or did he expect teammate Nairo Quintana to follow him? It was unclear, but the acceleration suggested Valverde was on a good day.
Indeed, the world champion was again one of the strongest riders on the final climb, at last taking up at the front and riding clear with Roglič and Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe). He crossed the line 1-32 behind Pogačar, which was just enough to defend his second place on GC by 22 seconds.
The result seals Valverde’s highest Grand Tour finish since his runner-up finish at the 2012 Vuelta, and suggests he’s on flying form ahead of his defence of the rainbow jersey in a fortnight’s time. Despite being 39-years old, Valverde is showing no signs of slowing down.
Quintana and López miss out on the podium
The day’s big losers in the closely fought battle for the podium were Nairo Quintana and Miguel Ángel López.
At the start of the day, Quintana lay in third place, with López in the best position to challenge him for a podium spot. As he has done throughout the race, López was proactive in his pursuit, putting his Astana domestiques on the front of the peloton, then launching two attacks on the Puerto de Pena Negra.
However, both his moves were covered by the other GC favourites, and instead it was Pogačar who managed to escape up the road.
Both Lopez and Quintana attempted to control the attack, first putting their teammates at the front peloton, and later doing the pace-making themselves. However, both tired towards the end of the stage, and were dropped on the final climb, meaning they drop to fifth and fourth respectively on the GC.
Quintana can at least take heart that this was his highest finish in a Grand Tour since the 2017 Giro d’Italia, but fifth place overall for López feels like a regression following his podium finish here last season.
A disappointing day for British riders
Both James Knox (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) have impressed at this Vuelta, but will be left frustrated by how the final GC battle stage played out.
Eighth overall and with Madrid just around the corner, Knox was on the cusp of a very impressive top 10 overall finish on the GC, but his efforts over these past three weeks as well as injuries sustained on stage 19 today caught up with him. The 23-year-old was dropped over 70km from the finish and continued to lose time until the finish, ultimately slipping three places on GC to eleventh.
In reality there isn’t much of a difference between tenth and eleventh overall, but the prestige that comes with a top ten finish means that Knox can’t help but be left disappointed.
Geoghegan Hart will also leave this Vuelta wondering what could have been. The Ineos rider had already secured second and third place finishes on stages earlier in the race, and again got himself in the day’s break in one last attempt to take a stage win.
But once Pogačar set off on his attack, the break stood no chance and the Briton was caught and dropped before the summit of the Puerto de Pena Negra.
Both Geoghegan Hart and Knox should take heart in how well they have ridden on the whole. At 24 and 23 respectively, there is plenty of time for them to improve and gain more success in the future.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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