Despite winning his second stage of the 2019 Vuelta a España, Philippe Gilbert seemed more in awe of what he'd just been a part of on stage 17 than his own victory.
The near 220km stage from Aranda de Duero to Guadalajara saw a huge front group split from the peloton early on, with the average speed above 50kmh. Gilbert, in the break group with six of his Deceuninck-Quick-Step team-mates, said the speed was reaching up to 75kmh on the flat road in the cross-tailwinds that affected the stage.
The Belgian, 17 years a professional, said it was nothing like he'd ever seen and that he was spinning a huge gear of 54x11.
Gilbert was able to counter a move by sprinter Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the final kilometre to take victory on the chaotic stage, one he said would be remembered for some time.
"I think it’s a stage that will stay in the history books because of the way we rode," Gilbert said at the finish.
"It was crazy from the gun. We went with a big group of 40 guys. There were some guys for GC like [Nairo] Quintana and James Knox for ourselves. We were seven of the eight Deceuninck guys and we rode crazy as a team, we gave morale to each other and it was incredible to see. As the kilometres passed, we lost some guys with the crosswinds, the climbs… It was really fast.
"At some point we were doing 75km/h on the flat," he added. "I had a 54x11 and I was spinning all the time. In 17 years as a pro, I don’t think I’ve ever done that. It was really, really crazy."
While Deceuninck-Quick-Step thrived in the crosswinds that have often defined them as a team, the stage also threw an unexpected turn in the GC standings.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was able to propel himself back into second overall after making it into front group, moving from 7-43 behind race leader Primož Roglič to 2-24 behind with two big mountain stages still to come.
Roglič admitted he and his Jumbo-Visma team had made a huge mistake in missing the split early in the stage, and were forced to work hard alongside Astana to try and keep the gap down as much as possible.
The Slovenian is still well in control of the race with its finish on the horizon on Sunday, and says he never felt he would lose the Vuelta on today's turbulent stage.
“It was a hard day. I made a mistake," Roglič said.
"I shouldn’t have where I was, I should have been in the front. The team saved me with a big effort. They just went full gas from the very beginning and that was it for the rest of the day. We can see our team did a really big effort from the beginning.
"In the end, we couldn’t anymore so other teams had to work also. We’re still in a really good position. It was a hard day for everyone. We lost a battle today, but not the war. I never felt like the Vuelta was lost. Other guys wanted to finish as fast as possible so it was full gas until the finish line."
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