Tim Wellens wins the battle of Vuelta stage winners
Stage 14 of the Vuelta a España 2020 was a tense cat and mouse between the break and the peloton, making it an unpredictable day of racing through the hills of Galicia.
But inside the final 20km the breakaway snapped the string once again to set-up a fascinating six-rider battle for the glory.
Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) looked to be one of the strongest as he joined Zdeněk Štybar and and Marc Soler in a late attack, with the trio making it clear in the final 20km, but they were soon joined by Michael Woods, Dylan van Baarle and Thymen Arensman once again.
The six riders hit the final climb together to set up a tense sprint, with Wellens showing his cards and opening up a long dash.
With Wellens, Soler, and Woods all having won stages in this year’s Vuelta, it was anyone’s race.
It looked as though Wellens may have jumped too early as Woods caught the Belgian’s wheel 100m from the line, but Wellens held on to take his second victory with Woods only narrowing missing out on his second of this race.
There are now only two riders in this year’s Vuelta who have taken more than one stage - Wellens on two and Primož Roglič on four.
Dan Martin wins the GC sprint, but no movement in the top-10
The opportunities for the GC chasers are running out, as Primož Roglič needs to defend his race lead for just five more stages including stage 14.
But the run from Lugo to Ourense passed by without any movement in the overall standings, despite a bunch sprint for minor placings that was dominated by the contenders.
The stage was quiet for the overall rivals, with the only drama coming 45km from the finish when Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) needed a quick bike change after suffering a puncture, but the Slovenian chased back on without any issues.
After the peloton gave up chasing the breakaway around 20km from the finish, there were no hostilities in the main group until the final climb when the sprint opened up almost four minutes after Wellens crossed the line.
Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) sprinted to win the symbolic race for sixth place on a finish that suited him, but there was no gap to the rest of his rivals with Primož Roglič finishing two places behind, while Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) finished safely in the bunch to hold their podium positions.
While it will be a relief for Roglič, it’s another opportunity gone for everyone else.
Another outstanding ride by Thymen Arensman
Not a name most of us will have heard before this Vuelta, but Thymen Arensman is doing his best to make sure we remember it.
The 20-year-old is riding his first season at WorldTour level and has been thrown into the deep end with Sunweb in 2020.
Having only joined from SEG Racing in July, Arensman already has starts in Flèche Wallone, his first Monument Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Brabantsje Pijl, and now his first Grand Tour in Spain.
While many riders just hope to make it round their first Grand Tour, including Britain’s Harry Tanfield, Arensman is clearly looking for more.
The Dutchman jumped into the escape on stage five to Sabiñánigo and was in with a shot at the victory, only to finish third as Tim Wellens won on the sharp uphill ramp.
It was deja vu for Arensman on stage 14, as he joined some of the biggest names in the peloton in the breakaway and found himself in contact with the leading group as the uphill finish loomed.
But his legs failed him in the very final moments with Arensman coming in sixth-place, forcing him to watch Wellens win ahead of him once again.
Arensman is having a fantastic Vuelta regardless and could still take his stage yet, á la Marc Hirschi in the Tour de France.
A breakaway full of hitters makes it to the line
Stage 14 looked like an ideal opportunity for the breakaway - a long 204km stage, featuring three smaller categorised climbs in the second half and a sharp uphill finish - and that’s exactly how it played out.
After the time trial the previous day, the GC contenders will have relished a slightly easier day, while the stage hunters will have taken it easy in the TT in anticipation of a big fight the following day.
When the breakaway finally took shape after 40km of racing and multiple failed attacks, it was only the strongest who made it clear, as an elite seven-rider escape made it clear of the bunch.
Only WorldTour riders made the cut, with Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling), Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers), Marc Soler (Movistar), Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), Thymen Arensman (Sunweb) and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Cofidis) making up the move.
It wasn’t an easy ride for the breakaway, as the group was almost brought back by the peloton 20km from the line, but as the pace in the bunch fell away shortly after the gap group to four minutes once again, and the attacks began to fly 10km from home.
Soler, Woods and Wellens had all won stages in this year’s Vuelta and their confidence will have been sky-high
More punishment for Total Direct Energie?
As the race entered the key final kilometres, some unexpected colours emerged at the front of the bunch as Total Direct Energie amassed their riders to set the pace.
It was an unusual move for the French ProTeam, who have no real GC contenders in the race and were unlikely to feature in the stage finish, having missed the day’s breakaway.
But despite the lack of clear motivation, their riders put in a huge effort to close down the breakaway, bringing the escape back to around two minutes in the closing 30km, but emptying their own resources in the process.
With 18km Total had vanished from the front of the bunch and the breakaway began to extend its advantage once more.
We saw similar tactics from Total on stage five, another breakaway stage, as the squad led the peloton for no obvious reason.
Perhaps the reason for the ride was punishment from the team car - an old-school sanction by the sports directors for missing out on the breakaway - or maybe desperation with only five days left of the racing season.
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