Five talking points from stage 15 of the 2018 Vuelta a España

The main talking points from stage 15 of the 2018 Vuelta a España

Thibaut Pinot is victorious

Thibaut Pinot on stage 15 of the 2018 Vuelta a España (Sunada)

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It’s been a tantalising season for Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ). After sealing one of the biggest results of his career with overall victory at the Tour of the Alps, Pinot looked primed for a serious GC challenge, and indeed was just two days away from making the podium before illness overcame him.

He’s looked on similarly good form here at the Vuelta, but has had his hopes severely dented by a needless yet significant loss of 1-44 sustained after being held up in a crash on stage six.

Whatever happens from now until Madrid, the Frenchman will be able to look back on today’s stage win as a triumphant achievement. 6km away from the summit of Lagos de Covadonga Pinot took off, capitalising on the leeway afforded to him for being further down the GC, and holding on to join an illustrious list of former winners on one of Spain’s most legendary climbs.

The time gained was also enough to move him up seventh on the GC, 2-10 down, putting him very much back in contention for a podium finish.

A humdinger of a GC battle

Simon Yates with Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde on stage 15 of the 2018 Vuelta a España (Sunada)

The steepness of many uphill finishes at the Vuelta sometimes has the effect of neutralising the GC battle until near the summit, with riders cautious not to overcommit too early and burn out at the top.

But that certainly was not the case today, as hostilities were opened with a Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) attack over 7km from the finish, and continued in earnest all the way to the top/

Movistar managed to eradicate Lopez’s lead thanks to domestique Richard Carapaz, but after he peeled off, leaving just team leaders to duke it out among themselves, the situation became gloriously anarchic.

Lopez attacked some more, the likes of Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) were dropped only to claw themselves back in, and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) subjected everyone to a series of explosive accelerations that stretched them to breaking point.

For all the attacking and fluctuating situation, however, the elite GC riders generally seemed evenly matched, with the top-six on GC all finishing within six seconds of each other.

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That makes Tuesday’s individual time trial ever more crucial, as a standalone test that will at last cause ruptures between riders of whom there has been little to separate up until now.

Lopez misses out on stage win after hard work from Astana

Miguel Angel Lopez on stage 15 of the Vuelta a España (Sunada)

Astana made their intentions clear today by spending most of the day riding at the front of the peloton, and not relinquishing control until launching Lopez for an attack on Lagos de Covadonga.

By ensuring that the day’s break were caught, Astana were not just interested in improving the Colombian’s GC prospects, but also intent on claiming a first stage win at this year’s edition.

Lopez did not relent after his first attack was neutralised, and looked like he had a chance of catching Pinot when an attack 2km from the summit saw him disappear into the fog, out of sight from the rest of the group of favourites.

He did indeed manage to hold them off, but Pinot’s gap proved to be too high, meaning Lopez had to settle for a second successive runner-up finish.

Enric Mas continues to be the revelation of the race

Enric Mas on stage 15 of the 2018 Vuelta a España (Sunada)

With two weeks of the Vuelta completed, the revelation of this year’s race appears to be Enric Mas.

For the third consecutive summit finish, the young Spaniard was again in the mix among the to GC favourites, finishing sixth to limit his losses to just six seconds to the red jersey.

The result sees him rise from eighth to six on the GC, having previously moved from 11km to eighth the day before, and now looks a good bet for a top-10 overall – and potentially even a push for the podium.

Having impressed with his aggressive racing on Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta last year, and managing top six finishes at the Tour of the Basque Country and Tour de Suisse earlier this season, Mas has looked like a hot prospect these past 12 months, but it’s been these past few days that the 23-year-old has come of age as Spain’s next big GC talent.

A close King of the Mountains battle is brewing

Bauke Mollema at the 2018 Vuelta a España (Sunada)

A competitive battle for the king of the mountains classification is shaping, with several riders all revealing an interest in chasing points.

Current leader Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) again failed to make the day’s break, paving the way for others to hoover up the many points on offer today.

Unlike most King of the Mountain battles at Grand Tour, which usually have boiled down to two or maybe three contenders by this point, multiple riders remain in contention at this year’s Vuelta – among them Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Ben King (Dimension Data), who were the first two riders over both ascents of the category one Mirador del Fito.

They’re now third and fourth on the classification, behind Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) in second – who also went out on the attack to claim maximum points on the day’s opening category three climb – and ahead of Pierre Rolland (EF Education First-Drapac), who continues to pick up enough to points to just about keep himself in contention.