Five talking points from stage 18 of the Vuelta a España 2019

Talking points from the penultimate mountain stage of the Vuelta a España

Sergio Higuita wins the stage

Sergio Higuita on stage 18 of the 2019 Vuelta a España (Sunada)

When the GC action kicked off as early as the stage’s penultimate climb following an explosive attack from Miguel Ángel López (Astana), it looked as though the day’s break stood no chance of succeeding.

Indeed, the increase in pace proved too much for the breakaway group, which was swept up on the run-in to the final climb. But one rider remained out alone, having attacked his breakaway companions on the descent around 50km from the finish – Sergio Higuita (EF Education First).

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The young Colombian held a reasonable lead of one minute at the foot of the final climb, and did a magnificent job of only losing a handful of seconds by the summit. A tense descent followed, but he did enough to keep the chasing group at bay and hold on for a memorable stage victory on his debut Grand Tour.

Higuita had been targeting GC, and was well placed at 12th overall before being caught out in yesterday’s crosswinds. To bounce back in such impressive fashion today suggests the 22-year-old has a tough, resilient mentality to match his exceptional climbing talent, and will surely be a star of the future.

Quintana and Pogačar lose time

Nairo Quintana and Tadej Pogacar on stage 18 of the Vuelta a España (Sunada)

The day’s big losers in the GC race were Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates).

Both riders were dropped early on during the final climb following an attack from López, with Quintana joining a group also containing Carl Frederik Hagen (Lotto-Soudal) and Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), and Pogačar caught in no-man’s land ahead of him.

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They joined forces to try and limit their losses to the group ahead, which continued López, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), but had conceded a whole minute by the finish.

The result is that Quintana slips from second to third overall, swapping places with his Movistar team-mate Valverde, while Pogačar falls to fifth and loses the young white jersey to López.

Given Quintana’s recent form in the mountains, his being dropped didn’t come as much of a surprise, but this is the weakest that Pogačar has looked for a while. Perhaps the 20-year-old is finally beginning to fatigue in these late stages of his first ever Grand Tour.

Primož Roglič remains untroubled

Alejandro Valverde and Primoz Roglic on stage 18 of the 2019 Vuelta a España (Sunada)

It was another imperious day in the saddle for Primož Roglič, whose overall lead never looked anywhere near under threat on what was the penultimate mountain stage of the race.

López gave him something of a headache with his long-range attack, but Jumbo-Visma had the strength to keep the move well under control. Sepp Kuss set a steady tempo to keep López at around 30 seconds, before the help of Neilson Powless – who dropped back from the day’s break – ensured the Colombian was reeled back in.

On the final climb, Roglič had no problem monitoring all the attacks himself. Again López was the main instigator, and did manage to get a gap with Roglič isolated, but this time the red jersey enjoyed the help of Valverde, who bridged up to López with the intention of defending his own spot on the podium.

From that point on Roglič was able to sit on wheels why López set the pace, with the intention of putting as much time as possible into the distance duo of Pogačar and Quintana.

With his rivals all now more preoccupied with fighting for the other two spots on the podium, Roglič looks like he should enjoy a relatively comfortable ride from here until Madrid.

López animates the race

Miguel Angel Lopez on stage 18 of the 2019 Vuelta a España (Sunada)

Kudos to Miguel Ángel López for bringing the entertainment to today’s racing.

The 25-year-old clearly had great legs today, and was determined to make the very most of them.

Both a spectacular stage win and leap up the GC appeared to be on his mind when he took off with an explosive solo attack a whole 60km from the finish. Although the former was not forthcoming, and although he was unable to put any time into Roglič or Valverde, he was still able to move up to fourth overall.

López has been the most aggressive of the GC contenders throughout the Vuelta, but could perhaps be criticised for not measuring his efforts wisely.

He did a good race today, however, and will now be taking aim at a podium finish. At just 46 seconds behind a faltering Quintana, third place is well within his reach.

Geoffrey Bouchard set to be crowned King of the Mountains

Geoffrey Bouchard in the mountains jersey on stage 18 of the Vuelta a España (Sunada)

With a maximum of 40 points available over the day’s fourth category one climbs, and with only one more stage in the mountains to come after, today was a crucial day in the battle to be King of the Mountains.

Overall leader in that classification Geoffrey Bouchard did a fine job of defending his lead, getting into the day’s break, and ensuring he was the first rider to summit each of the first three climbs.

His main rival for the jersey, Ángel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) was not even in the break, paving the way for Bouchard to vastly extend his lead. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) was present in the break, and, at third overall in the classification, might have posed a threat. But the Brit opted not to contest Bouchard, leaving him with a fairly straightforward route towards amassing many more points.

The Frenchman now holds a lead of 32 points over Madrazo, and, realistically, only has to make it to Madrid to confirm victory.