Dream finish for Rémi Cavagna as Quick-Step continue winning spree
The winning spree for Deceuninck – Quick-Step continues at the Vuelta a España, as Rémi Cavagna claimed the fourth victory for the squad at this year’s edition.
Frenchman Cavagna made it into the day’s 11-rider breakaway which formed earlier in the day, keeping himself out of trouble in another dramatic day of racing in the Spanish tour.
With 25km left to race, the 24-year-old attacked and rode imperiously into the final kilometre, holding pace as the peloton started to gain on him in the final kilometres.
Cavagna hit the relentless final climb with around 700 metres to race and the peloton were still not in sight, as he flew towards the line on the steep and cobbled gradients.
Finally the chasers emerged behind him at the last, but it was too late as Cavagna had enough gap to savour the biggest win of his career.
Having joined Quick-Step in 2017, Cavagna has taken his opportunities when they presented themselves this year, claiming a memorable victory on stage three of the Tour of California in May (despite his sketchy descending), and cementing his blossoming talent with a Grand Tour stage in Spain - another rider to count among the successes to emerge from the Quick-Step talent factory.
Crash threatens to upend GC
While stage 19 looked to be a straightforward sprint day, the Vuelta continued to offer up general classification drama, this time when big names were brought down in a crash with around 65km left to race.
The peloton descending a tight street when the crash happened against a low wall, with race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and best young rider Miguel Ángel López (Astana) hitting the floor.
Roglič was able to re-mount immediately and start chasing, as the fall opened up a split in the bunch, while López took longer to resume but was eventually paced back to Roglič by his willing team-mates.
They both eventually re-joined the front of the race and avoided any GC shake-up.
But the drama did not end there as Movistar, now leading the front half of the peloton, deployed a controversial tactic (more on that later).
The biggest casualty of the crash was Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin, who was forced to abandon the race.
Martin’s departure is more bad news for Roglič, who has now lost an experienced road captain and valuable workhorse for the flat sections, having also lost Steven Kruijswijk in the first week.
Can Jumbo-Visma continue to defend with a depleted roster?
Movistar break the unwritten rules
The unwritten rules of the peloton can often be a mystery to the outsider, but there is one silent regulation that has often reared its head in Grand Tour racing – you do not attack the race leader when he’s involved in a crash or has a mechanical.
It was Movistar who opted to ignore this rule (or didn’t realise the race leader was missing) when they began to set a driving pace on the front half of the peloton as Roglič was left in a chasing group after the crash.
While the Spanish outfit refrained from an all out attack, the blue jerseys massed at the front hinted that they were trying to open the divide that had been caused by the fall, with Valverde still hunting for time to bring him closer to leader Roglič.
Eventually Valverde and Movistar gave up their efforts and allowed the Roglič and López group to re-join the peloton, but the affected teams were not happy with the tactic.
Riders were seen admonishing the world champion for his perceived unsportsmanlike conduct – the move has also split opinion amongst fans, with some feeling it a brash move while others think it acceptable in racing conditions.
I’ll leave you to make up your own minds.
Britain and Spain swap weather for the day
An unlikely switch affected both the Vuelta and the Tour of Britain, with the heavy downpours characteristic of British shores instead raining down on the peloton in Spain, while the home crowds here were basking in sunshine and warm temperatures.
Rain in Spain (this time not falling on the plain) caused some unwelcome nerves in the bunch with just two days of racing left and is likely to have contributed to the big fall 66km from the finish in Toledo.
Fortunately, the conditions cleared later in the stage as Cavagna rode away from his rivals – a lucky break as the final cobbled climb to the line could have proved treacherous and even more demanding in the wet.
Back in the UK, the postcard-perfect conditions persisted throughout the day as Mathieu van der Poel took a second stage win and marginally extended his race lead after a tough day of racing around Burton Dassett.
And onto the finale…
The Vuelta a España 2019 now moves into its pivotal final mountain stage on day 20 – 190.4km from Arena de San Pedro to Plataforma de Gredos, with a relentless parcours for the peloton to deal with.
Stage 20 is the final opportunity for rivals to try and topple Primož Roglič, who has been unshakeable throughout the three weeks despite the drama that has unfolded.
With crashes taking his team-mates out of the race and crosswinds threatening to dislodge him from the top spot, Roglič heads into the last GC day with a considerable buffer of 2-50 over second-place Alejandro Valverde.
But with two riders on the podium already, as Nairo Quintana sits third at 3-31, Movistar have two strong cards to play for possible long-range attacks that could test Roglič’s composure.
Both Quintana and Valverde have already won the Vuelta, which gives them less to lose, while Roglič is on course to win his first ever Grand Tour, so will the pressure finally create cracks in the so-far impenetrable armour?
Slightly further down the standings, there is still the hard-fought battle for the young rider’s classification playing out between Miguel Ángel López and Tadej Pogačar.
López holds the white jersey heading into the final test, with a 32-second buffer over the Slovenian – a slim margin given the brutal course they both face.
These two battles will make the final key stage one to watch closely.
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