The key talking points from stage 20 of the Vuelta a España
Yates shows maturity to seal overall victory
Any lingering fears that Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) might suffer a repeat of the collapse that saw him lose the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia were made a mockery of, as the Briton road a calm and level-headed race to seal overall victory.
As expected, Yates was put under pressure through attacks from his rivals, but he dealt with all of them adequately. On two separate occasions Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) managed to escape up the road, but Yates remained calm each time, biding his time first before closing the moves down at the opportune moments.
There was a fright when he was dropped by Lopez and Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) on the final climb, but even this in hindsight appears to be a wise decision of energy conservation. With over two minutes to play with on GC ahead of both riders, Yates did not have to match their pace if he felt it too quick for him – by climbing at his own pace, he managed to avoid risking going into the red zone, while never losing enough time for his red jersey to be in peril.
This ride shows how much he has matured since the miscalculations at the Giro d’Italia. It might have come four months later than expected, but Simon Yates is now a Grand Tour winner.
Enric Mas with a dream ending to the Vuelta
It was a fairytale finish to what has been a star-making Vuelta for Enric Mas (Quick-Step).
Not only did the Spaniard out-sprint Miguel Angel Lopez to take the queen stage of the Vuelta and the biggest win of his career, he also leaps up from fourth to second overall.
At 23 years and 251 days old, he becomes the youngest rider to finish on a Grand Tour podium since Nairo Quintana at the 2013 Tour de France.
There has been a recent decline in the number of Spanish Grand Tour contenders, especially since the retirement of Alberto Contador, but the nation seems to have found the next big thing in Enric Mas.
Lopez is – partially – awarded for ambition
The stage’s major aggressors were Astana and Miguel Angel Lopez, who will have mixed feelings about the outcome – the Colombian moves up from fifth to third on the GC, but just missed out on a stage win.
Astana signalled their intent by moving to the front of the peloton on the third (the Coll de Ordino) of the day’s six climbs, then upped the pace even more on the fourth (Coll de Beixalis) to such an extent that a gap opened up between Dario Cataldo, Omar Fraile and Lopez ahead of the rest of the bunch.
It was unclear whether that was indeed the plan, but the trio pressed on anyway, forcing Simon to use his brother Adam to chase. Everything had come back together by the summit, but Lopez attacked again on the descent, this time with more success as podium rivals Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) were distanced for good.
Despite all this attacking, Lopez still had the energy to ride away from Simon Yates on the final climb, but didn’t quite have enough to defeat the only rider still with him, Mas, for the stage win.
Still, another podium finish following his third-place finish at the Giro earlier this season is an exceptional achievement from the 24-year old, and he’ll enter whichever Grand Tour(s) he opts to target next season as a major favourite.
Movistar’s race ends in tatters
Movistar’s race started to unravel yesterday when Alejandro Valverde was dropped and lost a chunk of time to Simon Yates, and today things got even worse.
Despite their weakened position, Movistar still appeared to be intent on winning the red jersey rather than simply defending Valverde’s podium position. Tellingly, when Nairo Quintana – who had attacked several times – was joined by Lopez ahead of the peloton on the descent of the Beixalis, he opted to press on and work with his Colombian compatriot, suggesting that the team was more concerned with putting Yates under pressure than worrying about the threat of Lopez.
Their ambition was admirable, but the execution non-existent, as Valverde was unable to respond to Simon Yates’ acceleration to bridge up to the Colombians, and was dropped altogether on the final climb (the Coll de la Gallina). Quintana dropped back to help his team-mate, but there wasn’t much he could do to stop the rot, and the pair slipped further and further away from their rivals.
The result is that Valverde falls dramatically from second on the GC to fifth, while Quintana slips further from sixth to eighth. Given the pair had started the final week in second and third, they will be bitterly disappointed.
No podium again for Kruijswijk
It’s been a topsy-turvy end to the Vuelta for Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), whose position on the GC has fluctuated on all but one day throughout the final week.
Having gained time in the time trial, lost some on the summit to Oiz, and gained some more again on yesterday’s summit finish, the Dutchman found himself in third overall heading into today’s stage.
Whether he would hold on to that podium finish depended on which Kruijswijk turned up today, and, unfortunately, it seemed to be the weaker version, as he failed to react to attacks from his direct rivals, Lopez and Mas. He took over the pace-setting in the chasing group after Valverde was dropped, but was unable to make any inroads, and ultimately fell to fourth overall.
He’ll be disappointed at having again missed out on an elusive Grand Tour podium, having also had to settle for fourth place at the Giro two years ago, but it remains true that the 31-year old has exceeded expectations this season, and has re-established himself as a genuine Grand Tour contender.