Philippe Gilbert took the victory on stage 12 of the Vuelta a España 2019 with a ride befitting his talent and experience.
The Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider got himself into the day’s breakaway, which took more than 100km to materialise, before attacking late on the final climb, holding off two Spanish chasers to sail across the line with his arms aloft.
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Alex Aranburu (Caja Rural – Seguros RGA) finished second after beating Fernando Barceló (Euskadi Basque Country – Murias) in the sprint finish, the pair initially holding Gilbert’s wheel after he attacked but getting distanced when the Belgian kicked on.
The GC contenders rode in safely a couple of minutes later, despite a moto driver having to get off his vehicle and wave a flag to warn riders of an oil spill on one of the final corners.
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) remains in the red jersey and, after a couple of day’s gifted to breakaways, the battle for the race lead will continue on stage 13 which features yet another summit finish.
How it happened
Despite a few initial skirmishes, the high pace kept the bunch together for the first 110km of racing. Eventually, a large number of riders broke clear with 62km to go, Willie Smit (Katusha-Alpecin) initially getting a gap at the front of the course before 18 other riders joined him.
Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates) took the KOM points up the Alto de Urruztimendi ahead of Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) and Philippe Gilbert.
Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural – Seguros RGA) hit out before Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) attempted his second attack of the day, with Tsgabu Grmay (Mitchelton-Scott) countering and leading him over the Alto El Vivero with 25km to go.
Großschartner then returned the favour, beating Grmay in the intermediate sprint as the pair briefly pulled away before being caught as they started the final climb of the day to Alto de Arraiz, which had an average gradient of 10.6% over 2.6km.
Tim Declerq had done his work to set up Deceuninck – Quick-Step team-mate Philippe Gilbert, dropping off the group just before the Paris-Roubax winner attacked with 1.7km to the summit, just over 9km until the finish line.
Barceló got on his wheel, as did Aranburu, but Gilbert then kicked on again 200m later gapping the Spanish pair.
Jumbo-Visma and Roglič turned the screw as they got on the climb, looking to make life difficult for others with a show of strength, decimating the peloton.
Aranburu and Barceló trailed Gilbert with under a kilometre to go to the summit by 22 seconds, decreasing to 16 seconds by the time they’d hit the downhill into the finish with 5km remaining.
The Spanish pair started closing in in the final 2km, the gap just about holding at eight seconds. The experienced puncheur held on until the finish line, lifting his arms aloft and claiming his sixth Vuelta stage victory, as Aranburu out-sprinted Barceló behind for second place.
Vuelta a España 2019, stage 12: Circuito de Navarra to Bilbao (171.4km)
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, in 3-48-18
2. Alex Aranburu (Esp) Caja Rural – Seguros RGA, at three seconds
3. Fernando Barceló (Esp) Euskadi Basque Country – Murias, at same time
4. José Joaquín Rojas (Esp) Movistar, at 22s
5. Nikias Arndt (Ger) Sunweb, at 26s
6. Tosh Van der Sande (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 29s
7. Cyril Barthe (Fra) Euskadi Basque Country – Murias
8. Manuele Boaro (Ita) Astana
9. Tim Declerq (Bel) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, all at same time
10. Valerio Conti (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 31s
General classification after stage 12
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 44-52-08
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 1-52
3. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 2-11
4. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 3-00
5. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 3-05
6. Carl Frederik Hagen (Nor) Lotto-Soudal, at 4-59
7. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 5-42
8. Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, at 5-49
9. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-Merida, at 6-07
10. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, at 6-25