Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) made a sensational solo 25km effort to take his first Grand Tour victory on stage 19 of the 2019 Vuelta a España.
The Frenchman had been part of the day’s main breakaway, but jumped clear alone with 25km to go to try and make a bid for victory.
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With over a minute’s advantage on the peloton and a mostly flat run in towards a short, steep final climb, Cavagna reached the finish town of Toledo with a handsome margin still in hand.
It was cut by almost half on the first incline in the town with 6km to go, but he held on to that into the final kilometre.
By the time he hit the cobbled steep final climb in the final 500m, Cavagna had enough of a cushion to hold off the peloton, forcing sprinter Sam Bennett into second as he cruised to the biggest win of his career so far.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) managed to take three seconds on overall race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) on the final climb, but the Slovenian continues to lead the race by 2-47 with one mountain stage remaining.
How it happened
The Vuelta a España took a break from the mountains on stage 19 with a 165.2km stage from Ávila to Toledo that presented a possible opportunity for the sprinters.
The finish however featured a tricky and technical uphill cobbled road that wouldn’t make it a simple affair.
With the success breakaways have had in this race a bigger than usual group for a flat stage escaped after the start, with 11 riders going clear early on the climb that began the stage. Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale), Domen Novak (Bahrain-Merida), Shane Archbold (Bora-Hansgrohe), Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Lawson Craddock (EF Education First), Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ), Tsgabu Grmay (Mitchelton-Scott), Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data), David de la Cruz (Team Ineos), Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb) and Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) were the riders to make up the breakaway for the day.
They were able to establish a maximum gap of around 3-30 with just under 60km ridden, but Bora-Hansgrohe were the team aiming to keep their advantage under control in aid of Sam Bennett.
The first major drama in the stage came with 66km remaining when, in the rain that had gathered over the race in central Spain, a crash took down a section of the peloton including race leader Primož Roglič and fourth place overall Miguel Ángel López (Astana)
One of Roglič’s key domestiques Tony Martin also went down, and was forced to abandon.
Controversially, Movistar then began to drill the pace on the front of the remaining peloton up the road as Roglič and López gathered themselves and made pursuit in a small group.
With Roglič and López over a minute behind at one point, common sense finally prevailed and the peloton slowed up to let them catch up.
Because of this slowing in the bunch, the breakaway’s advantage, which had slipped to around a minute, crept back up to 1-50 with 48km left to ride.
Crosswinds briefly disrupted the peloton with 35km to go, with Bora temporarily splitting the bunch before all the GC contenders were able to regroup.
Out front, Rémi Cavagna had clearly had enough of hanging around with the gap now at 1-20, and with 25km to go he made off on his own, putting 30 seconds into his former breakaway companions.
In the final 8km, Cavangna still held over 55 seconds on the peloton and 29 over the chase group, giving himself a chance of victory.
But his advantage was halved as he hit some inclines with 6km to go with Craddock, Armirail and Arndt now the only riders left in pursuit at 30 seconds behind with the peloton now breathing down their necks.
Cavagna was able to hold on to his 30-second advantage heading into the final kilometre and had enough of a cushion to hold off the peloton on the steep final climb to the finish to take victory.
The Vuelta continues with stage 20 on Saturday, a 190.4km mountain stage from Arenas de San Pedro to Plataforma de Gredos.
Vuelta a España 2019, stage 19: Ávila to Toledo (165.2km)
1. Rémi Cavagna (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, in 3-43-34
2. Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 5 seconds
3. Zdeněk Štybar (Cze) Deceuninck-Quick-Step
4. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Deceuninck-Quick-Step
5. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, all same time
6. Tosh Van Der Sande (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 8 seconds
7. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-Merida
8. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
9. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana
10. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), all same time
General classification after stage 19
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 75-00-36
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 2-47
3. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 3-31
4. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, 4-17
5. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 4-49
6. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 7-46
7. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, at 9-46
8. Carl Fredrik Hagen (Nor) Loto-Soudal, at 11-50
9. James Knox (GBr) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 12-44
10. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at 21-09