Sepp Kuss took his maiden Grand Tour stage victory on stage 15 of the Vuelta a España for Jumbo-Visma, as his team leader Primož Roglič survived another big test and tightened his grip on the red jersey.
The American survived from the breakaway before hitting out, collecting high-fives in the final 500m, with Ruben Guerreiro (Katusha-Alpecin) second, holding off a charging Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) in the final few kilometres.
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Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) attacked on the final climb, taking the only man ahead of him in the GC along for the ride, as the world champion and Primož Roglič rode away from their rivals and finished in eighth and ninth to pull further clear in the top two spots of the overall classification.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) once again impressed, riding across the line 41 seconds down on Roglič alongside Miguel Ángel López (Astana), successfully defending his third place.
It was another miserable day for Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who was dropped with 5km to go and finished 55 seconds behind Pogačar and López.
How it happened
Stage 15 offered up four first category climbs, the final of which led the riders to the summit finish. This would be yet another test for Primož Roglič and his hold on the red jersey.
Over the opening 54km, attacks came thick and fast, until eventually a settled group of 17 established themselves off the front, including Marc Soler (Movistar) and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos).
Sergio Samitier (Euskadi Basque Country – Murias) was first to the summit of the second of the four climbs, the 11.4km-long Puerto del Connio with an average gradient of 6.4% ahead of José Herrada (Cofidis) and Daniel Navarro (Katusha-Alpecin).
Samitier then attacked on the second climb, and although he was dragged back in with 5km to the summit, the Spaniard once again reached the summit first, this time on the Puerto del Pozo with 37km to go.
WIth 15km to go, Samitier was still taking the race to the rest of the peloton, attacking and winning the intermediate sprint. Vasil Kiryienka (Ineos) and Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r La Mondiale) then countered a kilometre later, with Kiryienka joining Samitier at the front of the race.
Once more, as the race started coming back together as they entered the final climb of the day to the summit of Puerto del Acebo, Samitier dropped Kiryienka.
Sepp Kuss, who had been in the breakaway all day, rode up to Samitier with 6.8km left, the young American then stretched his legs and left Samitier behind 100m later.
As the GC riders started the climb behind, Valverde attacked with only Roglič able to follow, leaving the rest behind.
With 4.5km to go, Valverde and Roglič had taken 20 seconds out of the GC bunch behind, including Pogačar, López and Quintana.
Ruben Guerreiro (Katusha-Alpecin) had found his legs again, finding himself 23 seconds behind Kuss, chasing him back. Tao Geoghegan Hart then left the rest of the breakaway remnants behind to chase on his own, in third place on the road.
Nairo Quintana was then dropped from the Pogačar group, which contained Rafał Majka, Miguel Ángel López and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) with 5km to go.
Roglič and Valverde shared the work as they continued to head up the road, as Fuglsang pulled the Pogačar group along.
Geoghegan Hart caught Guerreiro at 3km to go and instantly attacked, trying to track down Kuss who was 28 seconds ahead. However, he still couldn’t detach the Portguese even after a second move.
Behind, the GC riders continued to sweep up remnants of the breakaway on the climb, with Valverde and Roglič picking up Soler with 3km remaining.
Pogačar and López soon detached Majka and went off in search of Valverde and Roglič on their own, as Kuss sailed under the 1km banner with an advantage of 47 seconds over Geoghegan Hart and Guerreiro, who had been joined by Óscar Rodríguez (Euskadi Basque Country – Murias).
The road ramped up again in the final 500m, and Kuss stuck out his hand to collect high-fives from fans behind the barriers as he rode to his maiden Grand Tour stage victory.
Guerreiro then attacked Geoghegan Hart round the last couple of corners, with not much space for the Brit to get round as the Portuguese took second.
Roglič and Valverde finished together in eighth and ninth, more than two minutes down, as Pogačar attacked López but was unable to dislodge the Colombian, as they crossed the line with the same time, 40 seconds behind their GC rivals.
Nairo Quintana came through a further 55 seconds later, his Vuelta now dead and buried, while the GC riders turn their attention to podium places as Roglič’s lead begins to look increasinbly unassailable.
Vuelta a España 2019, stage 15: Tineo to Santuario del Acebo (154.4km)
1. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma, in 4-19-04
2. Ruben Guerreiro (Por) Katusha-Alpecin, at 39 seconds
3. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Ineos, at 40s
4. Óscar Rodríguez (Esp) Euskadi Basque Country – Murias, at 53s
5. Mark Padun (Ukr) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-49
6. Ben O’Connor (Aus) Dimension Data, at 2-05
7. Lawson Craddock (USA) EF Education First, at 2-11
8. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 2-14
9. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at same time
10. Armée Sander (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 2-48
11. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 2-55
12. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at same time
17. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 3-50
General classification after stage 15
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 58-10-32
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 2-25
3. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 3-42
4. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 3-59
5. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 5-09
6. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 7-14
7. Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, at 9-08
8. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, at 9-15
9. Carl Frederik Hagen (Nor) Lotto-Soudal, at 9-44
10. Hermann Pernsteiner (Aut) Bahrain-Merida, at 11-39