By Jonny Long
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) pulled off yet another remarkable performance at the Vuelta a España 2019, solo-ing to a third stage victory to reclaim a podium place on stage 20 as well as the white jersey.
The 20-year-old Slovenian attacked with 38km remaining, soon sweeping up breakaway riders and gaining a gap of more than a minute and a half to his GC rivals.
While attacks came in behind, Pogačar maintained his advantage, solo-ing over the final competitive kilometres of this year's Spanish Grand Tour to seal both the stage victory and a spot alongside his compatriot Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) on the podium in Madrid.
Roglič survived the final day to all but seal his first Grand Tour victory, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) defending his second place overall with a second place finish on the stage, a minute and a half behind Pogačar.
Roglič finished nine seconds behind the world champion, with Quintana and López further adrift, their Vueltas coming to a close in disappointing fashion.
How it happened
Stage 20 provided the final chance for any movement in the general classification before the procession to Madrid for the final stage 21.
Even after apologies had been issued after yesterday's dramatics with Movistar pulling on the front while race leader Primož Roglič and Miguel Ángel López (Astana) were caught behind in a crash, many still expected fireworks in what had so far been an entertaining Spanish Grand Tour.
Yesterday's stage winner Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) was one of the first riders to attack, clearly having developed a taste for taking the race to his opponents, accruing over 600km in the breakaway this Spanish Grand Tour.
A small group of under 10 riders then went off the front, as Cavagna dropped back in, while Jumbo-Visma marked moves by Movistar and Astana up the first climb of the day.
The action continued in the peloton, as Omar Fraile attacked for Astana after being set up by Ion Izaguirre, with Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) soon countering. Next to go was Daniel Martinez (EF Education First) before Jumbo-Visma took up pace-setting on the front of the bunch, with the gap to the break coming down to 1-45 with 160km to go.
Up the second climb, the Puerto de Serranillos, George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) worked hard to bring back a small group that had gone off the front of the peloton, as only seven riders remained up ahead in the breakaway.
Lawson Craddock (EF Education First) then attacked the peloton, while Sergio Samitier (Euskadi Basque Country - Murias) was the first to summit the climb, then going on alone at the front of the race before the group of seven came back together, with the American making it eight soon after.
Their gap had been reduced to just 30 seconds at the start of the third climb, as the break started to splinter, with only four riders out front as the bunch also slimmed down. James Knox (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), wearing injuries from yesterday's crash on stage 19, was suffering despite team-mate Philippe Gilbert providing domestique duties for the Brit as he momentarily slipped off the back of the peloton.
As Jumbo-Visma looked to be regaining control of the peloton, Geoghegan Hart attacked once more, making his way over to the breakaway with 100km to go.
The escapees' advantage was allowed to go up to the four-minute mark with 90km to go, as the action in the peloton lulled.
Up the Puerto de Chía, the break didn't contest the sprint for the line, with Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) crossing first, as Astana drove the pace in the peloton, with Knox finally dropped.
With 50km to go, only one first category climb was left in the 2019 Vuelta, with the breakaway taking only a 2-20 gap onto the foothills of the Puerto de Peña Negra.
Tiring of his breakaway companions and lusting for a stage win after a few near misses, Geoghegan Hart set off 11km from the summit, with Ruben Guerreiro (Katusha-Alpecin) following.
Jakob Fuglsang came to the front of the GC group for Astana, as Jumbo-Visma's Sepp Kuss was dropped due to the acceleration. After the Dane had laid the groundwork, Miguel Ángel López attacked with 43km to go.
This move drew out his GC rivals, until the pace then lulled allowing Majka and a number of Astana riders back on, with Geoghegan Hart's advantage up ahead reduced to a minute.
López went again a couple of kilometres later, with Roglič, Valverde, Pogačar and Quintana all going clear once more, as Majka and the other lesser GC men eventually dragging themselves back on.
With 38km to go it was Pogačar's turn, the 20-year-old hitting out to no response from his rivals. Valverde then tried to launch but turned around soon after, dismayed that Bora-Hansgrohe were pulling him back, the world champion wanting to test Roglič and force him to do the work.
Pogačar soon made his way up to Geoghegan Hart and Guerreiro, with 3.8km to the summit, dropping both of them within the next 800m.
As he reached the final kilometre of the climb, he had taken out 1-20 over his GC rivals, meaning he'd overtaken both López and Quintana on the virtual GC, reclaiming his podium place.
Over the summit of the Puerto de Peña Negra, Geoghegan Hart and Guerreiro were caught by the GC group, with Pogačar maintaining his gap of 1-35 on the 15km descent with just over 25km to the finish.
With 15km remaining, Pogačar was still 1-44 ahead, with Movistar and Astana not getting organised and working to reel back in the 20-year-old who threatened their GC spots.
Pogačar hit the final climb with an advantage of 1-40 as Movistar and Astana took up the chase and cut 10 seconds from the Slovenian's gap.
Rafał Majka then attacked, with the other GC riders following, but failing to dent Pogačar's lead with 3km to go.
López then started to fall away, his white jersey in jeopardy, before Quintana was also dropped. Pogačar sailed over the line, having done enough to displace López and third-placed Quintana, although Valverde had done enough chasing to make sure the youngster didn't displace him from second.
Roglič finished nine seconds behind Valverde to all but secure his first Grand Tour victory, and will be accompanied by his compatriot Pogačar, in what will be a watershed moment for Slovenian cycling in Madrid tomorrow.
Vuelta a España 2019, stage 20: Arenas de San Pedro to Plataforma de Gredos (190.4km)
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 5-16-40
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 1-32
3. Rafał Majka (Pol) Movistar
4. Hermann Pernsteiner (Aut) Bahrain-Merida, all at same time
5. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 1-41
6. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Education First, at 1-49
7. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-Merida, at same time
8. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 1-56
9. Mikel Nieve (Esp) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1-59
10. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, at same time
General classification after stage 20
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 80-18-54
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 2-33
3. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 2-55
4. Nairo Quintana (Esp) Movistar, at 3-46
5. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 4-48
6. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 7-33
7. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, at 10-04
8. Carl Frederik Hagen (Nor) Lotto-Soudal, at 12-54
9. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at 22-27
10. Mikel Nieve (Esp) Mitchelton-Scott, at 22-34
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races. I'm 6'0", 26 years old, have a strong hairline and have an adequate amount of savings for someone my age. I'm very single at the minute so if you know anyone, hit me up.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab, reporting about students evacuating their bowels on nightclub dancefloors and consecrating their love on lecture hall floors. I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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