Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) delivered his third stage win of the 2022 Vuelta a España on Saturday, holding on from a breakaway move to take stage 20.
Overall leader Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) finished in a group of GC riders shortly behind, passing the final mountain test of this year's race.
Behind Carapaz, Thymen Arensman (DSM) jumped out of the red jersey group to nab second place with Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) taking third.
Carapaz was part of a strong escape group that formed in the first half of the mountainous stage from Moralzarzal to Puerto de Navacerrada in Spain's Meseta Central. Heading into the day's final climb, Carapaz had only Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) for company out front. Carapaz and Higuita left Meintjes behind at the start of the climb, and then Carapaz dropped Higuita near the summit of the ascent, extending his already commanding lead in the mountains classification as he went over the top.
The Olympic champion held on through the mostly flat final 5km to secure the win.
"It's a very exciting, very beautiful victory for me, which shows the kind of rider I am," Carapaz said after his win.
"It was spectacular to be able to win this stage, with this jersey, which means a lot for me."
In the GC battle, Evenepoel consistently proved himself up to the challenges posed by his rivals on the day, comfortably responding to the aggression of Enric Mas (Movistar) on the penultimate ascent and hardly bothered on the final climb by the repeated attacks of Miguel Ángel López (Astana), who was himself unable to dislodge Ayuso from his third place in the overall standings.
When all was said and done, the only major change at the top of the overall leaderboard was the arrival of João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) into the top five overall and the move of Arensman into sixth after Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) dropped two spots to seventh overall.
How it happened
The early goings of the up-and-down stage 20 saw quite a few riders working hard to get clear of the peloton, with multiple groups forming out front on the day's first categorized climb. By the time riders had made it over the first-category Puerto de Navacerrada, a handful of riders led the race with a larger group chasing and yet another escape group chasing that one, with Carapaz in the third selection.
Over the ensuing kilometers, Robert Stannard and Marc Soler took the lead, but things began to coalesce out front as groups came together. With some 50km to go, a group of more than 20 riders was together at the head of the race.
On the day's penultimate climb, the Puerto de la Morcuera, Carapaz linked up with Higuita and Meintjes, leaving behind the rest of the breakaway riders on a steep gradient that climbed to nearly 1,800 meters above sea level. Meanwhile, Mas tried his luck out of the red jersey group, but Evenepoel responded with ease to the move, and the top GC riders all went over the summit together.
Carapaz, Higuita, and Meintjes arrived at the final climb together but Meintjes was quickly dropped, leaving just two riders out front.
Back in the GC group, fourth-placed Miguel Ángel López fired off one attack after another, but Ayuso and his UAE teammate João Almeida were continually up to the challenge of chasing the Colombian down.
Meanwhile, Carapaz finally launched his decisive strike less than a thousand meters from the top of the ascent, getting out of the saddle and putting Higuita in the rearview mirror. Carapaz went up and over the climb first, extending his lead in the mountains classification, with Higuita a few seconds behind and the GC riders not far behind that. Although the red jersey group was much reduced by the time it crested the climb, the top GC contenders all remained.
Out front, Carapaz battled to maintain his advantage as the road continued to wind toward the finish. With 4.5km to go, Higuita was swept up by the GC riders, but Carapaz had worked his advantage out to a hefty 24 seconds. Arensman jumped from the red jersey group and closed down some of the gap, but Carapaz held on to take the win, his third of the race. Arensman arrived eight seconds later, with Ayuso a further five seconds back.
Finishing behind a small gap in the GC group, Evenepoel did concede two seconds to Mas on the day, but with the final mountain stage of the race now in the rearview mirror, the Belgian youngster has all but secured the overall victory ahead of Sunday's sprinter-friendly final stage.
Vuelta a España 2022: Stage 20 results
1. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ines Grenadiers, in 4-41-34
2. Thymen Arensman (Ned) Team DSM, at 8s
3. Juan Ayuso (Esp) UAE Team Emirates, at 13s
4. Jai Hindley (Aus) BORA-Hansgrohe
5. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar
6. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, at 15s
7. Louis Meintjes (RSA) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
8. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana Qazaqstan
9. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at 17s
10. Sergio Higuita (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 32s
General classification after stage 20
1. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, in 78-00-12
2. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar, at 2-05
3. Juan Ayuso (Esp) UAE Team Emirates, at 5-08
4. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana Qazaqstan, at 5-56
5. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates, at 7-16
6. Thymen Arensman (Ned) Team DSM, at 7-56
7. Carlos Rodríguez (Esp) Ineos Grenadiers, at 7-57
8. Ben O’Connor (Aus) AG2R Citroën Team, at 10-30
9. Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education-EasyPost, at 11-04
10. Jai Hindley (Aus) BORA-Hansgrohe, at 12-01
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