Vuelta a España stage 18: Remco Evenepoel wins in dramatic finale on the Alto de Piornal
The red jersey took his second stage win of the race after catching and passing Robert Gesink in the final meters of the stage.
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Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) took his second stage victory at the Vuelta a España with a dramatic win on the Alto de Piornal on stage 18, beating Enric Mas (Movistar) in a dash for the line.
Evenepoel attacked several times during the final kilometers of the climb, as did Mas. The Belgian then followed a move from Mas inside the final kilometer that pulled them clear from the other favorites.
The duo caught Robert Gesink (Jumbo-Visma), the last man standing from the early breakaway, with just under 400 meters to go. The Dutchman had gone into final kilometer with over 20 seconds of an advantage, but Mas’ attack saw his lead demolished.
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Gesink kept riding on the front of the three-man group but had no answer when Evenepoel launched his sprint for the line around the final bend. Evenpoel’s speed was such that he pulled out a two-second advantage on the others, with Mas just pipping Gesink to take second place.
Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) led home the second group of favorites at 13 seconds behind Evenepoel with Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) losing over a minute after suffering a high-speed crash early in the stage. The performance sees Evenepoel add six seconds to his overall lead and he now has a 2:08 advantage over Mas.
The stage was marked by a long-range attack from João Almeida, who went off the front with over 80k to go. While his move was eventually nullified on the final climb, it ensured a fast-paced day in the mountains.
“It’s really a new achievement in my life,” Evenepoel said of his mountain stage win. “It was a really tough stage with really tough climbs in the final and early attacks from UAE with Almeida so the race was really hard, but we always stayed calm. That’s what I’ve learned the most, to always stay calm. It’s like in the last kilometer we were still 15 or 20 seconds from Gesink and, in the end, we caught up to him with 300 and I went with 200 meters. I knew that it would flatten out and I have worked a lot on my sprint after a big effort and it paid off.
“Winning on a mountain top in the red jersey is amazing. Enric is a really fair play guy. In the end, we worked together to go for the stage win, because he also wanted to try and go but it was a sprint. It was a big race from the team and it was a perfect day. I think this was the most perfect day, ever.”
How it happened
Stage 18 of the Vuelta a España brought the peloton 192km from Trujillo to the first category Alto de Pinoral. The riders would take on the Pinoral twice with the course approaching it from two different angles.
After a short delay while Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroën) had a puncture attended to, it was a very fast start to the stage with several big groups making a bid for the breakaway. Amidst the frenetic racing, mountains classification leader Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck) came down in a crash with the green jersey, Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), and GC contender Carlos Rodríguez.
Pedersen was able to continue without too much damage, but Rodríguez was less fortunate, and he would ride on with big cuts to his left side. Unfortunately for Vine, his injuries proved too much for the Australian to race on and he would be forced to abandon.
The attacks off the front of the peloton continued for some time with the breakaway eventually forming after just under 50 kilometers of racing. The move had 41 riders, including some past stage winners in Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates), along with climbers such as Gesink, Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), Sergio Hitguita (Bora-Hansgrohe), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana-Qazaqstan), and Gino Mäder (Bahrain-Merida).
With a strong cohort ahead and no GC threats, the breakaway quickly built up a lead of more than nine minutes. UAE Team Emirates was not content with the pace being set in the bunch and sent several riders to the front with over 90 kilometers to go. The surge in pace was then followed by an attack with Almeida and Brandon McNulty jumping off the front of the peloton even before the first climb of the day was in sight.
Almeida’s actions lit a fire under the bunch, which had to up its pace to keep the Portuguese nearby. As the UAE pair hit the bottom of the Alto de la Desesperá with just over 80k remaining, they had built up a lead of close to a minute. McNulty could do no more and peeled off to allow his teammate to carry on alone.
Astana-Qazaqstan took the responsibility to chase Almeida, with the Portuguese just 1:28 behind its leader Miguel Ángel López at the start of the day. The push quickly cut down the numbers in the group of favorites with around 20 able to keep up.
Up front, the breakaway was splitting up as attacks began going off the front. An effort by Clément Russo (Arkéa-Samsic) was shut down, before Carthy attacked on the first ascent of the Alto de Pinoral. Pinot and Higuita were the only ones that could initially go with Carthy, but Carapaz, Elie Gesbert (Arkéa-Samsic), and Gesink soon joined.
Further back down the road, teammates were being called back from the breakaway to help their GC teammates. Soler was sent back to pace Almeida, while Nibali was sent to help López in the main bunch.
With assistance from Soler, Almeida was able to get up to one of the dropped groups from the breakaway. The gap between the UAE rider and those behind hovered around 30 seconds for some time as the deficit to the six leaders continued to reduce.
Gesbert attacked from the lead group inside the final 20k, and he was eventually joined by Gesink inside the last 10k.
As the chase group hit the final climb, Soler pulled off after putting in a big turn from Almeida. Meanwhile, Mas sprinted out of the remnants of the group of favorites to pick up a bidon and decided to keep the pressure on, but Evenepoel was hot on his tail.
There was a partial regrouping, but Evenepoel soon took his own opportunity to attack, taking with him Mas and several others. Perhaps feeling the strain of the chase efforts earlier, López could not keep up and was dropped along with Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) and Rodriguez. The attacks saw Evenepoel and co. quickly make contact with the Almeida group.
At the front of the race, Gesink dropped Gesbert with just over five kilometers to go, but the Evenepoel group was less than a minute behind with Carlos Verona setting the pace on behalf of Mas. López and Ayuso ground their way back into the group of favorites before a string of attacks from Mas and Evenepoel rained down.
Punctuated by brief lulls, the attacks would continue all the way to the finish with Evenepoel and Mas the main instigators. The surges and subsequent lulls helped Gesink, who could do nothing but pace himself up the climb. However with 700 meters to go an attack from Mas saw the gap fall to just nine seconds.
In the end, it wasn’t to be for Gesink, who saw Evenepoel and Mas ride up to him with just under 400 meters to go. The Dutchman tried to push on but couldn’t react when Evenepoel launched for the line with 200 meters remaining.
Results will be available once stage has completed.