Vuelta a España stage 20: Sepp Kuss seals red jersey as Poels denies Evenepoel breakaway win

Kuss rolls home flanked by Roglič, Vingegaard in final day of classification racing.

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

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Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) denied Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) his fourth stage win of the Vuelta a España with a diesel-engine sprint out of a five-rider attack.

Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) came to the line flanked by teammates Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard more than 10 minutes later in Saturday’s 20th stage to all-but seal the first GC victory of his career.

“I’m super relieved,” Kuss said after he survived any late scares Saturday. “I’m still recovering from that last climb, but I’ve almost made it.”

There were no shifts at the top of the classification Saturday.

The result leaves Jumbo-Visma poised for a historic grand tour grand slam and a sweep of the Vuelta podium when the race wraps up Sunday after a processional/sprinter stage in Madrid.

Tour de France champion Vingegaard will take the second step below Kuss, with Giro d’Italia winner Roglič third.

After a Vuelta marred by intra-team tension, Jumbo-Visma got its picture postcard final with Vingegaard, Kuss, and Roglič arm-in-arm down the finish straight.

“It was a super special moment. To be able to relax that much in the last K of a mountain stage with your two teammates is just really cool,” Kuss said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet.”

Jumbo-Visma managing director Richard Plugge hailed his team’s achievement after the stage.

“It was the plan in January but we wanted to go step-by-step. First the Giro, then the Tour, the goal wasn’t necessarily to win all three, but we wanted to of course. If you pull it off it’s a historic thing that never happened,” he said. “Its added up to a result like this – it’s incredible.”

The anticipated battle for fourth between Spaniards Enric Mas (Movistar), Juan Ayuso (UAE Emirates), and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) barely materialised to leave the recently turned 21-year-old Ayuso fourth overall.

Wout Poels did it for the old guys on stage 20 of the Vuelta.

It’s been an under-radar standout season for Poels. The 35-year old won gritty victory at the Tour de France  earlier in the summer and was among the moves in almost all the breakaway days of this Vuelta.

“I am like a bottle of wine…the older it gets the better! No, it is amazing, especially stage 20, beating riders like Evenepoel, Soler … super,” Poels joked at the finish.

“In the year I won Liège we also attacked on the cobbles, today also attacked on the cobbles. I think in Liège we also went in the last corner for the sprint, here also. It’s super.”

Breakaway rules the day

It’s fitting former Liège-Bastogne-Liège champions Poels and Evenepoel went 1-2, because Saturday’s penultimate stage of GC racing looked like Spain’s own Ardennes classic.

Ten lower category climbs were stacked into a 208km route that was the longest of the race, and one of the hilliest, with around 4,400m gain.

All-eyes were on Evenepoel to animate this trek through the Sierra de Guadarrama. He’d won three stages already and liked what he saw in a course perfect for his power and punch.

Evenepoel took three teammates into the power-packed break that got away inside the opening 20km of racing.

Big hitters Poel, Lennert van Eetvelt (Lotto-Dstny), Lennard Kamna (Bora Hansgrohe), Marc Soler (UAE Emirates), Lenny Martinez (Groupama FDJ), Andreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny), Romain Bardet (DSM), Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) were just some of the headline names to join Evenepoel in the 31-rider move.

Jumbo-Visma put Wilco Kelderman into the break as insurance policy before the team of Kuss and Co patrolled the front of the bunch and let the non-threatening escape ride free.

The race went into snooze mode for more than 110km as the weary peloton rumbled through the tricky parcours.

The race started to bubble at around 70km to go when a handful of attackers tried to go clear of the break.

Soudal Quick-Step wasn’t letting anything go, and Evenepoel used his helpers to chase down any rider making moves.

Quick-Step forced the pace in the break through the final 50km as Evenepoel’s rivals braced for the Belgian’s blockbuster attack.

Evenepoel can’t convert

Evenepoel banged his bars in frustration when he crossed the line in second place. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The break hit the final, extra-gnarled climb of the day 15km from the line and Poels wasn’t ready to wait for Evenepoel’s move. The Dutchman accelerated 2km from the summit, and Van Eetvelt sprung onto the wheel, with Soler coming soon after.

Evenepoel looked laboured in the initial accelerations and was among a handful of chasers that sprinted after the leaders over the San Lorenzo de El Escorial summit.

Evenepoel, Van Eetvelt, Poels, Soler, and Pelayo Sánchez (Burgos-BH) came together on the descent and hit the final 7km charge to Guadarrama with a dozen-second gap over the chasers.

The five rolled through to the stage’s final bend and Poel’s kicked first with a 400m surge.

Poels started to fade and Evenepoel hopped onto his wheel in the final 50m, but the Dutch veteran had the horsepower to win it with a bike throw.

Deadlock in the race for Spanish supremacy

Ayuso is guaranteed fourth place and the white jersey of young rider.

Landa tried to break out of the GC group to steal classification seconds on his Spanish classification rivals Mas and Ayuso on the day’s final climb.

Jumbo-Visma wasn’t taking any risks and Roglič squashed the Spainiard’s ambitions by taking control on the group.

The three rode in the Jumbo-Visma group through to the final and barely even broke into a sprint at the line. Ayuso is now guaranteed fourth place Sunday, 19 seconds ahead of Landa.

Kuss caries red into processional stage into Madrid

Kuss was a man in demand before rollout on Saturday morning.

Barring disaster, Kuss is assured his first grand tour victory Sunday night.

He’ll ride into Sunday’s processional / sprinter stage in Madrid with the maillot rojo on his back and the guarantee of overall victory when he crosses the line after a circuit race through Madrid.

Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) is all-but assured victory in the points classification Sunday after his chance at a third and final sprint win of this Vuelta.

Evenepoel will take home the KoM jersey, while the freshly-turned 21-year-old Ayuso will score the white jersey for best young rider.

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