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Miguel Ángel López soared over the steep slopes that ended atop the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru for the 2021 Vuelta a España stage 18 win.
His victory was the first for his Spanish-based Movistar squad this season, and it was Lopez’s first Vuelta stage win since 2017.
Primož Roglič, is never the type to sit back and the race happen around him. With fewer than 500m remaining, he rode from behind the wheels of Egan Bernal into second on the stage, trailed by Enric Mas.
Stage 19, Friday, will feature more climbing in the first 70 kilometers before flat roads, a few final undulations, and then a 20km, run-in to the finish. The Jumbo-Visma rider’s advantage looks to be all but insurmountable.
Enric Mas (Movistar Team): 3rd, at :20
Without any grand tour stage victories this season, the “Blues” finally hit it big with two podiums, including the stage win.
In the final few hundred meters of the stage, Bernal tried to edge the red jersey again. Mas was content to sit and watch the two trade blows.
When Roglič rode Bernal from his wheel, Mas was quick to react and put a two-second gap into Bernal. Riding across the line in 3rd, Mas was the second Movistar rider to score a podium position on the stage, as well as nab a few bonus seconds of time.
“I’m so happy, for Miguel Ángel and the whole team, who completed a fantastic job.
“We knew that if it was me who attacked, the most likely thing would be Primož going after me, while Miguel Ángel would be given that sort of margin to go for the stage. Once he jumped, even if I wanted to also try, I had to respect my teammate and the whole team for their incredible job.
“We’ve won this stage and we’re leaving so happy with that. Saturday’s stage — [and] tomorrow’s will also be one to keep an eye at — will be again hard, and anything can happen. We must try and get as much rest as possible tonight, see what happens tomorrow and then think about the weekend,” said Mas.
Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious): 5th, at :58
Haig has been lurking in the front groups throughout the Spanish Tour. He’s covered some moves, has been in breakaways, but has yet to punch to victory.
But victory for Haig on stage 18 was not losing buckets of time and finishing in the front. While he several times yoyo’d off the back of the red jersey bunch, he reconnected and salvaged a day that could have easily gone poorly — see also: Guillaume Martin of Cofidis.
Haig maintained his fourth-place GC position.
“The final climb was brutal, super-steep, and quite cold now at the top,” said Haig at the finish. “I wanted a really hard day to see if anyone cracked.”
“Maybe someone would crack on the final climb but everyone was super strong,” he said.
Guillaume Martin (Cofidis): 18th, at 4:23
Martin barely hung on to his top-10 position after tumbling four ranking places from fifth to ninth. Clearly tired from the previous stage, he faded in the final kilometers.
He struggled on the super-steep slopes after doing much work to try to stay on the wheels throughout most of the stage.
With another day of climbing ahead, he’ll have to be astute in who he follows and how much work will be needed to keep his current position.
“We were still expecting a difficult day. It was even more so for me with the sensations I had following my fall. It was worse than yesterday. From the start, I felt at the level of the coast that I could not breathe.
“I was fully into all the passes of the day. From the first [kilometer], I felt like I was at the limit. I expected to let go but in the end, it got a little better as it went.
I was able to hang in there at the end and not waste too much time in the overall standings. Tonight, I’m ninth and it’s a lesser evil. But I am quite worried about [how I feel],” said the French philosopher.
Michael Storer (Team DSM): 37th, at 11:25
Storer’s ultra-long-range gambit looked good for the stage 18 win until it didn’t. In a matter of four uphill kilometers, his two-minute buffer shrank to nil.
While the winner of stages 7 and 10 looked to be moving so well through the base of the final climb, “The Destroyer’s” 60km solo effort cooked him, with just 7,500 meters remaining.
The result at the end of the day was in the final 15 minutes of racing, he gave up nearly 12 minutes to the stage winner. But he prised the lead of the king of the mountains competition from Romain Bardet.
“It was an aggressive start as usual and it was good me and Thymen [Arensman] got into the move.
“The peloton didn’t give us much room and we only had four minutes on the second big climb so we really knew that we had to push the pace if we wanted to go for the stage. We were hoping that some other people would come with me so I’d have some company through the valley road but no one reacted when I pushed the pace so unfortunately, I was by myself.
“I was happy I could get over the second last climb still in front. Heading onto the last climb we knew I probably needed more time than two minutes because it was a long way through that valley road and there are limits to what’s possible to hold on out front. Especially when a lot of teams seemed interested in closing the gap, so it was a bit unlucky that we didn’t get the big advantage needed for the last climb.
“I’m happy to keep the jersey in the team today. Seeing as I was in the break it was worth picking up the points as we want to win the jersey, and it meant that Majka didn’t get as many. It doesn’t matter who it’s with it the end, just as a team we want to win the jersey so it’s better if two of us have plenty of points going into the next stages,” Storer said.