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In the third and final week of the Vuelta a España, we might as well have thrown out the script. Instead of lining up like a train at the front of the peloton, Ineos Grenadiers launched riders on steep mountain passes with over 60km to go, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) never showed a hint of cracking, and Movistar’s Superman (Miguel Angel López) completely imploded on the penultimate stage and dropped out of the race.
Almost in the background of it all, Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious) kept climbing his way up the overall standings with a gritty mix of team tactics, consistent legs, and pure heart to earn his first-ever grand tour podium, and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) rode his way into a top-10 overall despite working tirelessly as a super domestique for Roglič.
This is the third week of La Vuelta a España, by the numbers.
Kuss takes second on stage 17
Stage 17 was set to be the first GC test of the third week, with three major mountain passes, including the summit finish at Lagos de Covadonga. The peloton would actually do the middle climb twice on the day, completing two loops of the La Collada Llomena before heading to the finish. While the GC remained tight at the top of the standings, Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) sat almost three minutes behind the Roglič before stage 17.
Contrary to their world-beating tactics first implemented when they were Team Sky, Ineos Grenadiers paced hard on the middle climbs of the day, setting up an attack from Bernal on the penultimate climb. We can see the spike in Kuss’ power data just before halfway up the climb, where he initially followed Bernal and Roglič, before then letting go of his teammate’s wheel.
Kuss: Stage 17 – Second time up La Collada Llomena
Time: 23:39 / Average Power: 384w (6.3w/kg)
Before Bernal’s attack: 398w (6.5w/kg) for 8:51
Today’s stage was unusual. In a grand tour, a typical stage starts hard until the breakaway goes, and then it gets easy. From there, the day gets progressively harder all the way to the finish until there are only a few riders left competing for the win.
In a sprint stage, that means the speed gets faster and faster. And in a mountain stage, the watts-per-kilo gets higher and higher.
Stage 17 was different; Bernal went so hard up the penultimate climb — at an estimated 6.4/kg for 22 minutes — that he hardly had anything left for the finish. In the chasing group containing Team Movistar, Bahrain-Victorious, Jumbo-Visma, and others, the pace was much higher on the penultimate climb than it was at the finish. Everyone went over their limit on the second climb up the La Collada Llomena, so on the Lagos de Covadonga, it was really about who had the most energy left.
In the end, Kuss – thanks to having Roglič up the road – saved the most energy in the chasing group, and dusted them all in the final sprint, where he gave Roglič a smile as the Slovenian was already headed down the mountain to collect his red leader’s jersey.
Kuss: Stage 17 – Lagos de Covadonga
Time: 37:37 / Average Power: 369w (6w/kg)
Normalized Power: 378w (6.2w/kg)
Haig diesels it up stage 18 while Kuss spikes
The most feared climb of the Vuelta was the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru at the end of stage 18. At 14.6km at an average of 9.8 percent, cracks could turn to fissures in the fog on the way up to the finish. With Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious) sitting in fourth overall, Bahrain-Victorious paced at the front of the peloton for the majority of the stage.
Their aim was to make the stage harder as a whole, rather than explosive on the final climb. Haig is more of a diesel engine than Miguel Ángel López, Enric Mas (Movistar Team), Roglič, and Kuss, who had been lighting it up on every climb in la Vuelta. We can see this in Haig’s power data from stage 18, and how consistent he and Bahrain-Victorious were on all the major climbs.
Haig: Stage 18 – Puertu de San Llaurienzu
Time: 33:29 / Average Power: 367w (5.2w/kg)
Haig: Stage 18 – Altu de la Cobertoria
Time: 26:15 / Average Power: 373w (5.3w/kg)
Haig: Stage 18 – Altu la Sega o del Cordal
Time: 28:22 / Average Power: 381w (5.4w/kg)
The final climb was a different story. Bahrain-Victorious ripped through the valley before Team Movistar took over at the base of the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru. With no teams interested in drilling it from the bottom, the pace was relatively mellow until Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux started pacing for Louis Meintjes at 5.5km to go.
Bernal then attacked with 5km to go, before López countered a kilometer later. And just like that, the Colombian was gone. Into the mist and into the clouds, with Kuss pacing behind, López rode to the stage win 14 seconds ahead of Roglič.
In the final third of the climb, we can see Kuss’ power data become erratic as he follows attacks, closes gaps for Roglič, and paces the chase group at over 6w/kg. Incredibly, Kuss’ peak 5-minute and 10-minute power for the entire stage came during this part of the climb, where he had already been riding at 5.7w/kg for half an hour.
Kuss: Stage 18 – Altu d’El Gamoniteiru
Time: 51:59 / Average Power: 356w (5.8w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 391w (6.4w/kg)
Simmons does 380w normalized for 4.5 hours on stage 19
While I’m going to keep the focus on the GC riders in this article, stage 19 of this year’s Vuelta was insane. The 191km transition stage contained a few categorized climbs in its opening stretch, where a strong breakaway including Lawson Craddock and Magnus Cort (both EF Education-Nippo), and Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) gained a few minutes’ advantage.
Cort would go on to win his third stage of this Vuelta, with Simmons finishing in third. Here’s a snapshot of the effort it took Simmons to hold off the chasing peloton.
Simmons: Stage 19
Time: 4:25:08 / Average Power: 318w (4.5w/kg)
Normalized Power: 380w (5.1w/kg)
Max Power: 1390w (18.8w/kg)
Peak 1hr Power: 395w (5.3w/kg)
Haig does 7w/kg to follow Yates on stage 20
Whoever designed stage 20, we love you. We couldn’t have asked for a better finish to the GC battle, with a lumpy stage profile, steep climbs, and overall chaos. There were no major mountain passes, but they weren’t needed.
Mark Padun (Bahrain-Victorious) made it into the breakaway, and the Ukrainian that so many touted as a soon-to-be grand tour winner was about to make his mark (no pun intended) on this race. The breakaway had a 12-minute lead when Ineos started pacing at 95km to go, and it was down to a 5-minute lead when Bernal attacked at 60km to go for the second time in this Vuelta. Haig closed the gap, and then Adam Yates (Ineos) countered, marked by Gino Mäder (Bahrain–Victorious), Mas, and Roglič.
Haig: Stage 20 – Alto de Mougas
Time: 22:54 / Average Power: 406w (5.8w/kg)
Normalized Power: 418w (6w/kg)
Following Yates’ attack: 497w (7.1w/kg) for 2:32
López — who was sitting in third overall on GC — missed the split, was left behind, and would ultimately abandon, much to the consternation of his team.
The GC group of Haig and Roglič joined up with Padun and some remnants of the breakaway, and from there, the race was on. Haig moved into third in the virtual GC, but it wasn’t over yet; Yates was fourth in the virtual GC on the road, and he attacked Haig on every steep pitch before the finish. I’m not sure if Yates backed off on purpose, or if he simply went over his limit, but every time he attacked, he gapped Haig by a handful of seconds, but then eased off and allowed the Australian to claw his way back.
Haig: Stage 20 – Alto de Prado
Time: 22:43 / Average Power: 362w (5.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 371w (5.2w/kg)
The final climb had an extremely deceiving profile with an “average gradient of 4.8 percent” but that included multiple descents and flat sections, and it seemed like every time the riders came around a corner, they were sprinting up a 10-percent ramp. Thus, we can see the normalized power is much higher in Haig’s power file, as he dug deeper than ever before to follow Yates, Roglič, and Mas. Just look at the number of >600w power spikes throughout this final climb.
Haig: Stage 20 – Mos. Castro de Herville
Time: 21:30 / Average Power: 380w (5.4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 430w (6.1w/kg)
Following Yates’ attacks: 522w (7.4w/kg) for 2:36
Stage 20 of the Vuelta a España was one of the most thrilling races we have ever seen. Large breakaways filled with satellite riders, attacks flying from the peloton at 60km to go, and a dramatic, come-from-behind stage victory for a French rider that many have never heard of. The final 100km of the stage contained all the action, and with one look at Haig’s power file, it would be easy to mistake this section for a one-day Classic. But after three weeks of racing in the Spanish sun, with thousands of kilometers in the legs, these guys hardly even slow down.
Haig: Stage 20 – Final 100km
Time: 2:37:08 / Average Power: 305w (4.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 367w (5.2w/kg)