Vuelta a Espana 2021 – Miguel Angel Lopez wins on gloomy Gamoniteiru as Primoz Roglic shines again
Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez emerged through the mist to take a splendid victory in Stage 18 on the Vuelta’s first ever ascent of the fearsome Altu d’El Gamoniteiru. Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic soared to second place to strengthen his grip on the red jersey while a brave effort from Michael Storer saw the Australian take the polka dot jersey but come short of taking a third win on the race.
Stage 18 highlights: Lopez wins in misty mountains as Roglic closes on third title
A late attack on the gruelling double-digit ramps of the climb known as the Angliru’s evil sister saw Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez reel in Spain’s David de la Cruz before holding off the chase from the red jersey Primoz Roglic, teammate Enric Mas and the white jersey Egan Bernal.
‘Superman’ Lopez crossed the line on the cloud-capped summit of the highest paved road in the Cantabrian mountains in Asturias with a punch of the air as he secured his Movistar team their first stage win in this year’s Grand Tours. Slovenia’s Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) took second place 14 seconds in arrears after zipping clear of Spaniard Mas (Movistar) and Colombia’s Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) on the stinging 17% ramp in the last kilometre of the brutal final climb.
Bahrain Victorious duo Jack Haig and Gino Mader finished in a chase group alongside De la Cruz (UAE Team Emirates) and Louis Meintjes (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) just under one minute behind, before Roglic’s teammate Sepp Kuss and Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) completed the top 10 on what was arguably the queen stage of the race.
Despite missing out on back-to-back mountaintop wins, defending champion Roglic moved 2:30 clear of Mas in the general classification, with Lopez now 2:53 back in third place. Australia’s Haig retained his fourth place while Bernal moved into the top five after another difficult day for Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) saw the Frenchman drop four places to ninth.
South Africa’s Meintjes, who led the chase on De la Cruz after the Spaniard attacked early on the final climb, moved into the top 10. De la Cruz caught the last remaining escapee, Michael Storer of Team DSM, with around seven kilometres remaining, the Australian missing out on a third stage win but assuming control of the polka dot jersey classification from his French teammate Romain Bardet.
“It felt how it should feel,” Roglic said after surviving his first day of his third stint in red. “It was a super hard day especially after yesterday’s effort. I’m happy that something was left and I could climb this mountain.”
Quizzed about the tactics fast tempo being set by Jumbo-Visma’s rivals from Bahrain Victorious and Movistar, Roglic said: “We were off duty, but it was a hard pace and a hard day from start to finish. We are all feeling the efforts from the last two days and from the previous few weeks – but there are still some hard stages to come.”
Roglic in red jersey is ‘done deal’ – Wiggins
Storer soloes clear after big break goes early
Thirty-two riders managed to open up a growing gap shortly after the start of the 164km stage in the overcast Asturias mountains. Among those involved were former stage winners Rein Taaramae (Stage 3), Michael Storer (Stages 7 and 10) and Rafal Majka (Stage 15), as well as the 2015 champion Fabio Aru – three days before the Italian’s impending retirement.
Bahrain Victorious, the only team to miss the move, led the chase behind in the peloton as the gap swelled to a maximum lead of five minutes. After a brief foray off the front from Canada’s James Piccoli (Israel Start-Up Nation) on the first climb of the day, it was the Australian Storer who zipped clear to take maximum points over the top of the Cat.1 Puertu de San Llaurienzu.
Storer doubled up over the next climb, the Cat.1 Altu de la Cobertoria, as the fresh-faced Team DSM rider moved into the virtual lead of the polka dot jersey competition ahead of his French teammate Bardet. In search of a third win, the in-form 24-year-old climber held a minute’s advantage over the summit – a gap which he doubled on the descent despite a few showers adding an additional challenge to overcome.
Riding solo up the valley road after attacking with 70km remaining, Storer arrived at the foot of the penultimate climb with a two-minute advantage over the remnants of the breakaway, who had the Movistar-led peloton breathing down their necks after the Spanish team came to the front to drill the tempo. Soon Bahrain committed their remaining seven riders to the cause in a bid to whittle things down ahead of the final ascent.
An unexpected attack from Bardet saw the man in polka dots crest the summit in second place behind his teammate Storer and consolidate his second place in the KOM standings. The French Stage 14 winner opened up a small gap on the pack but was caught by the red jersey group shortly after the start of the Alto del Gamoniteiro, or Altu d’El Gamoniteiru in the local Asturian dialect.
Being used for the first time in Vuelta history, the savage 14.6km climb boasts an average gradient of 9.8% and it was not long before the wheat was separated from the chaff when it came to the fight for red.
Sepp Kuss: Is Jumbo-Visma rider a future Grand Tour winner? Wiggins and Smith disagree
Before the GC fireworks, Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2R-Citroen) put in an attack in pursuit of Storer, whose lead remained above two minutes despite the tempo being set by Bahrain’s Caruso on the nose of the slimming pack of favourites.
After some pacing from UAE Team Emirates – and most noticeable their former stage winner and man from the break, Majka – De la Cruz zipped clear with intent. The Spaniard passed Bouchard and caught the tiring Storer with 7km remaining before soloing up the road in search of the host nation’s first stage win of the Vuelta.
Behind, Intrermarche-Wanty-Gobert duo Meintjes and Jan Hirt led the chase before Bernal put in the first of a series of attacks that showed glimpses of the Colombian’s Giro d’Italia-winning form from earlier in the season. On each occasion, Roglic and Mas were able to respond – as was his compatriot Lopez, who went clear in pursuit of De la Cruz inside the final four kilometres.
Although the final ramps of the narrow road had been resurfaced, the gradient was still consistently in double figures as wave after wave of attacks came. But Lopez proved the strongest, surging past the pained De la Cruz before holding off a late rally from Roglic to take his fourth win for Movistar since joining from Astana last winter.
With the race ending with a time trial in Santiago de Compostela on Sunday, Lopez will need all the time he can get if he wants to hold on to his place on the podium – especially given the improving form of both Haig and Bernal behind.
With Roglic on course for a third successive Vuelta victory, the race continues on Friday with the 191km Stage 19: a rolling ride from Tapia to Monforte de Lemos that includes three lower-category climbs but a flat finish: breakaway territory ahead of the final day in the mountains on Saturday.
'A great champion' - Bernal now showing he can match Roglic, says Wiggins
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