Jakob Fuglsang of Astana has won the 16th stage of the Vuelta a Espana. The Dane soloed to the stage win ahead of Team Ineos’ Tao Geoghegan Hart and Fuglsang’s Astana teammate Luis León Sanchez. Jumbo-Visma’s Primož Roglič stretched his overall lead.
At 144.4km in length, the final stage before the second rest day packed a huge punch. Three category 1 climbs featured en route to the finish; finishing with the massive 18.2km climb up Puerto de la Cubilla. A large breakaway group eventually formed at the front of the field after a high intensity start.
Remi Cavagna and James Knox of Deceuninck-QuickStep together with Groupama-FDJ’s Romain Seigle initiated the move that would eventually see the likes of Philippe Gilbert and Max Richeze of Deceuninck-QuickStep, Tao Geoghegan Hart of Team Ineos, Luis Leon Sanchez and Jakob Fuglsang of Astana, Gianluca Brambilla and Nikias Eg of Trek-Segafredo, Imanol Erviti of Movistar, Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Geoffrey Bouchard of AG2R La Mondiale, Amanuel Ghebreizhabier of Dimension Data, Nikias Arndt of Team Sunweb, Damien Howson of Mitchelton-SCOTT, Valerio Conti of UAE Team Emirates, Jonathan Lastra of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, polka dot jersey wearer Angel Madrazo of Burgos-BH and Fernando Barceló of Euskadi Basque Country-Murias.
While there would be a few battles at play for the stage and GC positions, there would also be an interesting contest for the KOM classification with Bouchard challenging Madrazo and finding himself within touching distance of the lead in the classification. Towards the summit of the first climb the duo attacked the rest of the break and went on to contest the points at the top of the climb; with Bouchard taking first place across the summit. Madrazo had attacked early but Bouchard confidently came through to take maximum points.
Meanwhile Jumbo-Visma were setting a steady tempo back down the road with George Bennett leading the peloton. At the top of the first climb the gap to the break was a little short of 2.30mins, but that opened up substantially to over 5 minutes with 57km to go although it was back towards 4.46mins by the time the break started to climb again with just under 50km remaining.
Thomas De Gendt was keen to keep the tempo high and begin to put pressure on some of the break, with others like Brambilla, Fuglsang and Ghebreizhabier also contributing to the pace setting. Valerio Conti and Philippe Gilbert began to break matters up though as the summit neared, again drawing Bouchard and Madrazo along with them to contest the points. This time at the top of the climb Bouchard and Madrazo left it until the last minute before the Frenchman attacked; again Bouchard had the speed to claim the points and begin to extend his virtual lead. At this point the gap was a handy 6.27mins.
On the descent James Knox went on the attack, building a very slight lead before being caught by a small group with a little over 30km to go. Next to attack were Bouchard, De Gendt and Gilbert; with Fuglsang chasing across and eventually catching the leaders along with Romain Seigle; while Bouchard fell behind and then rejoined the group. With 24km to go the break’s lead went over 8 minutes and even climbed to 9 minutes just before 20km to go as the leading group gradually swelled.
At the bottom of the final climb Deceuninck-QuickStep led the way while Jumbo-Visma continued to lead the ‘chase’. George Bennett was again towards the front of the peloton, keeping the pace high enough to deter attacks for the time being, but far from stretching the rest of the peloton who were still largely together; although as the roads went up that would all change.
With just under 10km to go Sanchez went on the attack along with a group that contained Knox, Geoghegan Hart, Fuglsang and Brambilla. The gap quickly opened up to the rest of the break behind them as Ghebreizhabier fought to get across. Steadily Fuglsang began to turn the screw on the break until only Brambilla was able to go with him. The Dane was looking for help from the Italian but Brambilla was appearing unwilling to come through.
Eventually though the Dane’s strength showed as he went away from Brambilla, while Tao Geoghegan Hart attacked to try and bridge across to Fuglsang. As this was happening up the road, back down the road Astana took over from Jumbo-Visma to try and ramp up the pace for Miguel Angel Lopez. Pogačar and Roglič appeared to be comfortably holding their ground, but an attack from Lopez put the likes of Valverde and Majka under pressure. The attack drew an elite group containing Majka, Valverde, Roglič, Pogačar and Lopez; but Nairo Quintana was having an off-day that threatened his position in the top five on GC.
Back up the road Fuglsang was holding on to a 16-20 second lead, but Lopez finally managed to crack Roglič with an attack that could only bring Pogačar with him. The Slovenian went into time trial mode to try and limit his losses. He patiently bided his time and managed to claw his way back. Up ahead though there was no stopping Fuglsang who crossed the line victorious, finding consolation for his disappointing Tour de France exit.
Geoghegan Hart finished second and Luis Leon Sanchez third, with James Knox finishing fourth.
Back down the road Roglič, Pogačar and Lopez all finished together with a 23 second lead over Valverde and 26 seconds over Majka. Despite the time gains for Lopez and Pogačar in particular there were no changes in the overall standings among the top ten apart from for Majka, who switched places with Nairo Quintana and moved into fifth.