Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) won stage 19 of the Vuelta a España on Friday, and in so doing joined the rather exclusive club of riders who have won stages in all three grand tours. The Belgian rider, who had previously won a stage in the Giro d’Italia in 2012 on the Stelvio, as well as a stage in the Tour de France in 2016 on Mont Ventoux, completed his set, even though the finish of stage 19 did not quite live up to the fearsome reputation of the mountains he took his other grand tour stage wins on.
De Gendt, who formed part of the main break of the day, sprinted to the win ahead of Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo) and Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-Merida) on a day where the general classification contenders had their sights firmly set on the penultimate stage of the race, which would be fought out on the terrifying slopes of the Angliru.
With Team Sky focussed on Saturday’s stage, it was a day that was sure to favour a breakaway, and everyone knew it. A group of 19 went clear within the first five kilometres of the stage, and it contained some real firepower, including the likes of Nicolas Roche (BMC), Bob Jungels and Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors), Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates), Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo), and Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) among others.
As the break closed in on the first climb of the day, a group of nine was in pursuit, including Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar), Christopher Juul-Jensen (Orica-Scott), and Simon Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac). Over the top of the first climb it was King of the Mountain leader Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac) who took maximum points, padding his advantage in the competition.
With some 88 kilometres of the stage remaining, the chasing group made contact with the leading break, now just shy of 30 riders strong, with the peloton some 15 minutes back. However, Villella had no intention of sticking around, and was clear again over the top of the second climb of the day, but was brought back again before they hit the next climb. It was here that the group started breaking up as Buchmann, then Bardet and De Gendt pushed the pace, shelling riders out the back. As they crested the climb, the front group had been reduced to Roche, Bardet, De Gendt, Costa, Jungels, Floris de Tier (LottoNL-Jumbo), and his team mate Antwan Toelhoek. However, once the group hit the flat road, more and more of the previously dispatched riders made their way back to the front, swelling the size of the group again, up to 17 riders, with a lead of around 18 minutes on the peloton with only 46 kilometres of the stage left to go.
However, the group was still too big to work together well, and with some 35 kilometres remaining, the attacks started up again. Ivan Garcia (Bahrain-Merida) managed to get clear as the rest of the group looked to someone else to do the chasing, and built up a lead of around a minute on the rest of the chase as they headed up the final climb of the day. Bardet was next to launch an attack from the leading group, and quickly made his way up to Garcia, with the two working together on the descent to try and stay clear of the chase behind. However, it was not to be as Roche and Rui Costa made their way across to them. Roche decided to launch an attack of his own, and managed to ride clear of the three others, but as they caught him again, with some three kilometres remaining, they were joined by another chase group, led by Jungels.
Roche was not done yet, and with some two kilometres remaining, he attacked again, with De Gendt and Navarro going with him this time, but they were brought back again by Jungels and a couple of other riders. Roche was forced to lead out the sprint before Garcia opened up, but it was all too easy for De Gendt as he swept past the tiring Spaniard to claim the stage win, ahead of Pantano, with Garcia having to settle for third.
Meanwhile, back in the peloton, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) was not content to take it easy on the final climb, not even with the Angliru looming large the next day. He reached the top of the final climb with a lead of some 45 seconds over the peloton, led by the Sky team of race leader Chris Froome. Contador was able to join forces with his team mate Edward Theuns, who had been part of the break earlier, but in spite of the two working together well, the peloton was closing in, and with around two and a half kilometres to go, the Trek duo was swallowed up by the chasing peloton.
The overall classification remains unchanged, with Froome holding a lead of 1:37 over Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) in second, with Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) in third, 2:17 off the race lead.