Quick-Step Floors have taken their fifth win of the Vuelta a Espana, and Matteo Trentin’s third of the race. The Italian sprinted to yet another win ahead of Team Sky’s Gianni Moscon, with Sunweb’s Søren Kragh Andersen in third place. Chris Froome maintained his lead overall quite comfortably.
For the first time in what feels like a long time, today’s stage of 198.4km from Coín to Tomares saw a breakaway go away almost immediately and without pressure from other teams and riders. A small group of five riders made their way up the road with Arnaud Courteille of FDJ, Alexis Gougeard of AG2R La Mondiale, Alessandro De Marchi of BMC Racing, Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal and Davide Villella of Cannondale-Drapac. Five became four as it became clear that Villella’s only motive for being in the break was to mop up the only KOM points of the day which he duly did.
From there the four remaining riders persisted with their breakaway effort, but the peloton enjoyed a bit of a change this time, with Quick-Step Floors taking centre stage at the front of the race to set the tempo instead of Team Sky. Also present at the front were delegates from LottoNL-Jumbo and Cannondale-Drapac. After allowing the break a lead of some 5 minutes the bunch predictably closed in on them to within 1.30mins with less than 50km to go.
A crash with 49km left to race brought down a couple of riders including Bert-Jan Lindeman of LottoNL-Jumbo who hit the deck along with a rider from Manzana Postobon. But that was more or less the extent of the drama on a day where the breakaway maintained that 1.30min lead right up until inside the final 30km. The calibre of the breakaway was strong but the determination of Quick-Step Floors to have the stage result in a bunch sprint was just stronger and eventually the gap started coming down. With the bunch hitting 51-52kph in places the break’s success was looking less likely, and more so once the break split, leaving just De Marchi and De Gendt out in front.
The time gap was coming down and with 19km remaining the lead had dropped to just 1.08mins. With 17.5km to go the time gap dipped below 1 minute for the first time. There was a notable rise in intensity from the peloton, with LottoNL-Jumbo showing strong intent in the bunch and really looking to pile on the pace. De Gendt and De Marchi withstood for a time, with De Gendt dropping back as the riders neared 10km to go.
De Marchi valiantly continued on, but with fresh legs on the front of the bunch in the form of Aqua Blue Sport, Katusha-Alpecin and Bora-Hansgrohe it was just a question of time before the catch was made. With 10km to go De Marchi had 30 seconds in hand. The catch was finally made to him with 7.3km left to race and from there it was all about the sprinters.
Aqua Blue Sport and Quick-Step Floors were jostling for control of the peloton, with the Irish based team – featuring Aaron Gate – asserting themselves on the left hand side of the road. The bandaged elbow of Aaron Gate was visible on the front, indicating that Adam Blythe was the team’s protected rider. There was no shortage of competition for position though, with Cannondale-Drapac coming forward again.
With 4km left to race Quick-Step Floors were back in control of the race and stringing the field right out in the run up to the uphill finish with 3km to go. The finale wasn’t strictly anti-sprinter, but it would certainly challenge the riders as Maxime Monfort of Lotto Soul hit the front on the first significant rise. Quick-Step Floors returned to the front though as they passed under the 3km to go banner. With 2.7km to go Adam Hansen tried to make a dig off the front, but Quick-Step Floors were just too fast to allow anything to go clear.
Bob Jungels was in control of the pace setting on the front as the final kilometre neared. It looked a formality for Quick-Step Floors who had so much control of the race. Alexey Lutsenko of Astana attack inside the final kilometre, but Julian Alaphilippe took on the chase effort and brought him back easily. Matteo Trentin was positioned perfectly on third wheel, while Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali were also positioned well. But once Trentin opened up the sprint, he just powered away with the rest around him unable to do anything to bring him back. Gianni Moscon of Sky sprinted well, but could only take second place ahead of Andersen. Impressively a number of GC riders managed to keep pace with Trentin and cross the line in the top ten. Highest placed of these was Vincenzo Nibali in 6th ahead of Chris Froome, Wilco Kelderman, Alberto Contador and Nicolas Roche who completed the top ten.
Aaron Gate was the fastest of Kiwis today, coming across the line in 31st place just ahead of Lutsenko who had attacked late in the stage. Tom Scully of Cannondale-Drapac and Sam Bewley of Orica-SCOTT crossed the line a few minutes later having worked for their teammates earlier in the stage.