Tadej Pogačar moved into top 3 on GC with another inspired performance that saw him lead a Slovenian 1-2 ahead of overall leader Primož Roglič. The red jersey extended his lead over all his other major rivals, with Alejandro Valverde now 3 minutes adrift.
Back into the mountains with a vengeance, stage 13 of the Vuelta a Espana took the riders from Bilbao to Los Machucos. Monumento Vaca Pasiega; 166.4km and over 7 climbs in all, finishing with the final HC climb to the line that averaged 10% but hit 13% early on and would feature some particularly nasty sections later on that went up to 27%.
A large breakaway group featured in today’s stage, with 30 riders going up the road. Team Ineos featured in the break with David de la Cruz and Wout Poels with Sergio Higuita of EF Education First the best placed on GC in 14th place overall. Pierre Latour of AG2R La Mondiale, Sergio Henao of UAE Team Emirates, Damien Howson and the relentless Tsgabu Grmay of Mitchelton-SCOTT, Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Gianluca Brambilla of Trek-segafredo, Darwin Atapuma of Cofidis all featured in the huge move that took off and built a lead that went up to 6.47mins.
Higuita was the danger man, but not so much as far as Jumbo-Visma were concerned. Starting 14th overall, the Colombian had a sizeable 10.21min deficit to make up if he was to challenge for the overall lead, but it was the likes of Cofidis, Bahrain Merida, Team Sunweb, Mitchelton-SCOTT, Lotto Soudal and BORA-Hansgrohe who all had high overall positions to lose if that deficit remained. With 70km to go the gap had grown to 7 minutes and his chances were looking good.
Despite those other teams standing more to lose, Jumbo-Visma fulfilled their duties as keepers of the red jersey, taking control of the peloton. They were happy for the break’s lead to keep growing though, with an 8.20min advantage having been established at 60km to go. What was also interesting was the number of attacks from the breakaway that were going up the road. Allegiances were quickly ended as the likes of Jesus Herrada of Cofidis and Hector Saez of Euskadi Basque Country-Murias all tried to go solo.
It was the latter who was most successful, taking a 1.34min lead with 37km to go as he tried to build on what had already been a stellar Vuelta thanks to Mikel Iturria’s win in stage 11. At this point the peloton were still a lofty 8.33mins behind, but from here the gap began to drop significantly and 8km later more than a minute had been taken out of Saez’s lead; although the rest of the breakaway were now almost 2 minutes adrift.
Heading towards the crucial final climb it was Astana who took the initiative on the front of the peloton with the time gap still at 4 minutes with 9km remaining. Saez was beginning to lose some of his advantage to the rest of the break, but he hit the lower slopes of the climb alone. His lead didn’t last though as Higuita led the chase behind him.
Eventually it was Bruno Armirail of Groupama-FDJ who caught the Spaniard, dropping the fading lone ranger and pressing on with a lead of just 36 seconds over the Higuita group with 5.2km to go. At this point the GC group were still not really in the fight just yet, with a 1.40min gap to make up to get to the front of the race. Nairo Quintana of Movistar launched the first attack from that group – although his move was relatively short lived – as up ahead Pierre Latour of AG2R La Mondiale became the next leader on the road, passing Armirail with 4.6km remaining.
For Latour it was a case of digging deep and trying to make his lead of 1.05mins over the main contenders count. He was putting in a sterling effort to remain clear but there was a certain ominous feeling about the catch; especially with the steepest part of the climb to come. When that part of the climb did arrive it was time for a Slovenian double act as Pogačar and Roglič went on the offensive, making light work of the gap between themselves and Latour; and catching him with 1.5km to go.
After neither Slovenian was able to drop the other Pogačar dug into his reserves on the very narrow finishing stretch to sprint to his second stage win of the Vuelta at just 20 years of age. From there the clock ticked over to 27 seconds before a brave Pierre Latour managed to hold on for third place ahead of Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana; with Rafal Majka sixth. Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana conceded significant time, losing 1.01min to Roglič and 34 seconds to the Valverde group.
George Bennett was the highest placed of the Kiwis as he renewed his super-domestique duties for Roglič. His job done for his Slovenian teammate, Bennett would finish 23rd on the stage at 3.13mins; a result that saw him drop one place to 14th overall.
The GC standings took a significant shake up thanks mainly to Pogačar who now has his sights set on a top three finish. Roglič now leads by 2.25mins to Valverde, with Pogačar third at 3.01mins and López fourth at 3.18mins. Nairo Quintana also dropped a place to fifth while Majka, Nicolas Edet and Wilco Kelderman were the other three riders in the top ten to climb a place to 6th, 7th and 9th respectively; with Carl Fredrik Hagen of Lotto Soudal 8th and Dylan Teuns of Bahrain Merida 10th.