Simon Yates has won the 2018 Vuelta a Espana. The Brit took the win after successfully navigating the final treacherous mountain stage and the final procession into Madrid. Enric Mas, who’d been the find of the Vuelta this year, took the final mountain stage, while Elia Viviani claimed the final stage.
The penultimate stage of the Vuelta a Espana was set to be a day of pure pain packed into 97.3km. Six categorised climbs featured en route to the finish, with three of them category 1 climbs and the final one being an HC category climb up the Coll de la Gallina. There was plenty to contend for from the battle for the red jersey on the shoulders of Simon Yates, to the battle for the polka dot jersey with Thomas De Gendt, to everyone contending for a top ten position on GC; plus stage honours itself.
Nibali lights the stage up early
As expected the race was on from the get go, with Vincenzo Nibali among those to light up the early stages in a breakaway group that included De Gendt as well as Michal Kwiatkowski of Team Sky, Rafal Majka of BORA-Hansgrohe, Michael Woods of EF Education First-Drapac and Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo. They were steadily joined by the likes of Nicolas Roche of BMC Racing, Dario Cotaldo and Omar Fraile of Astana, Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha-Alpecin and Amanuel Ghebreigzhabier of Dimension Data; with the two groups uniting on the Coll de Ordino.
Victory on the first two categorised climbs and second place on the Ordino went some way to wrapping up the overall king of the mountains classification for De Gendt; while behind him the action among the GC contenders was underway courtesy of Nairo Quintana. But it was Astana who took control of matters in the peloton with their pace proving a deterrent for many attackers, as they closed the gap to 1.30mins as Jesus Herrada of Cofidis went on the attack from the break.
Astana show their cards as Quintana plays super-domestique
On the Coll de Baixalis the race broke apart for the breakaway, with Michal Kwiatkowski, David de la Cruz, Rafal Majka and Bauke Mollema remaining out in front. Behind the break though it was Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana who decided to throw caution to the wind with a big attack at 36km to go. After joining teammate Dario Cataldo up ahead, Lopez worked with him before eventually going off in pursuit of Majka and de la Cruz who were still hanging on out in front. The catch was made just before the top of the climb, with the Yates group of favourites also coming across.
After an attack on the descent, Quintana then went again with 20km to go along with Lopez and this proved to be the race-defining move. None of the favourites joined them, until Simon Yates and Enric Mas attacked the rest of the group with 17km to go; making the catch 4km later.
Mas a grand tour star of the future
A showdown on the Coll de la Gollina saw Quintana drop back as Mas and Lopez put the red jersey under pressure. Knowing that he had 2.15mins and 2.29mins over each of them respectively gave some comfort to Yates; who knew that his overall win was wrapping itself up metre by metre even with a gap forming to the two leaders. Alejandro Valverde was suffering behind him too, with Mas’ and Lopez’s presence up the road putting the podium places of Valverde and Steven Kruijswijk under serious threat.
Mas and Lopez couldn’t be separated as the line drew closer, and it came down to a sprint between them, with Mas taking the stage win and with it leaping from 4th to 2nd overall. Lopez climbed up to third overall as Kruijswijk and Valverde dropped to 4th and 5th respectively. Yates conceded a little time, but still retained a lead of 1.46mins over Mas and 2.04mins over Lopez.
Attacks eventually fly in Madrid
To close the Vuelta a Espana 2018 a 100.9km stage from Alorcon to Madrid brought matters to a close, with 11 laps of a finishing circuit to contend with. It took some time for a breakaway to establish, with the traditional procession to kick things off, but when racing did properly get underway a group of six riders took off. Cofidis’ Stéphane Rossetto and Loïc Chetout, Alessandro De Marchi of BMC Racing, Tiago Machado of Katusha-Alpecin, Mikel Iturria of Euskadi-Murias and Jetse Bol of Burgos-BH launched the first attack, but were quickly brought back to heel as a group of four then tried their luck.
This time Nikita Stalnov of Astana, Diego Rubio of Burgos-BH, Joey Rosskopf of BMC Racing and Garikoitz Bravo of Euskadi-Murias moved up the road and had a lead of 15 seconds with 35.5km remaining. This time the move did manage to last a lot longer. At 26km to go the group still had a 12 second buffer as behind them BORA-Hansgrohe were among the leading lights chasing; motivated by the prospect of getting a stage win for Peter Sagan; who’d so far missed out.
Viviani a class above
Despite losing Stalnov to a puncture, the three leaders continued on and still held a slender lead with 17km remaining. Behind them Trek-Segafredo also got in on the chase effort and finally with 7.2km remaining and just over lap of the Madrid circuit to go the race was gruppo compacto. After a brief attack by AG2R La Mondiale, it was all about the sprinters, with several teams all vying for the front of the race. LottoNL-Jumbo, Team Sky, Astana, BMC Racing, EF Education First-Drapac, Sunweb and Quick-Step Floors were all contending for the front of the pack, with speeds exceeding 60kph.
The danger point arrived with a U-turn just at the final kilometre. The field navigated it safely though although Elia Viviani looked to have lost his place approaching the sprint. Danny van Poppel opened up the sprint but Giacomo Nizzolo, Peter Sagan and Elia Viviani came through to pass him; and it was Viviani who proved a class above. The Italian secured his third stage win of the Vuelta 2018 ahead of Sagan; who’d taken his sixth podium place of the race without a win.
British GT dominance continues
— Mitchelton-SCOTT (@MitcheltonSCOTT) September 16, 2018
George Bennett crossed the finish line 1.12mins back in the company of Bauke Mollema. He ended the race 35th overall after riding the last week in a super domestique role for Steven Kruijswijk who wrapped up 4th overall.
Simon Yates’ overall win in the Vuelta a Espana continues an extraordinary period of dominance from British riders in grand tours. Since the 2017 Tour de France every grand tour has gone the way of a British rider, with Chris Froome winning the triple crown of Tour-Vuelta-Giro, with Geraint Thomas winning the 2018 Tour de France and Simon Yates taking the Vuelta.