Primož Roglič has created national history by becoming the first rider in Slovenia’s history to win a grand tour.  The Slovenian took the win after successfully defending his lead on the final mountain stage and then again into Madrid for the finale won by Fabio Jakobsen; as Dion Smith produced his best stage finish in the final stage in 10th.

Pogačar for the win and a podium place

Stage 20 from Arenas de San Pedro to Plataforma de Gredos provided the field with one last realistic opportunity for a significant GC shuffle.  The stage featured an early cat 1 climb before then going over four more climbs before a final cat 3 climb to the finish.  The day began with a breakaway going up the road quite quickly in the 190.4km stage and with no threatening names to the overall lead of Roglič, Jumbo-Visma quickly gave it their blessing.

Dion Smith produced a final flurry to record his best result of this year’s Vuelta in 10th on the final day, photo Sirotti

The break consisted of Mark Padun of Bahrain Merida, Nicolas Edet of Cofidis, Mitchell Docker of EF Education First, Ruben Guerreiro of Katusha-Alpecin, Sergio Samitier and Mikel Iturria of Euskadi Basque Country-Murias, Steve Morabito of Groupama-FDJ, Tosh Van Der Sande of Lotto Soudal, Sergio Henao of UAE Team Emirates, Tao Geoghegan Hart of Team Ineos, Damien Howson of Mitchelton-SCOTT and Nic Dlamini of Dimension Data.  They quickly built a 3.13min lead on the lower slopes of the first big cat 1 climb although that dropped as Astana began to assert control of the race in the peloton; a statement of intent over what was to come.

With Astana setting a fierce tempo on the front of the race, the breakaway’s lead was brought back to less than 1 minute with 150km to go before beginning to climb again with the weather conditions turning sour.  So much was at stake for the GC contenders that the break never really found significant daylight, and coupled with the fact that a number of riders in the break weren’t able to keep pace at the front; their chances of holding on for the day were slimming.

Eventually they managed to re-establish their lead to 4 minutes again with less than 100km to go.  The weather continued to batter the riders though, with rain jackets the order of the day as Astana moved forward again with 70km to go and took a chunk out of the break’s lead.  With 54km to go the gap had come down to sub-3mins with Astana leading the way for the peloton; closely monitored by Jumbo-Visma and Movistar.

Tadej Pogačar celebrates stage 20 victory that would also result in making his way up into the GC podium, photo Sirotti

The attacks began from the peloton courtesy of Miguel Angel Lopez.  At this point Tao Geoghegan Hart of Team Ineos and Ruben Guerreiro were on the front of the race.  With 40km to go the leaders had just 40 seconds in hand over the red jersey group, but then an attack went clear from Tadej Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates.  The Slovenian attacked with 39km to go, and after a brief response from BORA-Hansgrohe he was off, leaping across the 32 second lead.

Pogačar quickly caught and passed the leaders on the road and built an impressive lead of over 1.30mins with 30km to go.  Movistar marshalled their troops at the front of the race, but they seemed unable to put a serious dent in his lead as the Slovenian maintained and even stretched his lead to 1.40mins.  With 5km to go Pogačar was staring squarely at the prospect of not just a stage win but also a podium place in the general classification.  With 3km to go his lead was still 1.37mins and the 20 year old was showing no signs of deteriorating as behind him Hermann Pernsteiner of Bahrain Merida attacked the GC group led by Movistar.

Eventually Alejandro Valverde made a move, drawing only Roglič and Rafal Majka with him.  After his early attacks Lopez now began to suffer and lose ground.  Up ahead though it was all about Pogačar who pushed it all the way to the line before sitting up and celebrating.  From here it was all about time, with Valverde, Roglič, Majka and Pernsteiner in the next group on the road.  They crossed the line 1.32mins behind, with the red jersey losing 9 seconds but safe and secure of his overall win with a day to go.  Valverde finished second with Majka third.

George Bennett has a proud place to hold in the making of Slovenian history, photo Sirotti

With 1 day remaining then Pogačar joined Roglič in the top 3 with Alejandro Valverde second overall.  Nairo Quintana dropped a place to fourth and Miguel Angel Lopez moved down to 5th.

Jakobsen takes the finale for Deceuninck-QuickStep

After three weeks of racing all that was left of the 2019 Vuelta a Espana was the final 106.6km stage from Fuenlabrada to Madrid.  The stage featured 8 laps of the finishing circuit and provided one last chance for the sprinters who’d really lacked opportunities throughout this Vuelta in comparison to other grand tours.

With the hard work done for the GC riders it was typically processional all the way up to the finishing circuit where Jumbo-Visma led the peloton to get racing well and truly underway.  Once on the circuit the attacks began with nothing able to go clear initially.  Gonzalo Serrano of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA managed to attack and take the first intermediate sprint and then gain a small handful of seconds before being joined by Dani Martinez of EF Education First and Burgos-BH’s Diego Rubio.  

Martinez and Rubio managed to drop Serrano and continue on, but their lead was never going to explode.  With 32km to go they had a 17 second lead and that stretched to 23 seconds with 27km remaining.  Behind them it was all about the sprint teams, with UAE Team Emirates, BORA-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-QuickStep all playing major roles in the chase effort.  

Shane Archbold makes his way through the final mountain stage before Madrid, photo Sirotti

With 3 laps to go and 17.2km of racing left the chase seemed to ease a little.  Deceuninck-QuickStep continued to lead down the right hand side of the road and they finally caught the break with 7km remaining.  From here it was a case of jostling for position, with Shane Archbold of BORA-Hansgrohe protecting Sam Bennett, but allowing Deceuninck-QuickStep to lead the way.  

4km from the finish the pace was full on and it was reflected in the melee that was beginning to ensue as Astana moved forward and so too UAE Team Emirates.  Luis Leon Sanchez really spoiled the momentum for Deceuninck-QuickStep with none other than Rafal Majka sitting fourth wheel.  A little further down the road, but in a promising position was Mitchelton-SCOTT’s Dion Smith, who was surfing the wheels, without team support but managing to hold his ground well.

Under the kite with 2km to go it was Majka leading the way with Deceuninck-QuickStep rallying again behind him, trying to line up Jakobsen for the win.  At this point it wasn’t clear where Sam Bennett was as the peloton motored along at speeds exceeding 70kph with 1.2km to go.  Under the kite for 1km to go it looked like Deceuninck-QuickStep were in control but Bennett was ready to strike off of the wheel of Fabio Jakobsen.

Fabio Jakobsen just edges Sam Bennett for the final stage win, photo Sirotti

Trek-Segafredo and Sunweb both tried to get in on the sprint, with Trek-Segafredo eventually leading out the sprint.  Max Richeze had to quite forcefully shove a Trek-Segafredo rider out of the way in order to give his sprinter an opportunity for clear road.  Eventually Jakobsen came through, and with Benentt boxed in it was the perfect situation for Deceuninck-QuickStep with the Dutch national champion just holding off the Irish national champion.

Dion Smith finished his campaign in Spain with his best result of the three weeks.  The Kiwi finished a strong 10th place.

Overall Primož Roglič did enough to claim a famous Slovenian win in the Vuelta a Espana, 2.16mins ahead of Alejandro Valverde and 2.38mins ahead of his compatriot Tadej Pogačar.  

George Bennett was the highest placed of the Kiwis overall in 33rd place, with Dion Smith 83rd, Sam Bewley 100th and Shane Archbold 151st.


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