There was joy for BORA-Hansgrohe and Jumbo-Visma in stages 14 and 15 of the Vuelta a Espana. Sam Bennett returned to winning ways on a rare bunch sprint opportunity, while Sepp Kuss took out the monstrous mountain stage as teammate Primož Roglič continued to lead the race overall.
Bennett seizes rare sprint opportunity
For the breakaway that took off in stage 14 there was a sense of impending doom for their chances of staying away almost right from the start. Silvan Dillier of AG2R La Mondiale, Stephane Rossetto of Cofidis, Diego Rubio of Burgos-BH, Luka Pibernik of Bahrain Merida, Harm Vanhoucke of Lotto Soudal and Salvatore Puccio of Team Ineos formed the break of the day that gained a maximum lead of 2.20mins.
It wasn’t Jumbo-Visma who were having to take control of the peloton either, providing basically a free pass for the likes of George Bennett and Primož Roglič. Instead it was a coalition of Dimension Data, BORA-Hansgrohe, Mitchelton-SCOTT, Deceuninck-QuickStep, Trek-Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates; who all had interest in the sprint finish. This resulted in the breakaway gaining no more than 2.20mins all stage, and Rossetto throwing in the towel with some 60km of racing remaining.
With the peloton closing to within about a minute the breakaway essentially sat up, preferring to be caught rather than draining any energy they had for no chance of a stage win. This resulted in a lull in the pace from the peloton that allowed the break’s lead to climb back out to just over 2 minutes again; and that was the time gap that the break needed to be reinvigorated. They would last until 4.5km to go where they would finally be caught after holding off the peloton for as long as they could.
Deceuninck-QuickStep led the catch but from there were challenged for superiority by BORA-Hansgrohe with Shane Archbold sitting second wheel with 2km to go. It was all about the sprint teams and an anticipated battle primarily between the two bunch sprint winners of this year’s Vuelta so far; Fabio Jakobsen of Deceuninck-QuickStep and Sam Bennett of BORA-Hansgrohe. The latter was on the former’s wheel with 1km to go after Trek-Segafredo moved forward to challenge Shane Archbold who put in a dig on the front with 1.8km remaining.
After doing a big turn on the front of the bunch Archbold swung off, but right under the 1km to go banner a massive crash took out a large number of riders including Alejandro Valverde. Oblivious to what was going on behind, Deceuninck-QuickStep resumed control of the front of the lead group, with Bennett still on Jakobsen’s wheel, but it was Tosh van Der Sande of Lotto Soudal who threatened to upset everything; especially when Jakobsen sat up to allow Max Richeze to charge for the sprint instead.
Bennett had a big deficit to make up but the Irish National champion made light work of the gap to both Richeze and then to van Der Sande; taking the stage win comfortably ahead of the Argentinian and the Belgian.
Kuss survives the break to continue Jumbo-Visma party
Back into the mountains for stage 15 and it was a rude awakening for the field after yesterday’s bunch sprint. A total of four category 1 climbs featured on the stage including the final 8.1km ramp to the line. The day began, however, without CCC Team’s Patrick Bevin who withdrew from the Vuelta in order to prepare for the time trial at the UCI World Road Championships.
At the drop of the flag the attacks began, but George Bennett was off the back of the peloton with an early mechanical problem. Despite the fast pace in the peloton the Kiwi appeared to have no trouble regaining contact with the bunch as Jumbo-Visma looked to take the pace out of the peloton as they were happy with the early composition of the break.
That break consisted of Sander Armée of Lotto Soudal, Team Ineos’ Vasil Kiryienka, Mark Padun of Bahrain Merida, Casper Pedersen of Team Sunweb and Jesus Ezquerra of Burgos-BH. They would later be countered by an attack from Marc Soler of Movistar who crested the first climb solo, and then found himself joined by another group that eventually made for a 17-man move at the head of the race.
Sep Kuss of Jumbo-Visma joined Soler on the long descent after the first climb, with Ion Izagirre of Astana, Lawson Craddock of EF Education First, Pawel Poljanski of BORA-Hansgrohe, Quentin Jauregui of AG2R La Mondiale, Sander Armée, Tsgabu Grmay of Mitchelton-SCOTT, Ben O’Connor of Dimension Data, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Kiryienka of Ineos, Ruben Guerreiro and Dani Navarro of Katusha-Alpecin, José Herrada of Cofidis, Sergio Samitier and Oscar Rodriguez of Euskadi Murias.
The group were eventually given daylight by the peloton and were free to fly with a gap that grew to just over 3 minutes with 100km to go. Behind the break Jumbo-Visma were on the front of the peloton but not needing to put too much intensity down just yet with plenty of climbing to go. They continued to lead the peloton with the gap at 3.50mins with 60km and two climbs to go; while Sep Kuss simply policed the goings on in the breakaway group.
On the penultimate climb of the day an attack from Sergio Samitier went clear, building a quick 21 second advantage over the nearest chasers as Ben O’Connor and Dani Navarro went off in pursuit. The two chasers made contact with 45km to go as behind them the rest of the break continued to keep their intensity up although the gap was at almost a minute and climbing. By the time the leaders reached the summit of the climb their lead over the chasers was up to 1.30mins to the chasers and up to almost 5 minutes over the remnants of the peloton.
From here it was a long descent that flattened out a little before the final fierce climb to the finish. The final climb averaged 8.1% for 9.6km and Samitier wasn’t going to wait around; attacking his two companions who dropped back to the chase group that was now just 22 seconds behind him with 14km to go.
Samitier began the final climb with a lead of just over 40 seconds while the peloton suddenly ramped up the pace on the run in to the lower slopes themselves. Astana moved forward with Movistar just biding their time for now. Up the road Sep Kuss, who’d been able to take it comparatively easy until now, attacked the group behind him and bridged across to Samitier; quickly passing the Spaniard. Ruben Guerreiro was the fastest of the chasers initially, going solo as Geoghegan Hart also tried to make a move.
The American looked strong and composed as he tackled the slopes; with the peloton now 4 minutes behind. The action really kicked off in the GC group with an attack from Alejandro Valverde that was met by the red jersey himself. Roglič bridged to the world champion and the two proceeded to work together; putting time into the rest behind them and potentially consolidating their positions as first and second overall.
With 3km to go Kuss’ lead was out to 31 seconds to his nearest chasers. Behind them Valverde was aided by the presence of Marc Soler in the breakaway; with the domestique sitting up to help his teammate. Up ahead though it was the American who was on song, holding and even stretching his lead over the Guerreiro and Geoghegan Hart.
Valverde and Roglič eventually disposed of Marc Soler, with Majka, Lopez, Pogačar all working together for a while. Up ahead Kuss was able to begin celebrating early, giving high fives to the crowd and smiling from ear to ear as he completed a brilliant performance and continued the party for Jumbo-Visma. Ruben Guerreiro and Geoghegan Hart faced a fierce sprint to the line by contrast, with the Portuguese rider getting the better of the Brit for second place.
Meanwhile Roglič and Valverde were looking to maximise their time gap, eventually crossing the line 2.14mins back, but putting 41 seconds into Lopez and Pogačar; and almost a minute into Rafal Majka.