It was a good day for Jumbo-Visma on stage 8 of the Vuelta a España, keeping control of the large breakaway to set themselves up for an aggressive ascent of the final climb of Xorret de Catí. Still well represented where it mattered, Sepp Kuss put in an attack with 5 km to go, forcing defending champion Remco Evenepoel to pull the Durango man back with Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard on his wheel. Then with the defending champion lodged on the front of the GC group for the remainder of the climb, it was Roglič who sprinted to victory in the uphill kick to the line.
Kuss stayed among the surviving GC favourites to finish strong and take over the red jersey from Lenny Martinez who had been distanced further down, the young Groupama-FDJ rider slipping to third overall but keeping hold of the white jersey.
- The day’s 30-rider breakaway was kept on a short leash by Jumbo-Visma, but with hopes still high out front, the last 40 kilometres prompted a flurry of attacks until the move was reduced to just four: Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious), stage 2-winner Andreas Kron (Lotto Dstny), Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) and Oier Lazkano (Movistar).
- The leading quartet took a lead of just half a minute onto the final climb, the first-category Xorret de Catí (3.8 km at 11.4%) with a maximum ramp of 22%. Jumbo-Visma was clearly determined to make something happen, but Remco Evenepoel was also there to make a statement with two teammates.
- With incumbent race leader Martinez distanced in the last 6 km, Kuss put in his attack almost as soon as Evenepoel was left to his own devices, but the defending Vuelta champion seemed unfazed by the situation he found himself in – surrounded by yellow and black jerseys – and was content and able to pull Kuss back as the slope eased up ever so slightly.
- Then the triad of Jumbo-Visma GC contenders (yes, including Kuss, for now…), glued themselves to Evenepoel’s wheel for the remainder of the climb. The Belgian was still on the front in the final few hundred metres, and as he began his sprint, it looked like Evenepoel might pull off a coup on the day Jumbo-Visma had so determinedly tried to make their own, though it later transpired that he thought there were still riders up the road, telling media, “I didn’t know we were sprinting for the win. I thought the break was still ahead.” In the end, Roglič was able to come wide around the younger man to snag his first win of the 2023 race, bringing his Vuelta stage win total to 11.
- Lotto Dstny made a strong commitment to stage 8 in memory of teammate Tijl De Decker on the day of his funeral. The four riders who made it into the 30-man breakaway were Andreas Kron, Sylvain Moniquet, Lennert van Eetvelt, and Thomas De Gendt, and though their efforts were ultimately in vain, Lotto Dstny was rarely absent from the front of the race. An alarmingly long-range move by breakaway whisperer De Gendt allowed his young teammates to surf the wheels behind, ready for the aggressive final 40 km, where everyone in a Lotto Dstny jersey took their opportunity to attack – and scoop KOM points to protect the lead of teammate Eduardo Sepúlveda. Kron was the last man standing, though Moniquet also made a good fist of hanging on with a furious chase on the final descent. With the GC teams making their intent known, it wasn’t to be for the breakaway, but Lotto Dstny threw everything they could at the stage nonetheless.
- Evenepoel was impressive on the final climb, apparently not bothered by the steep gradients that have pushed him to breaking point in the past. Granted, it was not a particularly long climb, but Jumbo-Visma’s evident determination to put their rivals in trouble didn’t work for the most-marked man in the Belgian tricolour – Enric Mas, Juan Ayuso and João Almeida all regained contact but were momentarily detached by the accelerations on the steepest grades. Might Jumbo-Visma be disappointed that they didn’t get more for their work throughout the stage? Maybe, but let’s face it, they realistically only had a few hundred metres in which to test Evenepoel, and though he passed their test, the Dutch outfit still won the day twice over. With three riders in the top 10, including new leader Kuss – whose 2:31 lead over Evenepoel may only be neutralised in the stage 10 TT – the upper hand is theirs as we look ahead to the mega mountain stages to come.
After his violent crash late in stage 7, it was a relief to hear good news from Thymen Arensman himself having been discharged from hospital in the night.
Job done for Jumbo-Visma. And not far off for Juan Ayuso who finished third after a few difficult moments on the climb.
A Vuelta Roglič is a happy Roglič.
Sepp would like a word, Primož…
Sunday’s stage 9 will be another one for the climbers, with another very hard finale: 8.2 km in length with a 5.4 percent gradient but much steeper gradients in the last few kilometers. The stage win will be tricky predict, however, seeing as the day’s early first-category ascent could make for a climber-oriented breakaway. Still, it seems like the power trio of Jonas Vingegaard, Primož Roglič, and Sepp Kuss are all worthy contenders. It’s a bit astounding to mention three riders on the same team as stage favorites, but here we are.
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