Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard attacked out of the lead group to win his second mountaintop stage of the 2023 Vuelta a España, tightening the overall classification in the process, with just 29 seconds now separating him from Jumbo-Visma teammate and overall leader Sepp Kuss.
- As on the Tourmalet stage, Vingegaard was the early aggressor; he jumped clear more than three kilometers from the finish on the relatively short Bejes ascent. UAE Team Emirates’ Finn Fisher-Black attempted to get across, but there was largely no response from any of the top-10 overall. Vingegaard rode solo to the finish, while the chase group was marked by slower, more defensive riding.
- With a short (120 km) stage that was flat except for the final climb, and a pack disinclined to let a large break go, the pace was infernal, with an average of almost 49 kph for the first two hours. None of the GC candidates suffered the dreaded post-rest day “jours sans” but Kuss did let a few small gaps open on the final climb when things started to stretch out, and crossed the finish line four seconds behind the top chasers from the GC group. Since Vingegaard finished a minute clear of those riders and snagged the 10-second time bonus for the win, he jumped over teammate Primož Roglič into second overall.
- Vingegaard’s win put an end to what started as an emotionally tough day for the team, which got news that Nathan van Hooydonck had suffered a medical issue that caused a car crash back home and is in the hospital in an induced coma. “We had some terrible news this morning and I wanted to win for my best friend today,” said Vingegaard at the finish. “Luckily now we have good news about his condition, so I think that’s a big relief for me, for the team, and I hope he will recover soon.”
- Jumbo still handily controls the GC with Kuss in the lead and Vingegaard and Roglič behind. But today’s result will do little to tamp down questions about the team’s strategy for its three-headed leadership even as Kuss noted in his interview that Vingegaard had asked for the OK on the team radio to attack. The setup has yielded some unusual situations on the road, with Vingegaard and then Roglič both attacking out of the group without Kuss showing any weakness. Vingegaard, at least, professed to be uninterested in the topic. When asked on TV about his jump on GC, the Dane offered one of his characteristic non-answers, saying, “I just want to enjoy this moment and I don’t think about it.” Sorry, Jonas, but it kinda does actually look like you’re thinking about it.
- Kuss again seemed happy and relaxed in his post-race interview, calling it a “super amazing day” for the team and acknowledging that the short, explosive Bejes climb was not his strong suit. “Tomorrow’s a totally different story,” he said of Wednesday’s finish on the steep ramps of Alto de l’Angliru. “The legs feel good.” It will likely be the crucial test of his race lead, but much may come down to Vingegaard and Roglič.
- UAE, for one, appeared to be waiting for the longer climbs, as neither Juan Ayuso or Marc Soler tried much today. But neither were they able to respond effectively to Vingegaard, and losing another minute to a rival is never a good thing. Because Kuss retains the overall lead the standings mask the gap slightly, but if pulling back more than two minutes on Kuss was going to be a challenge, getting back almost as much time on Vingegaard may be impossible.
Quote of the day
“I felt pretty good, actually. I knew going in this finish would be hard for me because it’s really explosive. I’m happy with how I rode and I was able to hang on.”
-Kuss, on surviving another day in the race lead
Up next: stage 17
A short but wicked stage awaits on this 124.4 km route in the Asturias region. It’s a tale of two halves: the opening flat and unremarkable, and three climbs in the second half, culminating in the finish atop the ridiculously steep Alto de l’Angliru (13.1 km at 9.4%), which has sustained ramps of 17%. The climb, which first featured in the Vuelta in 1999, has long been a pivotal part of the race and can produce big time gaps. The last time the race visited, in 2020, Kuss performed well here in assisting Roglič’s first overall victory at the Vuelta. All eyes will be on Vingegaard again, to see whether today’s move was an emotional ride to honor a friend or if the Dane has an eye on the overall title. Any challenge to Jumbo’s stranglehold on the GC will have to come from UAE’s Juan Ayuso or Movistar’s Enric Mas.
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