Jumbo-Visma beat Jumbo-Visma to win stage 17 of the Vuelta a España in one of the most bizarre races in living memory, and even ever-diplomatic race leader Sepp Kuss alluded to “strange feelings” about the day. The team entered the pivotal Angliru stage with a near lock on the podium and three of the best climbers in the race. And true to form, the trio emerged from the fog at the front of the race with just a few kilometers to go.
But instead of a team time trial to the line, Primož Roglič lifted the pace and Kuss was unable to follow, leaving Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard to surge ahead to the finish together. Behind, Kuss recovered on the wheel of Bahrain Victorious’ Mikel Landa and sprinted home 19 seconds behind to just save his race lead, by eight seconds over Vingegaard, and Roglič now one minute further back.
- Despite Jumbo’s dominance, Bahrain ended up being the primary animator of the stage, lifting the pace on the penultimate climb of the Alto de Cordal and entering the Angliru with four riders working for team leader Mikel Landa. Wout Poels did a huge amount of pacemaking on the final slopes, which effectively discouraged attacks as the group whittled down to just himself, Landa, and the trio of Jumbo riders, shrouded in thick fog.
- The day’s main early action came courtesy of Mr. Remco Evenepoel, who went clear with Soudal Quick-Step teammate Mattia Cattaneo and several others around 100 km to go, and then solo over the first two climbs of the day. Pacemaking by Jumbo-Visma never let the gap grow past a few minutes, however, and the combination of careful descending by Evenepoel off the Alto de Cordal and a hot pace from Bahrain meant that Evenepoel’s advantage was cut by half before the Angliru even really got started. Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) also attempted to get clear early but never got more than a few seconds on the chase and was re-caught at the bottom of the Angliru. Evenepoel was caught with more than five kilometers to race as Romain Bardet (DSM-Firmenich) accelerated in an ultimately unsuccessful move.
- The combination of the fog and dense crowds high on the Angliru meant TV lost the lead group for long periods of time, but when the cameras finally got back to the front of the race it was Jumbo’s three-headed monster and no one else. But under pressure from Roglič, Kuss dropped off the pace and fell back before finding an unlikely ally in Landa. Kuss was alert to the finish situation, surging around Landa in the final meters to take third place and the four-second time bonus along with it and preserve his overall lead.
- In contrast to past days, Kuss was a little less effusive at the finish line in congratulating his teammates. Just as telling, Roglič didn’t celebrate on the line and neither he nor Vingegaard met Kuss’s gaze when the three reunited after the finish line. Roglič’s post-race interview on TV was a master class in non-answers, as he maintained in response to several questions about the leadership situation that he simply rode his own tempo. It was a “weird feeling” to drop his teammate and race leader, Roglič allowed, but he added “everyone goes on such a steep climb as fast as possible and then we see, huh?” Jumbo seems to be finding its “the road will decide” mantra increasingly difficult to maintain alongside the idea that all of its riders are comfortable with that approach.
- On paper, the biggest threat to Jumbo’s dominance (besides its fratricidal vibe) would seem to have been UAE. But the team spent Soler in an ultimately futile long-range attempt, and fourth-placed Juan Ayuso was dropped on the final part of the climb under the pressure from Bahrain. Ultimately, Jumbo further solidified its GC position, with Ayuso now four minutes behind Kuss and nearly three behind Roglič for the final spot on the podium, and Landa in fifth, 4:16 down to Kuss.
Quote of the day
“They’re two big, big champions, and yeah, I also want my shot. I’m happy to work with them when it’s called for and it’s been a beautiful experience.”
-Kuss to Eurosport interviewer Alberto Contador, who knows from intra-team rivalries
Up next: stage 18
Still more climbs, because Vuelta. Stage 18 is a more traditional-length mountain stage, a 178.9 km ride from Pola de Allande to la Cruz de Linares. It features five categorized climbs, spaced roughly evenly throughout the stage. Three are first-category, including the final ascent to la Cruz de Linares (8.3 km at 8.5%). It’s no Angliru, of course, but it will certainly test the legs. Watch the vibe between Roglič and Vingegaard, who seem to be working out a pecking order given that Roglič wants another shot at the Tour de France. Among non-Jumbos, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Lennard Kämna is a good breakaway pick.
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