Up and down all day, stage 20 was another one for the breakaway, and Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) was determined to add another win to his superb 2023 tally. However, it was Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) who had the craft and power to overhaul his four surviving breakaway rivals in the sprint for the line, adding a Vuelta victory to stage 15 at the Tour de France this summer.
More than 10 minutes after the breakaway took the day, fourth-overall Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) led home the GC group at the end of what was ultimately a quiet outing for them. Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) had tried to light a spark in the race for fourth on the final climb, but Jumbo-Visma kept control, and the top three conceded a few inconsequential seconds to cross the line together: champion-in-waiting Sepp Kuss flanked by second and third overall Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič.
- With its narrow roads and punchy climbs, stage 20 was well-suited to a breakaway, and after another hard and fast start, no less than 31 riders made it into the move. That Remco Evenepoel had three teammates made the Belgian a particularly marked man, but as we’ve seen before, that doesn’t seem to bother him. With numbers on their side, Soudal Quick-Step led for most of the day, right up until the final climb where only Mattia Cattaneo was left to support the polka-dot jersey. It was here, just inside 15 km to go, that Wout Poels attacked, drawing out Lennert van Eetvelt (Lotto Dstny), Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) and Pelayo Sánchez (Burgos-BH), and exposing Evenepoel. But though the Belgian lost touch on the climb, he rejoined the group on the descent and the quintet time-trialed to the finish.
- The last time the Vuelta ended (alright, not exactly ‘ended’, but stage 20) with a profile like this, the top 10 was shaken up like a bag of marbles, and it was the scene of Miguel Ángel López’s storied tantrum on what ended up being his last-ever day in a Movistar jersey. Two years later, there was scope for more of the same, and with the top three separated by just 68 seconds, almost anything could happen – even though those three are on the same team … However, though the caustic drama of earlier this week is still fresh in the memory, the GC race was all but neutralised. Sure, the trio of Spaniards in or near fourth tried to make something happen, but Jumbo-Visma super-domestique (*ahem*) Primož Roglič did a good job of policing the action and the group came home together. The only change came lower down the top 10 with teammates Aleksandr Vlasov and Cian Uijtdebroeks swapping places in 7th and 8th after the latter lost touch on the final climb.
- Obviously Kuss has to finish tomorrow’s semi-processional stage 21 into Madrid, but assuming he raises his arms in victory on Sunday evening, Jumbo-Visma will have succeeded in winning all three Grand Tours in one season. Achievement unlocked, history made. That was a goal from the start of the year, but what they’ll have done is all the more impressive given it’s with three different riders. Sure, it’s not exactly been all that graceful, but it’s certainly been more entertaining than we could have imagined such dominance would be …
- Poels had already made an attempt at distancing Evenepoel on the final steep climb of the stage, and then on the descent, but the young whippersnapper proved resilient and re-joined the breakaway survivors for the finale. However, the Dutch veteran had one more trick up his sleeve. Going into the final kilometre, Poels dropped to the back of the group, as did Evenepoel, but Poels kept his position – and his cool – as the metres ticked down. He was almost caught out by the narrow width of the run-in, but with timing and confidence that demonstrated experience and/or knowledge of the course, Poels darted forward to win the race into the final corner. From there, he just had to keep pushing, as behind him, Evenepoel was forced to respond from third wheel. In the last few metres, it looked like the younger rider might just have the power and throw to neutralise the threat, but Poels just managed to hold on – and crucially made no attempt at early celebration. This was victory by both power and wit.
Quote of the day:
Sepp Kuss, ‘The Eagle of Durango’, is a little over 24 hours from winning the 2023 Vuelta a España, the third Grand Tour he’s started and finished this season (just read that again … Yep, still true). It’s been touch and go and times this week, but he’s proved himself, and on stage 20, he was the outright leader of the race and within his team.
“Primož did a lot of work for me there on the last climb and on the flat with Jonas. It was something I never imagined,” Kuss said after stage 20, which he finished arm in arm with the teammates who’ll join him on the overall podium tomorrow. “It was a super special moment. To be able to relax that much in the last kilometre of a mountain stage with your two teammates is just really cool. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
The Vuelta culminates in a nice and simple – hopefully – sprint on stage 21. At 101.5 km, it’s pretty short, and it’ll feel even shorter once the processional phase is out of the way. The peloton hits the finishing laps in central Madrid after 49 km, and on the tenth passage of the line, expect to see green jersey-wearer Kaden Groves, Juan Sebastián Molano and Alberto Dainese duke it out in an effort to add to their earlier sprint victories.
- European Women’s WorldTour racing is coming to an end at the Tour de Romandie Féminin where Demi Vollering continues to dominate stage racing, but Abby Mickey Skujina brings us another big story from the race, the gathering momentum of Canyon-SRAM.
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