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Primoz Roglic avoided a repeat of his heartbreaking Tour de France finale as he fended off a last-climb attack from Ineos’ Richard Carapaz, with more than a bit of help from Movistar, to hang on to the lead at the Vuelta a Espana by just 24 seconds.
Groupama-FDJ’s David Gaudu was the fastest from the day’s big breakaway and took his second stage win of the race.
Sunday’s stage to Madrid is unlikely to see any GC movement, setting Roglic up to win the 2020 Vuelta a Espana, 24 seconds ahead of Carapaz and 47 ahead of EF Pro Cycling’s Hugh Carthy. Despite furious attacks on the Vuelta’s final climb, the Alto de Covatillo, the final podium remained the same as it was heading into Saturday’s stage.
How it happened
The penultimate stage of this year’s Vuelta was also the final opportunity to take any significant time. The final climb of the day, the hors categorie Alto de Covatillo, would be the arena in which the three riders close to victory would duke it out. Roglic led Carapaz by 45 seconds and Carthy by 53 seconds coming into the stage.
The stage included six categorized climbs, opening with the cat 1 Puerto del Portillo. The middle of the stage featured incessant rollers and a collection of category 3 climbs.
An early break full of stage hunters got off the front early in the stage but was never given much leash. It turns out they didn’t need much leash. The group included David de la Cruz, Guillaume Martin, David Gaudu, Sergio Henao, Gino Mäder, José Herrada, Nick Schultz, Bruno Amirail, Ion Izagirre, and Nelson Oliveira. Movistar’s Marc Soler bridged across.
Movistar, stuck just off the podium in 5th with Enric Mas, attempted to use a series of small, uncategorized climbs around 50km to go to put pressure on the rivals just ahead of them on GC. It was briefly successful, catching out both Carapaz and Dan Martin, who sat in 4th.
A series of narrow, cobbled roads at the base of the Covatillo, the final climb of the day, served to split the breakaway early. De la Cruz was put in trouble, as was Soler.
With 6km to go, Izagirre attacked the breakaway, looking for his second stage win of this Vuelta. Gaudu followed, as did Mader. The rest were quickly distanced.
Behind, Roglic still had Sepp Kuss and George Bennett, and the Jumbo train took its familiar place near the head of the GC group. Bennet began to trail, leaving just Kuss to help his leader.
With 5km to go, Aleksandr Vlasov, 9th overall at the start of the day, was the first to move out of the GC group. Jumbo didn’t take the bait and continued to tap out their pace behind.
In the break, Gaudu clawed his way back up to Izagirre, pushing past him and into the mist alone. Mader rode his way into second on the road.
The battle for the podium set off with 4km to the finish. Hugh Carthy threw an attack up the right side of the road, forcing Carapaz and Roglic to respond. Kuss waved his leader past, his time at the front of the group at an end. Dan Martin looked to be in trouble, fading back off the leaders. Enric Mas clung to Roglic’s wheel.
The GC group was down to five: Roglic, Carapaz, Carthy, Mas, Vlasov.
Mas was the next to go, but looked back after a few hard pedal strokes. Carthy followed as the group turned into a headwind. Carapaz was the next to launch, hands in his drops, and Roglic was the first to respond. Three kilometers of climbing stood between both riders and a Vuelta win.
Carapaz pulled his gap to 17 seconds, then 20. Roglic chased behind, followed by Carthy and Mas, neither of whom were keen to help.
The Roglic group caught Jumbo teammate Lennard Hofstede, who sat up from the breakaway. Hofstede put his head down and took one final pull for his team leader. They then caught Movistar’s Marc Soler, who put in their own pulls for Mas, still into a headwind. Soler may have saved the day for Jumbo.
As Roglic passed under the red kite, his GC gap ahead of Carapaz was down to 18 seconds. Carthy rode 5 seconds up the road. Mas was still there.
Roglic, out of the saddle, his face contorted, crossed the line 21 seconds behind Carpaz. He will win the Vuelta by 24 seconds.
Top 10, stage 17
1 GAUDU David (Groupama – FDJ) 4:54:32
2 MÄDER Gino (NTT Pro Cycling) 0:28
3 IZAGIRRE Ion (Astana Pro Team) 1:05
4 DE LA CRUZ David (UAE-Team Emirates)
5 DONOVAN Mark (Team Sunweb) 1:53
6 STORER Michael (Team Sunweb)
7 MARTIN Guillaume (Cofidis, Solutions Crédits) 2:23
8 CARAPAZ Richard (INEOS Grenadiers) 2:35
9 CARTHY Hugh (EF Pro Cycling) 2:50
10 ROGLIC Primoz (Team Jumbo-Visma) 2:56
Top 10, GC
1 ROGLIC Primoz (Team Jumbo-Visma) 69:17:59
2 CARAPAZ Richard (INEOS Grenadiers) 0:24
3 CARTHY Hugh (EF Pro Cycling) 0:47
4 MARTIN Dan (Israel Start-Up Nation) 2:43
5 MAS Enric (Movistar Team) 3:36
6 POELS Wout (Bahrain – McLaren) 7:16
7 DE LA CRUZ David (UAE-Team Emirates) 7:35
8 GAUDU David (Groupama – FDJ) 7:45
9 GROSSSCHARTNER Felix (BORA – hansgrohe) 8:15
10 VALVERDE Alejandro (Movistar Team) 9:34