La Vuelta 2018: The vindication of Simon Yates
Sep 17 2018 04:57 pm CET

La Vuelta 2018: The vindication of Simon Yates
La Vuelta 2018: The vindication of Simon Yates
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Simon Yates had his revenge on the dramatic collapse in this year’s Giro, at la Vuelta. The British rider finally fulfilled his vocation of Grand Tour winner taking the overall victory of this Vuelta, and did so by being the strongest, the most strategic and also one of the bravest riders in the peloton.

Once again, the Spanish Grand Tour delivered a lot of excitement and a very open race until the very last climb. The GC contenders arrived at the third week, which opened with the 32 km time trial at Torrelavega, with surprisingly small time gaps between them. Only 43 seconds separated the leader in the GC, Simon Yates, from the fourth-placed Miguel Ángel López. The race was for the taking. Then, in the Time Trial Yates gained time on all his rivals except Steven Kruijswijk. The Dutch rider of LottoNL-Jumbo delivered an amazing performance finishing 4th on the stage and climbing to a podium position. As was expected, both Nairo Quintana and Miguel Ángel López lost valuable time to Yates, and to Valverde and Kruijswijk, therefore hurting their chances of wearing the red jersey.

Nevertheless, there was still plenty of mountain terrain for the best climbers to try to recover some time. The day after the Time Trial the race arrived at the very steep climb of Balcón de Bizkaia, the summit finish of the 17th stage. Michael Woods took the stage to round up quite a good Vuelta for EF Education First-Drapac. The US squad took two stage victories: the 5th with Simon Clarke and the 17th with Woods, and its leader Rigoberto Urán finished 7th overall.

At Balcón de Bizkaia Valverde arose as the great contender for Yates’ supremacy in the race. On very difficult terrain the Spaniard of Movistar took eight seconds on Yates and positioned himself as the main leader for Movistar after Quintana lost more than a minute to Yates and the other main rivals, burying his chances for the victory. Kruijswijk also lost precious time giving away almost a minute to the leader’s group. The Dutch rider seemingly paid a high price for his effort at the Time Trial, and with that time disadvantage at Bizakia he stopped to be a direct threat to Yates and instead had to start thinking of securing a podium position.

Enric Mas, who was very strong at Lagos de Covadonga, also delivered a good performance at Balcón de Bizkaia and an even a better one at the Time Trial taking the 6th place of the stage. The young rider of Quick-Step Floors has become the revelation of this Vuelta, thanks to his very consistent third week that he finished with a great display of strength at stage 20, with finish on the Coll de la Gallina.

But before the riders had to face the final mountain stage, one of the most challenging climbs of the race was waiting for them in the 19th stage: the climb to Naturlandia, in Andorra. Valverde was only 25 seconds behind Yates at the start of the day, while Mas, López and Kruijswijk were within a minute and a half, and all of them were looking strong. That was the penultimate chance to ambush the leader and go for the red jersey.

But Yates was simply too strong to allow any time gap. Only Thibaut Pinot, who at that point wasn’t a threat in the GC, was able to surpass Yates during the final kilometers of the climb and take the stage victory, the second in this Vuelta for the French rider. Although he was far from the GC lead since the first third of the race, Pinot showed once again that he is a more than good climber and able to pursue big victories in the mountains. After all, he won on the two largest climbs in this Vuelta. Pinot only needs more consistency to become a true GC contender. The question is whether he will be able to achieve a better and more regular shape at this point in this career. If he does, he may have a Grand Tour within reach.

In Naturlandia, Valverde and the Movistar team were the most harmed by the development of the race. Valverde lost more than a minute to Yates after failing to respond to the attack of the Briton. The early attack launched by Quintana in Andorra didn’t improve the chances for the Movistar leader either, so at the end of the day both lost time and the lead of Yates was strengthened.

By this point it was very difficult for the Spanish squad to aspire to overthrow Yates since Valverde started to lack the energy of the first two weeks and Quintana was already too far away in the GC. Kruijswijk recovered some time but not as much as what he lost on the 17th stage, so he was still too far from the red jersey to pose a real danger. This, especially taking into consideration that Yates didn’t show any sign of weakness during the week.

In fact, Yates didn’t show any weakness during the whole Vuelta. This was a near flawless race by him. He didn’t show the nervous impulse to attack that drained his energy at the Giro. Instead, he regulated his efforts and attacked only to the proportion of his forces, and that was enough to grant him a stage win and time advantages on every major summit finish of the race.

He didn’t have as much support by his team as he did at the Giro, but that wasn’t an obstacle for him. His brother Adam became the most important domestique. Although he couldn’t hold on to the favorites’ group in all the mountain finales he did a superb job controlling the pace during the last mountain test: the 20th stage. This stage featured an explosive short route with six climbs chained together, a very propitious terrain for ambushes and for most of the day Astana, one of the strongest squads for the mountains, took the lead of the peloton.

By this point of the race López was targeting the podium from his 5th position only 31 seconds behind 3rd-placed Kruijswijk. After being one of the most active riders in the whole Vuelta, trying attacks once and again on the main climbs, López always found himself being surpassed by a monolithic Yates. Nevertheless, the Colombian of Astana was in fact able to gain on his immediate rivals one second at a time. In the 20th stage Mas and López were feeling good after they successfully attacked the Movistar duo at Naturlandia and limited their losses to Kruijswijk.

So naturally both young riders were the most ambitious at the climb of the Coll de la Gallina, the summit finish of the 20th stage. Simon Yates was as strong as usual, topping the good efforts of his brother Adam. Meanwhile, Valverde suffered his ultimate crisis losing more than two and a half minutes to Yates and over three minutes against Mas and López, slipping away from the podium.

Mas and López have emerged as the rising stars of cycling in their respective countries: Spain and Colombia. In the case of Spain, where the brightest generation of riders is coming to an end with the recent retirement of Contador and Rodríguez, fans are very excited about the prospect of a new Grand Tour winner. Mas is still young, but he was very solid in the mountains and time trial and has a great future if he can keep up his progression.

The Mountain classification was for Thomas De Gendt. The Lotto Soudal rider became the first Belgian to win this classification in the history of the race, thanks to his ambitious style of racing being in most of the breakaways of the second and third week. Luis Angel Maté seemed a very strong competitor and held the jersey for almost two-thirds of the race, but he suffered a lot during the third week and wasn’t able to keep up with the pace of De Gendt. Bauke Mollema, who was awarded the prize of super combative rider, climbed to the second place of the classification also based on his almost permanent presence in the breakaways of the second and third week.

The points classification went to Alejandro Valverde and at the end it may feel like a consolation prize for the Spaniard. As is usual in the Vuelta, this classification went to a climber rather than a sprinter and it is a reward for the regularity shown by Valverde. It is remarkable that a rider 38 years of age is still among the leaders of the race and let’s not forget that he is one of the main favorites for the Road World Championship on September 30th.

Elia Viviani was the most successful of the sprinters, taking three stages including the final day in Madrid. Quick-Step Floors finish this Vuelta with great results, beyond what was generally expected from them at the beginning, with four stage victories and the second place of the podium. Meanwhile, Movistar took the teams classification but after losing the race and podium their fans are likely to have a bitter feeling about the final result of this Vuelta.

The Spanish Grand Tour is over, and as in previous years it was a great spectacle of excitement and brave racing. It is also the confirmation of young riders that hopefully will become great contenders for years to come.

By Marcelo Hernández
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