Spaniard 5th at Santo Toribio, onto podium as most courageous rider in Vuelta's stage eighteen, greatly helped by Soler (16th) into the attacks of a very demanding second day in Cantabria
Marc Soler and José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar Team), arguably the two biggest fighters in the whole 2017 Vuelta a España peloton, featured for an incredible fifth time into a escape during a crazy stage 18, 166km from Suances to the Cat-3 Santo Toribio de Liébana climb. The two Spaniards made part of a 20-rider group gaining a massive 13'30" advantage over the bunch on top of the Collada de Carmona (Cat-3).
The first attack from Gougeard (ALM) and eventual stage winner Armée (LTS) into the Collada de Hoz (Cat-2), just over 30 kilometers from the end, found strong response from Soler, who bridged back alone and formed part, together with Alaphilippe (QST) and Lutsenko (AST), of a lead group alive until Rojas got back to the front with Visconti (TBM) and De Marchi (BMC), 15km before the end. Despite the fine attitude from both the Blues, another jump by Armée alongside Alaphilippe and Lutsenko left them without any chances to reach the bottom of the Santo Toribio ascent in front. Rojas, named the most competitive rider of the day, was 5th at the finish, 1'06" down.
Two days are left for the most courageous Movistar Team in a Vuelta in recent years to claim a success that pays back from misfortune in this race, Sunday's Madrid gallop reserved for the top sprinters. Friday will take the race into Asturias, with 150km from Caso to Gijón including the ascents of La Colladona (Cat-1), Santo Emiliano (Cat-3), the Falla de los Lobos (Cat-3) and the always-tricky San Martín de Huerces (Cat-3), just 16km from the end.
José Joaquín Rojas: "For me, this was the toughest stage in this year's Vuelta. The pace at the start was completely crazy. We rode our hearts out to make it in and once we were part of the the group, Marc and I kept in mind to go after the attacks one of us at a time. There was that five-man split with Marc at the front and I was keeping control of the guys behind. However, when the decisive split formed, we didn't have anything left into the tank. We're into all escapes and we haven't been able to take one of them to fruition, but that's not because we don't want to. There's lots of courage into this group, it's just that things didn't go as we planned. I want to underline what Marc did today – he was a beast, covering all moves so I could go for the win. I was simply exhausted at the finish, and also a bit sad because I couldn't reward him for his great job. We've got the ambition and skills it takes, but we found a really stronger rival today in Armée. He was the one going on the attack first into all ascents, he left the others behind at Hoz and he destroyed his opposition at the finish. Regarding us, the only thing I know is that we'll keep on fighting until the very end of the race."
Tour of Britain: Dowsett 9th at 'home' TT
Dutchman Lars Boom led a LottoNLJumbo one-two ahead of Belgian Victor Campenaerts at a rectilineal, coastal, panflat TT in Clacton (16km) on stage five of the Tour of Britain. Essex local Alex Dowsett tried to compete against some of the world's best specialists on home soil and took 9th in the day (+21"). The Briton now seats in tenth place overall as nearly thirty riders -including Jonathan Castroviejo (41" behind Boom in the stage) and Gorka Izagirre (46" down)- remain within a minute of the race lead. Friday should offer another sprint finish in Aldeburgh (187km) before what's presumed to be the decisive route on Saturday, with several climbs in the finale.
Picture (c): Photo Gomez Sport