Vuelta a España (st. 18)
Valverde, Quintana stay in 2nd, 6th overall in La Vuelta after calm stage towards Lleida; Wallays (LTS) neglects top sprinters. La Rabassa, Saturday’s explosive stage set to decide GC result.
Most of the peloton in the 2018 Vuelta a España chose to ‘reset’ their legs on Thursday and recover for most of the 186km between Ejea de los Caballeros and Lleida. Helped by a convenient tailwind, the riders got to the finish twenty minutes ahead of schedule, the traditional ‘break / chase / sprint’ scheme neglected by two from the escapees -Belgian Jelle Wallays (LTS, 1st) and Norwegian Sven Erik Bystrom (UAD, 2nd)- against a bunch led home by Peter Sagan (BOH, 3rd).
Alejandro Valverde (16th) and Nairo Quintana had no troubles during the stage, both inside a reduced first bunch at the finish, and will now think, together with the other race contenders, about the race’s two decisive stages in Andorra. Friday’s will be a short ride, just 154km, yet continuously uphill from the start in Lleida to the border, and after that, a real climb: the 17km, almost 7% average, Coll de la Rabassa (Cat-1).
Alejandro Valverde: “Up until 150km into the stage, it’s been a quick, but really comfortable ride towards the finish into a tailwind. On the other hand, it also meant that all riders had all strength and energy left for the finale, so it was really demanding on the final 30km – even if the break sticked until the end. I think my legs are doing well; actually, I didn’t expect to finish so fresh and strong in this Vuelta. I knew I was getting to the start in Málaga with good legs, hence the two stage victories on week one, but I didn’t think I could finish the race that strong. Nairo’s words? It makes me really happy, having such a strong rider and such a good team-mate say that yesterday. It makes me really calm.
“We’ve got two decisive stages coming up on Friday and Saturday – though I have the feeling that Saturday’s stage, being so short and explosive, can make it become anybody’s race, and it should be more key to the final result. Strategies? Those are a secret, our rivals can’t know (ríe). Let’s see how things go tomorrow: how we are doing, how our rivals are reacting, see where we can make them suffer into the final climb. The only thing which is crystal clear for us is that we won’t surrender, we’ll continue giving our best.
“We’ve got Yates ahead. He’s proven to be really strong, he’s got a powerful squad by his side and some extra, invaluable help from his brother, Adam, who has ridden comfortably for the opening two weeks and comes to these final days really fresh. Behind me, there’s Enric Mas, who won’t hesitate to go for victory. He’s got the strength that it takes, the mentality – it made me really happy to see myself with him at MARCA’s cover this morning. It really means a lot: such a veteran, a ‘grandpa’ in the peloton like me, together with an up-and-coming guy who’s ready to take on the world.”