Vuelta a España (st. 18)
Alejandro 3rd in Becerril behind Higuita (EF1) and Roglic (TJV), back to 2nd overall ahead of Nairo, who struggled up Cotos and conceded a minute on the main contenders.
Colombian youngster Sergio Higuita (EF1) claimed a prestigious victory in his first-ever three-week stagerace by crossing first the line in Becerril de la Sierra on stage 18 of La Vuelta, a 178km route starting in Colmenar Viejo and featuring four Cat-1 climbs: a dual ascent to Navacerrada / Cotos and two climbs to Morcuera.
At the latter, more than 50km from the end, Miguel Ángel López (AST) tried to make the race explode with a strong attack anticipated by his team’s strong leaddout, and which race leader Primoz Roglic’s TJV squad had to pursuit after containing moves from Rafal Majka (BOH) and Alejandro Valverde. The World Champion, well supported until the top of Cotos by Marc Soler -already in 10th place overall- and Nelson Oliveira, the latter part of Higuita’s break, crested the last climb with Roglic, Majka and López as they left behind Pogacar (UAD) and Nairo Quintana. The green jersey, who struggled up Cotos, concede 1’01” at the finish against the main group of four.
The Movistar Team duo switch positions overall in second and third, with Roglic almost three minutes ahead of ‘Bala’ with three stages remaining. Friday will mark another chance for a breakaway or punchy climbers at Toledo’s uphill finish (165km, stage 19), via the short, lumpy hill of Cerro de los Palos just five kilometers before the end.
REACTION / Alejandro Valverde:
“Everyone know López would go on the attack, and so our task near the end was defending ourselves from it if we weren’t able to drop Roglic. His moves were sharp ones -López is always a combative one, a big talent you can’t lose sight of-, yet when he tried it in Morcuera we saw he didn’t open that big of a gap, and chose not to go after him, just trying to let him waste energy as we kept riders at the front, with Nelson, and into the GC group, with Marc. As he went away again in Cotos, I had Nairo behind me into a separate group, and thus couldn’t take a turn to go after Higuita. My legs? Well (laughs), just like everyone’s: better at one stage, worse at the next one. Roglic remains so strong, yet we’re still there. We’ve got two tough days ahead yet, and we can keep gaining or losing time. We just can’t do anything other than keeping pushing.”
Cover picture (c): Photo Gomez Sport