Colmenar Viejo - Becerril de la Sierra
Vuelta a España - 12 September 2019
Vuelta a España – Follow this cycling race live with Eurosport. The action starts at 11:40 on 12 September 2019. Our live coverage lets you follow all the key moments as they happen.
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Someone's happy... This from Higuita's EF Education First manager Jonathan Vaughters.
That was apparently the 85th Grand Tour stage win for Colombia.
Lopez will be up to fourth and in the white jersey again at the expense of Pogacar.
Roglic is all smiles as he warms down on the rollers... one step closer to the overall victory in Madrid. With Quintana losing around a minute - plus the bonuses - Roglic extends his lead again today, with Valverde now his closest rival again.
The Pogacar-Quintana group come home with Meintjes and Hagen 1'16" down.
And it's Primoz Roglic who beats Alejandro Valverde in the sprint for second place and superior bonus seconds. They come down around 15 seconds down.
Victory for Colombia's Sergio Higuita!
The fans are out in their droves as Higuita snakes his way through town and zips under the flamme rouge (which is actually a dark green).
It's coming down - but not quick enough for the chasers. 23 seconds now.
Higuita swings off the wide highway and joins a smaller road that rises into town. 28 seconds now for him.
The gap is down to 32 seconds for Higuita. The chasers will be fresher, but will they run out of road?
Higuita is now onto the false flat drag up to the line. He has 34 seconds and will no doubt die a thousand deaths over the next few minutes.
Now it's Lopez who picks things up. This quartet now has 55 seconds on the Pogacar chase group, so Lopez will be going back into white today. But to think that he had four separate days in red earlier in this race - he won't be happy with fourth on GC.
Roglic comes to the front of the chasing quartet - he hasn't done that yet because, well, he doesn't need to. Today he takes another step closer to winning his first Grand Tour. With just one mountain stage remaining, you'd think he has this one in the bag.
Lone leader Sergio Higuita negotiates a roundabout as the road flattens a little going under the 10-to-go banner. He still has 38 seconds - but can he survive that final grind to the line?
The gaps aren't coming down at all - and that's to be expected: this is a wide, smooth road, with a gradient that suits all riders. There are no big hairpins and it's not exactly technical.
It's worth adding that the final 4km are uphill - albeit not a huge gradient. In fact, it's a grind and drag that rises 100m in the last 4km. Still 40" and 1'25" the gaps.
Higuita is on the descent now. A victory for him would be just the tonic EF Education First need following the withdrawals of Rigo Uran, Hugh Carthy and Tejay van Garderen in the opening week.
Pogacar has now been caught by Quintana, Hagen and Meintjes. They are 1'20" down on Higuita. The red jersey group are 40" down on the Colombian. Will he hold on?
Who does Alberto Contador think will win today?
Pogacar is closer to the chasing Quintana group than he is to the Roglic-Lopez-Valverde group ahead as they approach the start of the actual descent.
Before the descent there's the small matter of a 5km false flat... Poels suffered on this going in the opposite direction earlier today, so I imagine there'll be some painful legs out there right now.
Over go Roglic, Valverde, Lopez and Majka. 45 seconds down. Pogacar is 1'15" down and the Quintana trio 1'28" down. As things stand, Valverde will rise above teammate Quintana on the lower steps of the podium, and Lopez will be back in the white jersey at the expense of Pogacar. But this descent is long...
Over the top goes Higuita...
Higuita is nearing the summit. He has 47 seconds on the Roglic group and 1'05" on Pogacar. Quintana is with Hagan and Meintjes another 20 seconds back.
Higuita's lead is down to 55 seconds now after all the jostling behind.
Quintana is not on a good day after his exploits yesterday: he's dropped by Pogacar, who in turn has been dropped by Majka, who joined the Roglic-Valderde-Lopez trio.
That's a split: Lopez's constant accelerations sees him ride clear with Roglic and Valverde. Majka, Quintana and Pogacar are distanced. They're 3km from the top.
Yet another attack from Lopez. Valverde leads the chase with Roglic, Majka, Quintana and, just, Pogacar.
Lopez puts in another attack - and that whittles things down. Those who were in the earlier break falter - and Pogacar slips back with Hagen!
Powless and Kuss come to the front for Roglic to restore a bit of order in the chase. It was getting a bit messy - and Higuita's lead has grown to 1'30" accordingly.
Behind, Majka and Geoghagen Hart attack, to spark a response by Lopez whose dig is covered by Roglic and Valverde until it comes to an impasse amid a big grin from the world champion. It all comes back together in the lull.
Higuita is holding his own. Despite the presence of all the race favourites behind, the 22-year-old Grand Tour debutant sees his lead grow to 1'18" as he approached the half-way point of this climb. Go over the top with a decent lead, then the win will be in his hands.
We're onto the Cat.1 Puerto de Cotos (13.9km at 4.8%) which is effectively the other side of the opening climb of the day, the Puerto de Navacerrada.
The Lopez group managed to catch the Bouchard group - and then, moments later, they in turn are caught by the red jersey group. So, we're back together now with a 21-man group riding one minute down on the lone leader as we approach the foot of the final climb.
Higuita is going through the cobbled town of Rascafria, where he wins the intermediate sprint. Behind, it's Bouchard who takes second place at 50 seconds. Wow - that's a large lead that the Colombian has established on the descent.
Higuita still has five seconds on a chase group of Pernsteiner, Rodriguez, Bouchard, Poels and Meintjes on this descent. Ludvigsson and Schultz are a bit further back, then we have the Lopez group of Fraile, Geoghegan Hart, Oliveira and Koch, who are 1'20" behind the Colombian leader and only 15 seconds clear of the red jersey group, which includes Roglic, Quintana, Valverde, Pogacar, Majka, Hagen, Soler and Kuss. Phew... that's it for now.
Higuita has attacked the leaders. This is shaping up nicely ahead of the final climb - and descent - to the finish. Quintana is back in with Valverde and the other GC favourites.
Fraile, Lopez, Oliveira, Koch and Geoghegan Hart are together now. They are only 1'05" behind the leaders but only 20 seconds clear of the red jersey group.
There are attacks over the summit from the GC group and it looks like Quintana's been caught out after letting the door open nearer the top. He's got Soler to pace him back.
Behind there's been an attack from Majka. The Pole's move is covered by Pogacar and Valverde and it comes back together. Roglic and Valverde close the gap, as do Soler, Quintana and Hagan. Further up, Lopez has caught Geoghegan Hart and joined his teammate Fraile.
The leaders are approaching the summit. They take on fresh bidons and let Bouchard lead them over the top as the Frenchman pockets yet more KoM points. Rodriguez is second ahead of Meintjes.
As well as Roglic, Quintana, Valverde, Pogacar, Majka and Hagen, Marc Soler and Sepp Kuss are in this GC group. They trail Lopez by 15 seconds and the leaders by two minutes. Lopez will hope for Fraile to drop back and lend him a hand.
Carl Fredrik Hagen (Lotto Soudal) is still in this group of favourites - the Norwegian is having an amazing Grand Tour debut at the age of 27. Wilco Kelderman, like Knox, seems to have been distanced, but the other top 10 riders are there.
Pernsteiner, Higuita, Powless, Rodriguez, Bouchard, Meintjes and Poels have gone clear of the other escapees as they get to 2km from the summit.
The pace is so high that some big name riders are being distanced now - most notably James Knox and Esteban Chaves. Lopez is down to just Fuglsang - and when the Dane pulls of, the Colombian attacks!
Meanwhile, Meintjes and Koch have been reeled in by the break, which is now thinning down thanks to an acceleration from Rodriguez and Higuita.
The push continues for Astana, who are down to just three on the front now having torn the pack apart. The gap has come down to three minutes.
Oooo, hellooo! Astana have come to the front and are currently ripping a new hole for the peloton, out of which many riders are tumbling.
Pernsteiner and Higuita are the best placed riders on GC in this break but they're both half an hour down on Roglic and so of no huge concern for the Slovenian. The gap for the two leaders - Koch and Meintjes - is now 50 seconds over the other escapees.
Back with the pack, which trails the leaders by five minutes, Trek-Segafredo have put four riders to lead the chase. They missed out on the break despite Gianluca Brambilla being in the mix earlier in the day.
Meintjes and Koch still have a small gap of 10 seconds as they start the reverse side of the Cat.1 Puerto de la Morcuera (10.4km at 6.7%). Again, it's gentle and never rises above 8.5%.
Meintjes and Koch have decided to push on from the break, which is strange and makes no sense. They're on a slight downhill dip ahead of the next climb, which is the same as the previous climb, but from the opposite direction.
The peloton trickle through the feed zone with a deficit of 5'20".
Having finished third and second in the last two mountain stages, can Geoghegan Hart go one better today? He's made the right move, that's for sure.
The break are on a small hill ahead of the next climb. The gap has grown to 5'15" so it's looking good for one of these guys. You have to fancy the Ineos duo to play their cards right, but Rodriguez, Higuita, Pernsteiner and, on his day, which has admittedly not been for a few years, Meintjes are good climbers, so the opposition will be fierce. We can probably discount Fraile, Oliveira and Powless, who will surely be on domestique duty for the likes of Lopez, Quintana/Valverde and Roglic.
The gap grows to 4'50" for the leaders on this long descent. The average speed over the first two hours today was 37.5km/h.
It's a real league of nations, this break: 12 nationalities represented within the 13-man move, with just Spain having two representatives in Rodriguez and Fraile.
Bouchard extends his lead in the KoM standings by cresting the summit in pole position ahead of Geoghegan Hart, Poels, Oliveira and Fraile. The Frenchman is up to 66pts now - 22 clear of his nearest challenger, Stage 5 winner Angel Madrazo. Ineos duo TGH and Poels are up to third and fourth on 35pts and 31pts.
It was Nick Schultz who lost his sunglasses earlier, not Mitchelton-Scott teammate Chaves. In any case, he's managed to get a replacement pair. Four minutes now for the 13 leaders as they get within 5km of the summit.
Pernsteiner has managed to join the leaders to make it a baker's dozen out ahead. Will he bring bad luck?
Primoz Roglic has three teammates working for him on this climb: Gesink, Bennett and Kuss. They're on the front of the pack, which trails the leaders by 3'30", and they have Powless up ahead.
So, the 12 leaders are: Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Sergio Higuita (EF Education First), Tobias Ludvigson (Groupama-FDJ), Nick Schultz (Mitchelton-Scott), Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), Wout Poels and Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Ineos), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar Team), Omar Fraile (Astana Pro Team), Jonas Koch (CCC Team), Neilson Powless (Jumbo-Visma) and Óscar Rodríguez (Euskadi-Murias). They now have three minutes on the peloton and 45 seconds on the potato-chaser Hermann Pernsteiner (Bahrain-Merida).
More on that Ghebreigzabhier crash earlier today - it appears that the Dimension Data rider ploughed into a road sign. No surprise he's abandoned the race. Let's hope he's okay.
We're onto the Cat.1 Puerto de la Morcuera (13.2km at 5%). The two groups have come together and there's one rider - Hermann Pernsteiner of Bahrain-Merida - in pursuit but stuck in no-man's land.
So, things are settling a little. The seven-man break have 20 seconds on the pursuers with the peloton a further minute back. They may come together ahead of the next climb, which starts imminently.
The five chasers are: Nelson Oliveira (Movistar Team), Omar Fraile (Astana Pro Team), Jonas Koch (CCC Team), Neilson Powless (Jumbo-Visma) and Oscar Rodriguez (Euskadi-Murias).
There's a five-man chase group which includes relays from Astana, Movistar and Jumbo-Visma. This is getting more exciting now...
The seven leaders are: Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Sergio Higuita (EF Education First), Tobias Ludvigson (Groupama-FDJ), Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), Nick Schultz (Mitchelton-Scott), Tao Geoghegan Hart (Team Ineos) and Wout Poels (Team Ineos).
Peols has been caught - and he won't be too put out by that because the six riders who have joined him include Ineos teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart. This septet have a far better chance at going the distance.
Sergio Higuita (EF Education First) and Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data) are trying to zip clear of the peloton on this plateau ahead of the descent proper. The pace is high and Poels, out in front alone, is finding it hard to make any inroads. His lead is down to just 22 seconds now.
The Cofidis rider who took fourth there over the top wasn't the remaining Herrada but Darwin Atapuma, with Bouchard's teammate Latour in fifth.
Wout Poels goes over the top in pole position. Behind there's a battle for points... and it's Bouchard who takes the points ahead of Fraile and Jose Herrada of Cofidis, I think. The gap is 40 seconds.
Around nine riders now have a gap on the pack - including Bouchard, his teammate Pierre Latour, Pernsteiner again, and Omar Fraile.
That three-man chase group is reeled in. Things are very feisty at the front of this main pack with many riders priming themselves for a move.
It looks like De Gendt has thrown in the towel. It's just not happening for the Belgian breakaway specialist in his third Grand Tour of the season. His place in the chase group has been taken by Louis Meintjes of Dimension Data. But this trio has just a handful of seconds over the slimming pack, with Poels now 38 second clear and 1.5km from the simmit.
Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Dimension Data) has abandoned, which is a shame because he'd had a fairly aggressive Vuelta. Apparently the Eritrean crashed earlier today.
Poels looks really on the rivet, as Sean Kelly would say. His gasping for air and digging deep, looking over his shoulder as if awaiting reinforcements. The three riders in pursuit are Pernsteiner, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and the polka dot jersey Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2R-La Mondiale). They're 25 seconds down with the peloton only another 10 seconds back.
The nature of today's course will mean the clever riders will have eyes in the back of their heads during this first climb so they can recon the final descent to the finish - because this is the same road that will take them down to the finish today in a few hours.
The gaps are small though - after all, this is a gentle big ring climb where riding in numbers makes more sense than individually. What's more, the road surface is very smooth and the road is wide. Poels has 13 seconds on Pernsteiner, who is about to be caught by some other chasers.
Poels is being persued by Hermann Pernsteiner, who slipped from 10th to 17th yesterday. The Austrian, who is now half an hour down on GC, will hope to put things right today. As for Poels, he's a further hour off the pace on GC. Not what the Dutchman would have been hoping for.
None of the climbs are particularly tough – and the gradient only once goes into double figures in the opening kilometre of the first ascent. But this will be deep into the third week and after yesterday's ridiculous stage - which was completed in an average pace of 50.6km/h - there could be a lot of damage.
As you'll see from that video, today's stage is largely an intriguing loop which sees the riders tackle the same two climbs from both directions. The Puerto de Navacerrada (11.8km at 6.3%) warms things up ahead of the gentler west side of the Puerto de la Morcuera (13.2km at 5%). After turning round, the race returns up the east side of the Morcuera (10.4km at 6.7%) before tackling the reverse side of the Navacerrada, which is called the Puerto do Cotos (13.9km at 4.8%).
Some more details on today's stage: Held in the Sierra de Guadarrama, a mountain range close to the Spanish capital, where Fabio Aru overturned his deficit on Tom Dumoulin on the penultimate day of the 2015 Vuelta, this stage features four first-category climbs and a fast, technical descent to the finish.
There's an instant attack from Wout Poels (Team Ineos) who is looking to salvage something from his quite torrid Vuelta.
We're onto the first climb of the day, the Cat.1 Puerto de Navacerrada (11.8km at 6.3%). The steepest 10% gradient comes right at the outset - and that's the hardest segment all day. It's not the steepness today but the length of the climbs that will be the test.
A tough leg-stretcher of a climb ahead of the first categorised offering spells the death knell for our trio of escapees and now we have the polka dot jersey Bouchard trying his luck at the head of a strung-out peloton.
Sanchez manages to bridge over to all the chasers, but with others in pursuit dragging along the peloton, it spells the end for the move. So, still just the three men up the road - and their gap is only 10 seconds.
Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) has also zipped clear of the pack - pursued by another. Sanchez was in the split yesterday but was called back to help pace team leader Miguel Angel Lopez.
The chase group continues to grow with the arrival of Kilian Frankiny (Groupama-FDJ) and Gonzalo Serrano (Caja Rural).
There are actually four in pursuit: Yukiya Arashiro (Bahrain-Merida), Owain Doull (Team Ineos), Jesus Ezquerra (Burgos BH) and Fernando Barcelo (Euskadi-Murias).
Barta and Morabito have caught Cavanga. They have about 15 seconds on the pack with another trio in hot pursuit.
Will Barta (CCC Team) and Steve Morabito (Groupama-FDJ) have extricated themselves from the pack in pursuit of the lone leader.
Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick Step) has gone clear. The Frenchman was one of seven QuickStep riders to get in yesterday's break, finishing third in the stage behind teammate Gilbert and Sam Bennett. The Belgian team had four in the top 10 after a true masterclass. In fact, their only rider not involved in the split was Max Richeze, who was probably asked to dine on a different table last night.
Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) are also fairly active. The Frenchman currently has a 6pt second lead in the KoM standings so will be out to defend his polka dot jersey, while Teuns, the Belgian who wore red for a day earlier in the race, will be on cloud nine after entering the top 10 yesterday.
An early move by Gianluca Brambilla of Trek-Segafredo comes to nothing.
It's no surprise to see German powerhouse Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma) on the front of the peloton. After Jumbo missed the split yesterday, they will be on red alert to ensure the same doesn't happen today - even if the terrain if far better suited to their collection of mountain domestiques than yesterday's exposed rolling hills, which really played into the hands of Deceuninck-QuickStep.
It's a sunny day in central Spain with a clement temperature of 16 degrees.
They're off! The remaining 158 riders get this key stage under way - and after the exertions yesterday, there are going to be some tired legs...
Here's what we have on the agenda today...
Here's how the GC looked after the dust settled with Dylan Teuns up to 10th, James Knox up to 8th place, Wilco Kelderman up to sixth and that man Quintana rising to second. Nicolas Edet and Hermann Pernsteiner (Bahrain Merida) plunged out of the top 10, too.
Well, yesterday was quite extraordinary, wasn't it? An astonishing day on La Vuelta saw Nairo Quintana zip back into second place after red jersey Primoz Roglic and his fellow top-five riders on GC were caught out by a Deceuninck-QuickStep crosswind masterclass, resulting in a majestic second stage win for Philippe Gilbert.
Hola amigos - and welcome to live coverage of Stage 18 of La Vuelta, a penutltimate day in the mountains with four Cat.1 climbs and 177.5km between Colmenar Viejo and Beccerril de la Sierra.