La Vuelta | Stage 17



Stage 17 report: Red Rog breaks Bernal on Covadonga

Primoz Roglic’s third win of La Vuelta saw the defending champion take back the red jersey for a third time after a commanding Stage 17 win at Lagos de Covadonga. After Roglic followed Egan Bernal’s attack with 60km remaining, the Slovenian dropped the Colombian on the final climb. Sepp Kuss completed a Jumbo-Visma one-two as Odd Christian Eiking crashed out of red.
Vuelta a España
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New GC top 10

Primoz Roglic returns to the red summit for the third time so far in this year's Vuelta after his third stage win...
1. Primoz Roglic
2. Enric Mas (+2:22)
3. Miguel Angel Lopez (+3:11)
4. Jack Haig (+3:46)
5. Guillaume Martin (+4:16)
Egan Bernal is sixth (+4:29) and Adam Yates seventh (+4:45) while Sepp Kuss, Felix Grossschartner and Gino Mader complete the top 10 from which Odd Christian Eiking disappears. The Norwegian is now 11th at 7:59 after being distanced on the third climb and crashing on the descent.

Victory for Primoz Roglic!

The Slovenian crosses the line with a solitary fist pump and a roaring "Yes!". That's his third stage win of this race and with it the red jersey...
And behind, Sepp Kuss indeed outkicks his rivals on the final ramp up to the line to take second place and secure the Jumbo-Visma one-two ahead of Miguel Angel Lopez and Adam Yates. They were 1:35 down with the likes of Mas, Haig, Mader and Bernal all in their wheels.
Poor Guillaume Martin comes home 4:45 down so he will drop down the standings but should stay in the top 10 after a gutsy ride.

Final kilometre

Up and over the summit goes Primoz Roglic before he begins his descent down towards the two lakes. He just needs to take things easy and not lose it on any of the slippery corners. Bernal is about to be caught by the chasers. And that's it - he is done. Kuss comes to the front in a bid to make it a Jumbo one-two.

2km: Roglic on course for red jersey

Bernal digs deep but he trails the lone leader by 1:28 and he'll have a battle to fend off the chasers, who have regrouped and have the Colombian in their sight. All that effort for nothing... Although the Ineos rider deserves credit for lighting up the race and having a go.

3km: Yates reels in Mas, Kuss kicks on

It's the Briton who leads the chasers back level with Mas just before Kuss puts in a dig. Further up, Roglic and Bernal are on the downhill segment before the final rise before the final drop...

4km: Mas-sive attack!

The Spaniard from Movistar is the latest rider to roll the dice from the chase group. He does so with Bernal just 30 seconds up the road. Behind, Yates has upped the tempo to go clear with Lopez and Kuss - but Bahrain duo Mader and Haig are struggling.

5km: Roglic through the mist

The Slovenian's lead is up to a minute over Bernal now as he rides through the mist. Bernal is still holding on to a minute's gap over the chase group, which is down to six now: Kuss, Haig, Mader, Yates, Mas and Lopez.

6.5km: Lopez looking lively, too

Roglic has opened up a commanding gap over Bernal ahead of the steepest section of this climb - the ramp known as La Huesera. It's 30 seconds already! Behind, Migiel Angel Lopez has edged clear of the chasers. Hang on - he's now been joined by Adam Yates and Sepp Kuss. They're 1:45 down on the lone leader.

7.5km: Roglic rides clear!

It loos like the elastic has snapped for Egan Bernal. It was the Colombian who made the first move today. He looked to be holding all the cards, but he was the only one pulling from 60km out - and now he's starting to suffer. Could this be the attack which secures the Slovenian a third successive Vuelta crown?

10km: Guillaume Martin distanced

Today's stage has proved a mountain too far for the Frenchman, who is off the back of this chase group. He went down badly in that early crash yesterday, hurting his coccyx in the process, and he always feared that he'd be found out today. Let's see if he can rally and find a rhythm. Remi Rochas drops back to help pace his Cofidis teammate - a classy touch.

11km: Roglic finally comes to the front

Bernal has to pretty much ease up and come to a standstill - but it's forced his fellow escapee to come to the front and take a pull. This with Bahrain still drilling things behind with Poels, Caruso, Mader and Haig all on the front reducing the deficit to 1:20. It really is well poised for a cracking finale.

12.5km: Cat. Esp Lagos de Covadonga

Right, it's showtime: Bernal and Roglic hit the foot of the final climb with a gap of 1:30 over the chasers.
When introduced in 1983, Lagos de Covadonga was touted as Spain’s answer to Alpe d’Huez and quickly became an iconic climb in the Vuelta. With its two lakes beneath the summit and stunning views over the Picos de Europa range, it was a climb of unspoilt natural beauty which boasted a stinging double-digit ramp, La Huesera, seven kilometres from the summit.
Several ledges and the downhill segment towards the lakes ahead of the final rise conspire to give the 12.5km climb a misleading average gradient of 6.9%. But it’s far tougher than that damning statistic suggests, with the Huesera ramp hitting a gnarly 16%.

15km: Gap coming down for Bernal and Roglic

It looks like the two leaders have started to knock it off in anticipation of this final climb. The gap has come down to 1:40 in the last five klicks and they must be aware that they're expending energy that their fellow GC rivals aren't, what with Bahrain Victorious doing all the work through Poels and Caruso behind and the likes of Mas, Haig, Lopez, Martin and Yates just sitting in the wheels.

20km: Bernal wins sprint and bonus second

It's Bernal who goes through the intermediate sprint at Cangas de Onis ahead of Roglic - not that either of the two are remotely interested in the green jersey standings. But there are also bonus seconds up for grabs and so the Colombian slashes his decificit on the Slovenian by, er, one second before the climb. Every little helps...

21km: Mechanical for Felix Grossschartner

Big set-back for the Austrian who will need to chase back on ahead of the final climb. In 10th place this morning, he was in the Martin-Mas-Lopez group but needed to stop to sort out his chain and rear derailleur. The gap is 2:10 for the chasers and 4:40 for the red jersey of Eiking - and that's before the climb even starts.

26km: Bahrain's Poels drives the chase

Let's forget the past and return to the present, where Wout Poels is driving the chase for Bahrain Victorious working hard for his teammate Jack Haig. They trail the two leaders by 2:05 ahead of this final climb to Lagos de Covadonga. Roglic is one of those two leaders - and the defending champion has four Jumbo-Visma teammates in the group behind in Bouwman, Kruijswijk, Kuss and Oomen. It remains to be seen if they will come in use later on - if the Slovenian struggles, then yes, they could.
Of course, today's stage is just part one in a double header: tomorrow's stage is perhaps even harder and could be where the likes of Yates, Mas and Lopez try their hand after Roglic was forced to go deep today. It's all conjecture though until we see how today's test pans out.

You can also listen to the Re-Cycle podcast

If you don't have time to read the feature then why not listen to Graham Willgoss's dulcet tones as he turns my words into a podcast... Here's your link:

Robert Millar and the 'Stolen Vuelta'

The forthcoming climb to Lagos de Covadonga played a part in Scotland's Robert Millar twice coming one step away from being Britain's first Grand Tour winner. In this latest edition of Re-Cycle, I spoke to Pippa York about twice finishing runner-up in the Vuelta and about the Spanish alliances that did for her chances in 1985 when she had one hand on the trophy on the penultimate stage of the race.
It's a cracking story involving a great anecdote about Millar throwing a bowl of "dog s***" pasta onto the ceiling after another rubbish post-stage dinner...
In 1985 and 1986, mercurial climber Robert Millar twice came one step away from becoming Britain’s first Grand Tour winner – only for a combination of bad luck, mismanagement, Machiavellian machinations and team alliances to thwart him. Felix Lowe remembers how the Scot fell short of glory in controversial circumstances...

How Robert Millar lost the ‘Stolen Vuelta’

Image credit: Eurosport

35km: Gap continues to grow

Almost two minutes now for our two leaders and it's going to be fascinating to see how they ride on the final climb. Bernal looks to be on a very good day but Roglic has the advantage on GC and so a bit of leeway. Behind, it looks like Guillaume Martin, who could yet be in red tonight, is driving the chase.

40km: Vlasov back on his bike

We're hearing that Aleksandr Vlasov is continuing the race - which is surprising given how bashed up he looked. His collarbone looked to have bore the brunt of his fall. We'll keep a watch out on that one but if he does make it to the finish today, you'd expect the Russian to drop considerably further from the top 10.
Bernal and Roglic are still on this long descent - and you can hear the Colombian's rim brakes on every corner. They have 1:45 on the chasers with the red jersey group, following that crash, at 3:35.

45km: Roglic the virtual red jersey

The current virtual red jersey standings have Primoz Roglic in the lead ahead of Guillaume Martin (+40), Odd Christian Eiking (+1:42), Enric Mas (+1:57) and Egan Bernal (+2:44). But a lot can change between now and the finish today.

48km: CRASH! Red jersey down!

Odd Christian Eiking skids out on a slippery bend - and that could well have been because in front of him a handful of riders had also come a cropper. Most notably, Aleksandr Vlasov of Astana-PremierTech, who looks to be in a bad way. The Russian is in a lot of pain after slamming into the curb. Eiking is back on his bike but his job will be even harder now...

'Pushed it too far' - Leader Eiking caught up in nasty crash

53km: Bernal runs corner wide

This is a really treacherous descent in the rain - and the Colombian is forced to unclip after overcooking a right-hand hairpin bend. Roglic rides through but Bernal quickly returns to the front. When the chasers come along 55 seconds later, Guillaume Martin and one of the Bahrain boys also make a hash of the same corner.

56km: Bernal leads Roglic over the summit

Roglic lets a gap of a few wheels appear between him and Bernal during the final 2km of this climb - the defending champion is clearly going deep to follow the reigning Giro champion. You have to ask yourself if it's a wise move on Roglic's part: he may well have been better off sticking back in the chase group with his two Jumbo teammates - especially given the long valley road before the final climb.
It's Bernal who leads the duo over the summit as they start this potentially decisive descent with a gap of 42 seconds on the chasers. The red jersey goes over the top at 1:48.

58km: Lopez caught by chasers

The riders in the chase group are Steven Kruijwijk and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), Clement Champoussin (AG2R-Citroen), Jack Haig, Gino Mader and Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious), Felix Grossschartner and Ben Zwiehoff (Bora-Hansgrohe), Guillaume Martin and Remi Rochas (Cofidis), Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers), Louis Meintjes (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert), Enric Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar), and David de la Cruz (UAE Team Emirates). The gap is 45 seconds while the red jersey group is another minute back.

59km: Lopez in pursuit

Movistar are playing the Miguel Angel Lopez card in pursuit of the two leaders - the Colombian is the virtual third place rider on the podium behind Roglic and teammate Enric Mas. That could all change with this Bernal move, though. The defending champion is, quite naturally, making the white jersey do all the work. They have 50 seconds on the other GC favourites.

61km: Bish, bash, bosh! Bernal attacks!

And the man in white goes early - and goes emphatically! Egan Bernal drops the hammer and the only riders who can go with him are Jumbo-Visma duo Primoz Roglic and Sepp Kuss. The American Kuss doesn't last long though so we have Bernal and Roglic riding clear of the main field - and still 4.5km of this climb, plus the whole of the final climb to go.

62km: Le Gac caught, Eiking distanced

It's all over for the Frenchman, the last man standing from the early breakaway. The red jersey has also been distanced once again, which is no surprise given what happened on the previous ascent of this climb.

64km: Cat.1 La Collada Llomena

We're onto the third climb of the day, the second ascent of this newcomer to the Vuelta, which is 7.6km long at 9.3%. Lone leader Le Gac has 45 seconds to play with as the road ramps uphill and the rain continues to fall. Fall back is what many riders in the pleoton to - this is thanks to the early pace being set by Ineos duo Sivakov and Bernal who, once again, come to the front to apply some pressure.

Spanish drought continues...

It may be raining out there right now but when it comes to Grand Tour stage wins, Spain is experiencing a drought. The last Spanish victory in Grand Tours was Ion Izagirre on 25th October in Stage 6 of last year's rescheduled Vuelta - with no Spanish winners in this year's Giro or Tour. The last Vuelta with no home stage winner was in 1996. Can Enric Mas change that today?

73km: Breakaway caught by the pack

It's all over for the Landa-De la Cruz breakaway after the Jumbo-led red jersey pack pulled them back. Having seen Egan Bernal and Ineos Grenadiers show their cards early on the last climb, perhaps this is a sign that Primoz Roglic will look to turn the screw today. Le Gac is our lone leader with 50 seconds on the peloton as the road now heads uphill on a false flat to the base of the next climb.

80km: The rain in Spain falls mainly in... Asturias

The heavens have mildly opened although this looks to be a localised shower because not everyone is as drenched as Olivier Le Gac, who holds a gap of 50 seconds now on a breakaway which seems will soon be reabsorbed by the peloton. Jumbo-Visma clearly don't want to give David de la Cruz too much leeway even though he's over seven minutes down on the top of the race.

86km: Eiking back with the main pack

The Norwegian is doing the red jersey proud: he's managed to rejoin the other GC riders on this descent although such is the nature of this loop, they'll be heading back up the same climb on which he was dropped quite soon. Time to hear what Primoz Roglic had to say at the start today... He's currently on the back of the main pack after dropping back to the Jumbo-Visma car.

Roglic on Stage 17: ‘For sure we want to attack’

90km: Le Gac goes clear on descent

Frenchman Olivier Le Gac is throwing caution to the wind on this descent and the Groupama man has opened up a small gap over the other escapees. But the main pack is only 1:35 down and so it's still a very precarious situation for the breakaway.

98km: Landismo bravissimo! But Eiking in trouble...

Landa manages to bridge over to the breakaway ahead of the summit - but the red jersey is going in the opposite direction: it looks like this will be Odd Christian Eiking's last day as leader of this Vuelta. Sad, but not wholly unexpected. It was Michael Storer, the Australian who has already won two stages on this Vuelta, who took maximum KOM points over the top as he protected his teammate Bardet's lead in the polka dot jersey competition.
Those 10 points actually put Storer into second position in the polka dot standings on 34pts - one clear of Damiano Caruso. So, Team DSM have dual options in that competition.

100km: Mikel Landa throws down the hammer!

So this is why the Basque climber hasn't withdrawn... Off the boil since exploding late in the first week, the Bahrain Victorious rider dances clear of his former Sky teammates to open up a gap on the main pack. He soon latches onto that chase group alongside Bouwman and Vanhoucke. Simone Petilli is the Intermarche rider, while Sacha Modolo of Alpecin-Fenix is there as well.

Ineos Grenadiers taken things up!

Now here's an interesting development. Ineos Grenadiers have come to the front of the main pack with the Russian Pavel Sivakov setting tempo with Egan Bernal, the white jersey, in his wheel. On the very front of the race - only 1:20 up the road - Ineos's rider in the break, Van Baarle, went clear with Camargo but they have been taken back after Matteo Trentin paced his teammate David de la Cruz onto the nose. It's all shaping up quite nicely...

102km: Four out ahead

Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) rides over to Angel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) along with Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto Soudal) and Diego Camargo (EF Education-Nippo). The quartet have a small gap over the other escapees, who include: Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix), Jan Tratnik (Bahrain Victorious), Jonathan Lastra, Julen Amezqueta and Jefferson Cepeda (Caja Rural), Jesus Herrada (Cofidis), Mikel Bizkarra (Euskaltel), Michael Matthews and Mikel Nieve (BikeExchange), Nico Denz (Team DSM), Fabio Aru and Segio Henao (Qhubeka-NextHash), David de la Cruz and Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates).
Behind, an attack from Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal) forces a response from Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma) and one of the Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert riders. This trio hold a small gap over the main pack.

104km: Madrazo pushing on, De la Cruz chasing

It's a huge breakaway that has formed and the Spaniard Angel Madrazo is trying to force a selection and shake things out by riding clear with intent. Behind the breakaway, David de la Cruz has managed to skip clear of the Jumbo-led peloton which appears to have eased up now a move has established. We will bring you all the names in the breakaway once we get them.

107km: Cat.1 La Collada Llomena

We're onto the first half of the dual ascent of this new climb in the Vuelta, which is a 7.6km offering at 9.3% (and peaking at 14%). Among the leaders of thus large group ahead of the pack are Julen Amezgueta, Diego Camargo, Dylan Van Baarle, Sylvain Moniquet, Fabio Aru, Sergio Henao, Matteo Trentin and Michael Matthews...

110km: A dozen go clear

Around a dozen riders now have a small gap on a regrouped - but still drawn out - peloton as we approach the start of the second climb. And from this move, a rider from Lotto Soudal - I think it's Andreas Kron - has soloed clear. A brave move.

112km: Luis Leon Sanchez abandons

The Spaniard was struggling off the back of the second peloton and it's no huge surprise to see him call it a day. The veteran from Astana has had a pretty torrid Vuelta as he enters the dawn of his career.

115km: Another big split in the peloton

Once again around 50 riders manage to go clear after the strung-out peloton splits ahead of the litter zone. It's no surprise given the terrain, the speed, and everything that's at stake. Not long to go until the second climb where things may settle a bit...

We rode it so you don't have to...

And here's how badly our "Average Man" Tom Bennett fared on the climb up to Lagos de Covadonga a couple of years ago. Warning: it's not pretty.

Average Man vs Covadonga: Can our novice conquer Spain’s most spectacular climb?

117km: Jumbo-Visma close the gap

Primoz Roglic's teammates drag the second part of the peloton back in touch with that splinter group, from which two Euskaltel riders in orange momentarily skipped clear to open up a gap. A bit earlier, Egan Bernal was back with the Ineos Grenadiers team car picking up a jacket ahead of the expected rain.

122km: Huge split in peloton

Around 40 riders seem to have opened up a gap on the main field, which could prove to be a springboard for a smaller breakaway which will have a better chance at staying clear for longer than the last one. The road is now heading up on a false flat towards the foot of the next climb - the first of two ascents of La Collada Llomena.

135km: Over 51km in the first hour

Jan Polanc - who was first over the top of the first climb - has just tried his luck again on the flat, taking with him a ride from Bora-Hansgrohe. But it comes to nothing before another group of nine riders open up a small gap on the pack. But the pace is so high - a whopping 51.2km covered in the opening hour - and they're getting very little leeway from the peloton.

144km: Kenny Elissonde withdraws

The race is over for the diminutive Frenchman, who came close to packing it in over the weekend - and indeed was reported to have done so - only to continue with a short reprieve which is now over. Elissonde wore the red jersey for one day in the opening week but he's been struggling with a knee injury these past days. That's a big blow for Trek-Segafredo, who lost Giulio Ciccone, their climber and GC man, only yesterday after his crash.

149km: Polanc leads pack over the top

It's Jan Polanc who pockets the three polka dot points at the top of the climb ahead of Daminao Caruso (2pts) and Romain Bardet (1pt). The Frenchman left it a little late and ended up with only third place. That means Bardet is up to 51pts and Caruso is on 33pts at the top of the mountains classification.

151km: All over for the break?

Cort's pacing paved the way for an attack from teammate Diego Camargo, who zipped clear with Astana's Ion Izagirre in tow. They were chased down by the pack, which has all strung out, while in front the breakaway has split up with the returning riders breathing down their next. Meanwhile, Kenny Elissonde has popped already...

154km: Cat.3 Altu de Hortigueru

The break are onto the start of the first climb with a lead of 25 seconds. It's 5.3km at 4.7%. Behind, Denmark's Magnus Cort is pulling hard on the front of the pack for EF Education-Nippo, who don't have a man in the break and who clearly want to change that.

157km: Eight go clear, double stage winner Storer in the mix

Now this break has much more of a chance of going the distance - or, at the very least, staying out beyond the first climb. It's the Australian Storer who zips clear first for Team DSM and he's joined by Mark Padun (Bahrain Victorious), Alexander Krieger (Alpecin-Fenix), Kevin Geniets (Groupama-FDJ), Andreas Kron (Lotto Soudal), Damien Howsen (Team BikeExchange), Bert-Jan Lindeman (Qhubeka-NextHash) and Joe Dombrowski (UAE Team Emirates).

160km: Guillaume Martin struggling

The Frenchman crashed early on yesterday and it looks like he's going to have a tricky day in the saddle. In usual circumstances he'd have been a good candidate for the red jersey today given he's only 54 seconds down on Eiking - but that is probably too big an ask now. Here it what he said before the stage:
“It’s painful a little bit everywhere. I had a blow on the left leg and also on the back but most of all I have a rib that is really painful. It’s quite hard to breathe. Yesterday I had really bad feelings so I’m not completely confident about today, but you never know how the body reacts. I’m quite pessimistic to be honest, but I will give everything and I will see. Anyway, that’s done. It’s a pity, that’s for sure, but it’s cycling. Sometimes, it’s also a matter of luck. And maybe sometimes miracles happen, so I will see. Yesterday, I would have said that I [hope for] the red jersey, but right now I just think about reaching the finish in the best shape possible and without losing too much time.”

163km: All over for the eight leaders

The breakaway is swallowed up and that is that for the first attempt at forming a breakaway. It's going to be tough today - and a very different dynamic for a mountain stage - because we have 35km before the first climb; 35km of flat between the first and second climbs; 25km of flat between the second and third; then 35km of flat before the final climb. That may deter any of the big GC favourites from making a move until the final ascent, sadly. But let's remain optimistic!

Odd Christian Eiking giving little away

We spoke to the Norwegian race leader this morning and this is what he said: "I'm starting to feel tired but I hope I'm good enough to fight again. I have to be on a really good day [to keep up with the leaders] but I hope it's possible. I know it's going to be really tough. I hope I'm on a big day and then I can hang on in. There's a lot of flat between the climbs which makes it a little different than if it's straight up on the next climb, so we'll see what happens."

Odd Christian Eiking

Image credit: Getty Images

170km: Two more riders join the break

Bahrain Victorious have Jan Tratnik trying to bridge over to the break with Robert Stannard of Team BikeExchange - and it's not long before they make the connection. But bad news for Spain's Mikel Nieve, who has picked up a puncture. The veteran crashed heavily in the opening week and that has somewhat curtailed his performances. Antonio Soto of Euskaltel-Euskadi is the latest rider to zip clear of the pack in pursuit of the leaders - good luck with that one on your own, chap.

175km: Only 15 seconds for sextet

The other riders in this early break are Olivier Le Gac (Groupama-FDJ) and Dylan Sunderland (Qhubeka-NextHash). Also, it's not the bespectacled Madrazo who's here for Burgos-BH but his fellow teammate in purple, Pelayo Sanchez. It's a fast start with the road going slightly downhill as it heads towards the foot of the first climb. Behind, both Movistar and EF Education-Nippo are fairly busy on the front of the peloton.

182km: Demare on the move

Well, he can't win a sprint for toffee so why not try to get in the break on the hardest mountain stage of the Vuelta so far? You have to salute Arnaud Demare's spunk here - or is this the last throes of a fading Frenchman before he throws in the towel? Let's see. For now, Demare goes clear with a Groupama-FDJ teammate and four other riders - including Angel Madrazo of Burgos-BH, Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Mauri Vansevenant (Deceuninck-QuickStep).

186km to go: Stage 17 is under way

On a slight bend on a sweeping downhill the riders pass under the kilometre zero banner and this decisive stage in the Asturias mountains has started - and it does so in cagey fashion with no riders keen to show their cards too early and the peloton riding along in one mass. That is until Israel Start-Up Nation, BikeExchange, Qhubeka-NextHash and Burgos-BH decide to push on...

Riders readying in the neutral zone...

The remaining 158 riders are rolling through the neutral zone ahead of today's official start. It's a cloudy and overcast day in Asturias with potential rain and thunderstorms looming. A reminder that we have Odd Christian Eiking in red, Egan Bernal in white, Romain Bardet in polka dots and Fabio Jakobsen in green ahead of today's 186km test, which includes four categorised climb and the 22nd finish at Lagos de Covadonga in Vuelta history - not bad considering the first visit wasn't until 1983.
Cruelly, quite a lot of this 5km neutral zone takes place as the riders go uphill - adding to the 4,400+ metres of altitude gain on the menu.

What's on the menu?

As subdued as the race may have been thus far, Wednesday’s seventeenth stage should shake things up and breathe life back into the 76th edition of La Vuelta. Norway’s Odd Christian Eiking performed admirably in the Montes de Toledo last weekend and his Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert team defended the maillot rojo with pride – just as they did earlier in the race for Rein Taaramae, the previous rider to depose Primoz Roglic of the red jersey.
But on the first of two stages in the breathtakingly beautiful Asturias mountains, there will be nowhere to hide – especially if the weather forecast of heavy rain and thunderstorms proves correct.
Interestingly, the damage on Wednesday may be done before the final climb up to the eerie Covadonga lakes, with the riders taking on two loops and an unprecedented double ascent of La Collada Llomena, a climb being used for the first time in Vuelta history. Almost 8km long and with an average gradient of 9.3% peaking at 14%, it’s a Cat.1 test sandwiched by a Cat.3 leg-stretcher and the 22nd ascent of the summit finish at Lagos de Covadonga.
When introduced in 1983, Lagos de Covadonga was touted as Spain’s answer to Alpe d’Huez and quickly became an iconic climb in the Vuelta. With its two lakes beneath the summit and stunning views over the Picos de Europa range, it was a climb of unspoilt natural beauty which boasted a stinging double-digit ramp, La Huesera, seven kilometres from the summit.
Several ledges and the downhill segment towards the lakes ahead of the final rise conspire to give the 12.5km climb a misleading average gradient of 6.9%. But it’s far tougher than that damning statistic suggests, with the Huesera ramp hitting a gnarly 16%.
Read Felix Lowe's full preview of two ominous days in the mountains here
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