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La Vuelta | Stage 18

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Stage 18 report: Lopez wins on gloomy Gamoniteiru

Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez emerged through the mist to take a splendid victory in Stage 18 on the Vuelta’s first ever ascent of the fearsome Altu d’El Gamoniteiru. Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic soared to second place to strengthen his grip on the red jersey while a brave effort from Michael Storer saw the Australian take the polka dot jersey but come short of taking a third win on the race.
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New top 10 on GC

There are two riders apiece form Jumbo-Visma, Movistar, Ineos and Bahrain Victorious in the top eight as Louis Meintjes enters the top 10 after his gutsy effort. Roglic extends his lead over Mas to 2:30 while Lopez builds up his much-needed cushion over Haig ahead of the final stages and that decisive time trial.

Victory for Miguel Angel Lopez!

The Colombian appears through the gloom to win the queen stage of the race after a brilliant performance on the Altu d'El Gamoniteiru, a worthy new addition to the Vuelta. Roglic darts clear to take second place around 14 seconds down, with Mas taking third at 20 seconds and just ahead of Bernal. Haig, De la Cruz, Mader and Meintjes come home around 58 seconds down and just ahead of Kuss and Yates. That's your top 10 today.

Final kilometre

The Movistar man dodges a few potholes on this narrow road - made even narrower by the fans cheering along both sides. He goes under the flamme rouge. Bernal, after a series of attacks, appears to be tiring now as Roglic and Mas edge ahead of the white jersey.

1.5km: Another attack from Bernal

This one drops the challengers once again but Roglic and Mas have its measure. Lopez, however, still has 29 seconds and it looks like the stage win is his. Although Rog still looks hungry for a fourth...

2km: Here goes Roglic...

The red jersey puts in a huge dig to drop everyone except Bernal and Mas. They draw level with De la Cruz, but Haig, Mader and Meintjes are closing in, even if Kuss has started to go backwards after all his hard work.

2.7km: Resurfaced brutality

These double digit ramps near the summit have been resurfaced, which will make things a little easier. A little.
And that's it - Miguel Angel Lopez soars past David de la Cruz and he has a 30-second lead over the chasers. Kuss leads that group, from which Yates has just been dropped again. Haig and Mader are back in the mix though. The hardest 17% section is still to come, though.

3.8km: Lopez next to roll the die

They're right up into this drizzly cloud now as mist engulfs the road shortly after an attack from the Colombian. No one goes with him and he's going clear in pursuit of De la Cruz, who looks to be in a world of pain as his gap comes down to 15 seconds.

4.7km: Bernal attacks!

The Colombian takes Roglic with him - and that has blown apart this group. Kuss, Lopez and Mas managed to claw themselves back on, while Meintjes rides with Haig and Mader and Yates behind. That acceleration has slashed the gap to 27 seconds.

5.5km: De la Cruz goes solo

The Australian could not keep up with the Spaniard and he's now been swept up by the red jersey group, which is still being driven by Hirt and Mientjes. But they trail the man from UAE Team Emirates by 45 seconds.

7.5km: Meintjes makes a move!

Little Louis comes to the front with his Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert teammate Jan Hirt - that's because the South African wants to protect his lead over De la Cruz as both riders close in on the top 10. Wout Poels has popped, and it looks like Damiano Caruso is about to drop back, too. That will leave Haig with just Mader. Then we have Mas, Lopez, Yates and Bernal in this small red jersey group that also includes Kuss, Bardet and Steven Kruijswijk.
De la Cruz, meanwhile, catches Storer and the pair combine. Well, I say combine, but the Australian is simply sandbagging the fresher man - understandably. Their gap is 45 seconds.

8.5km: Into the clouds as De la Cruz closes in

The Spaniard is on a mission! He's just 55 seconds behind Storer now, the Australian starting to feel the pinch. Behind, Caruso sets a strong pace with teammates Poels, Mader and Haig in his wheel, ahead of Movistar's Mas and Lopez. They're 1:45 down but without any attacks coming in yet, it's a misleading gap.

10km: De la Cruz passes Bouchard

The Spaniard has gone clear of the field and bridged over to the Frenchman. Could he get the victory that has eluded the home nation so far? That's what Carlton Kirby asks on Eurosport...
"No. Sorry Carlton, I don't think it's going to happen for De la Cruz today," says Sean Kelly. Well, that's put that to bed, then. Anyway, he's ridden clear of Bouchard and trails Storer by 1:45. The pack is at 2:15.

12km: Bouchard goes for bust

Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard is the first to attack from the main pack on this climb - but the AG2R-Citroen rider will no doubt soon regret that rash decision. He opens up a small gap over the Bahrain-led group of favourites. And still, Storer maintains his gap. Roglic has four teammates with him - albeit behind him. How strong is the Slovenian?

13km: Jumbo-Visma keeping powder dry

We're barely seen the red jersey of Primoz Roglic today. His Jumbo-Visma team have had the luxury of simply following in the wheels of the other teams who have been setting the tempo. Movistar currently have Jojas on the front alongside Caruso of Bahrain. Will Mas, Lopez or Haig try something today? Bernal and Yates only have Sivakov left for Ineos, while the yellow army of Jumbo are present and correct. It's hard to look beyond Roglic or Kuss - the top two yesterday - for the win.
Bardet, meanwhile, has been caught after his bizarre foray up the road. His teammate Storer still has a 2:20 gap and will be starting to dream about a potential hat-trick of stage wins.

14.5km: Alto d'El Gamoniteiru

Here it is - the big one: the Alto del Gamoniteiro, or Altu d’El Gamoniteiru in the local Asturian dialect, which Storer hits with a two-minute gap over his teammate Bardet. The pack, meanwhile, is another 30 seconds back.
This is the highest reachable peak, by road bike, in Asturias and is making its long-awaited debut in the Vuelta. The isolated, rocky and remote peak is beautiful, barren and barnstormingly brutal, its narrow access road sweeping up towards the weather station on a gradient that consistently fails to drop below the 10% mark for most of its 14km ascent – with the concrete, at times pebble-dashed, goat track ramping up to a leg-stinging 17% on the final twist to the finish.
While the weather station gives it echoes of Mont Ventoux, it's undeniably similar to the nearby Angliru, but perhaps a touch harder because there's no easing up in the gradient while the consistently coarse road surface is even more weather beaten.

20km: Storer goes over the top

The Australian adds another 5pts to his polka dot jersey tally so that puts him up to 59pts. The cameras missed it but we presume Bardet led Bizkarra over the top for second place. Those three points would put the Frenchman up to 54pts - so even if Roglic wins today's stage and takes 20 KOM points at the finish, the Slovenian will be one point behind Bardet and in third place in the standings.
But perhaps Bardet has bigger things in mind: he's a superb descender and may be hoping to link up with his teammate for the final climb. It's going to be tough though: the Bahrain-led pack are just two minutes behind the leader.

23km: Bardet on the attack!

Now this is intriguing... Romain Bardet has just gone clear of the main pack along with Mikel Bizkarra of Euskaltel-Euskadi. It's not entirely clear what the tactic is here - probably a bid to take the three points for second place over the top of the climb. Still, a great showing for Team DSM from their two stage-winning riders from this Vuelta.

25km: Storer giving nothing away

His face is a picture of cherubic serenity as he ploughs on up this climb in search of the KOM points that will consolidate his lead in the polka dot jersey standings. Amazingly, Storer has actually extended his lead to 2:25 so don't rule out a third stage win - although the finish today is absolutely brutal. Rafal Majka, who was in the break, is now setting tempo for his teammate David de la Cruz, who seems to be the UAE focal point here. Spain, remember, are still without a stage win in Grand Tours this year...

27km: Storer out alone as UAE take it up

UAE Team Emirates now have three riders on the front ahead of the Bahrain train as they up the tempo to reel in Aru, Brambilla and Arensman - the last three of those chasers. So we now have just one man up the road - the Australian Storer - with a gap of 2:15 over a rapidly slimming red jersey pack. It's not altogether clear who UAE are working for - David de la Cruz, perhaps?

30km: Cat.2 Altu La Sega o Del Cordal

Come to think of it, that small hill may have officially been part of this Cat.2 test which is 12.2km long at a forgiving 3.8%. Behind, Fabio Aru has put in an attack from the chasing group. The Italian 2015 Vuelta champion takes Storer's teammate Arensman with him, as well as compatriot Brambilla. All this as the peloton starts to catch the first of those escapees.

32km: Breakaway looking doomed

Storer has gone over a small hill that precedes the penultimate climb with a gap of 2:10 over the other escapees - but the Movistar-led pack are closing in: they're just 25 seconds further back and will catch the chasers pretty soon ahead of the GC fireworks.

40km: Relentless pace ahead of penultimate climb

Movistar and Bahrain have combined to reduce Storer's lead to under four minutes now. The remaining 20 escapees are in between, currently riding 2:05 down on the lone leader from Australia. He's riding into the polka dots, but can he hold on for a third stage win?

Meanwhile, at the finish...

It's pretty grim up top at the Alto d'El Gamoniteiru:
But it does look like they have resurfaced the road. It remains to be seen how much of it has fresh tarmacadam because otherwise it's a bit of a coarse pebble-dashed grind...

50km: Movistar move forward

The Spanish team have not put a rider on the front of the pack ahead of Bahrain and the depleted Ineos train. Can they whittle things down a little along this valley road? The pack trails lone leader Storer by 5:10. The baby-faced assassin has two minutes on the remaining survivors of the break - around 20 of them in total. The others have just been swept up by the pack - including Puccio, who will slip into the Ineos train (which only has five carriages following Van Baarle's withdrawal this morning).

55km: Long valley road till next climb

The next 30km could be key because it's a long slog to the foot of the penultimate climb and Storer will have to do it all on his own. At least Bernal and Roglic could relay a bit yesterday, even if the white jersey was made to do most of the work - understandably - by the red jersey elect.

58km: Moist but not too wet

There are raindrops on the cameras but the rain only appeared to be falling on the summit when the race passed through a low cloud. The roads are not too wet as things stand on this descent. Storer is really going for it: he has 1:40 on his chasers and 5:35 on the main pack.

68km: Storer in virtual polka dots

The Australian has crested the misty summit of this second climb in the lead as the rain starts to fall on the race. Those 10pts now put him 3pts clear of teammate Bardet at the top of the KOM standings - and he starts this descent with a gap of 1:05 on the chasers. The red jersey pack, still led by Bahrain Victorious, is 5:05 back.
The next four riders over the top of the summit were Sanchez, Taaramae, Brambilla and Arensman, which means Majka failed to take any points so he stays back in virtual fifth place, 21 points behind Storer.

70km: Storer blasts the breakaway to smithereens

The Australian is on the hunt for his third stage win. Storer cocks a snook at Bernal's attack from yesterday by making his a while nine kilometres earlier - leaving a trail of devastation in his wake. Herrada, Vansevenant, Martin and Mate have gone off the back, while the rest of the break are riding in twos and threes. Pelayo Sanchez is going his best to bridge over but he's now looking over his shoulders and hoping for company.
Adam Yates had this to say at the start of today's key stage:

72km: Breakaway sheds a few riders

Dewulf, Keukeleire, Okamina, Puccio, Piccoli, Planckaert and Canal are all dropped from the breakaway as Majka and Brambilla come to the front to help set tempo with Arensman. Fabio Aru - just three days from retirement - has been struggling but the Italian is now back in the break after losing the wheel earlier on.

75km: Cat.1 Altu de la Cobertoria

Team DSM duo Arensman and Storer come to the front of the breakaway to set tempo as the leaders start the second climb, which is 7.9km at 8.6%. the steepest gradient is near the top in the final third so this one is a slow-building test. Four minutes is still the advantage. This climb was used in the last two editions of the Vuelta with Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard (2019) and Guillaume Martin (2020) first over the top.

77km: Keukeleire wins intermediate sprint

The Belgian in pink pipped compatriot Stan Dewulf to take the sprint at Barzana ahead of this next climb. Behind, it's still the entire Bahrain Victorious team - besides the departed Mikel Landa - who front hte peloton, with Japan's Arashiro tapping out the tempo. The gap is 3:38 with three climbs still remaining.

85km: Bahrain riding with intent

Bahrain Victorious clearly eye an opportunity today, with their entire team on the front now pulling and stretching out the regrouped peloton on the approach to the next climb. They have Jack Haig in fourth (+3:46) eyeing a place on the final podium and Swiss tyro Gino Mader looking to protect his place in the top 10 after rising into the mix yesterday. They have reduced the breakaway's lead to 3:48.
Here's a reminder of what's in store later today...

92km: Small split in peloton

The thirty leaders reach the end of the long and beautiful descent with a gap of 4:20 over the peloton, which swept up Lindeman just before the last summit. We're not sure where Gamper is - he, too, was dropped early on. Bahrain Victorious continue leading the peloton, which has split on this descent with 20-odd riders - including the red jersey - riding with a small gap over the remainder of the main field. The road now rises for about 10km ahead of the intermediate sprint at Barzana which precedes the second of four climbs.

108km: Storer takes maximum KOM points

Piccoli's time on the front comes to an end after Michael Storer darts clear ahead of the summit to pocket the 10pts that puts him just seven points behind teammate Romain Bardet's polka dot jersey. Rafal Majka took 4pts there so he's up to fifth, 19pts down on Bardet. When the bunch comes along, some of the Bahrain riders take newspapers from the side of the road for a proper traditional approach to descending...

111km: Martin in trouble?

Frenchman Guillaume Martin is already on the back of the peloton and riding out of the saddle as he strikes to keep in touch. The Cofidis climber crashed two days ago and then dropped from second to fifth yesterday. Today could see his decline down the top 10 continue at this rate.
Piccoli, meanwhile, still has a gap on the break - although it's only 15-odd seconds and he doesn't look like he's particularly burning up this climb. The pack is at 4:55 with Bahrain and Movistar sharing out the load.

Great photo from yesterday's finish...

Here's Sepp Kuss smiling at teammate Primoz Roglic as he sprints for second place to complete the Jumbo-Visma one-two at Lagos de Covagonga yesterday as the Slovenian was on his way back down to the team bus... Just look at the scowl on Adam Yates's face!

114km: Piccoli goes clear

The Canadian James Piccoli has ridden clear of the breakaway to open up a small gap halfway up this first climb. Patrick Gamper and Bert-Jan Lindeman, meanwhile, have been distanced from this break, whose lead over the peloton is hovering around the five-minute mark.

Big day for the polka dots

There are a total of 45 points up for grabs in the king of the mountains classification today with 10pts available for the first two, 5pts for the third climb, and then 20pts for the Especial climb of the Altu d'el Gamoniteiru. In total it's around 4,500m of alitude gain today so we will see a big battle for both red and polka dots.
Romain Bardet currently leads the KOM standings with 51pts with his DSM teammate Michael Storer in second on 34pts. It looks like the Australian will be targeting those polka dot points, then, and he'll face opposition from Rafal Majka, who is currently in fifth place on 29pts.

118km: Cat.1 Puertu de San Llaurienzu

The breakaway has hit the first climb of the day, which is 9.9km long at 8.6%. It has a few steps where the gradient eases to just 5% - and one short downhill segment halfway up - which brings down the average a little. Indeed, it's pretty much double digits everywhere else...
Gianluca Brambilla is riding with intent, the Italian from Trek coming right to the front and momentarily opening up a little gap on his fellow escapees.

120km: Padun joins the party

Mark Padun, who looks chunkier than the whippet who won two stages on the Dauphine earlier in the season, has joined Yukiya Arashiro and Jan Tratnik on the front of the pack leading the chase in the peloton, which is 4:30 down ahead of the first climb of the day.

125km: Three stage winners in the break

Rein Taaramae (Stage 3), Michael Storer (Stages 7 and 10) and Rafal Majka (Stage 15) have already tasted success in this year's Vuelta so they are clearly men to watch from this break - especially the Australian and the Pole. A win for Fabio Aru would also be popular given his fast-approaching retirement. But it remains to be seen if any of these riders can stay out ahead given the climbs in store today.
Nineteen of the 32 riders in this breakaway have at least one pro win to their name, with a baker's dozen hoping that today could well be the day...

130km: Four minutes now...

It's a steady and constant uphill grind to the foot of our first climb, so the riders will have clocked up quite an altitude gain before they actual climbing gets going. That should spell out the end for many of the journeymen who merely got in this break to tick a box following team orders or a discussion at the breakfast table. The gap grows to four minutes now as Bahrain continue the pacing with two riders on the front ahead of two Movistar riders, then a mix of Ineos and Trek riders.

138km: Bahrain pull as break's gap grows

The 32 leaders now have over three minutes on the peloton, which is being driven by the Bahrain Victorious team which entirely missed the move this afternoon. Here are the riders in full (sorry, it took me quite a while to type all their names out...):
Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma), Mikael Cherel and Stan Dewulf (AG2R-Citroen), Floris de Tier and Edward Planckaert (Alpecin-Fenix), Gorka Izagirre (Astana-PremierTech), Patrick Gamper (Bora-Hansgrohe), Carlos Canal, Ander Okamina and Pelayo Sanchez (Burgos-BH), Aritz Bagues (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Jose Herrada (Cofidis), Mauri Vansevenant (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Jens Keukeleire (EF Education-Nippo), Gotzon Martin and Luis Angel Mate (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Olivier Le Gac (Groupama-FDJ), Salvatorre Puccio (Ineos Grenadiers), Rein Taaramae (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert), James Piccoli (Israel Start-Up Nation), Steff Cras and Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Damien Howson and Nick Schultz (Team BikeExchange), Thymen Arensman and Michael Storer (Team DSM), Fabio Aru and Bert-Jan Lindeman (Qhubeka-NextHash), Gianluca Brambilla and Antonio Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates).

Carlos Verona a non-starter for Movistar

Like Ineos, the Spanish team are down to just five riders after their Spanish domestique was unable to start today following his crash yesterday. They have Imanol Erviti in today's break on what will be a big day for their podium hopefuls Enric Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez. Verona joins Alejandro Valverde and Johan Jacobs on the sidelines.

Smith: "I thought Landa was a bit of a prat"

Mikel Landa was one of five riders who withdrew yesterday along with Sander Armee (Qhubeka-NextHash), Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana-PremierTech), Itamar Einhorn (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo). By attacking on the second climb of the day and then abandoning after doing nothing to help teammate Jack Haig's cause, Brian Smith branded the Spaniard a "prat" in this morning's The Breakaway ahead of the stage...

150km: 30-odd riders now clear

A super group has formed off the front of the peloton and pretty much includes riders from every team. Some notable names are Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates), Fabio Aru (Qhubeka-NextHash), Koen Bouwman (Jumbo-Visma), Gorka Izagirre (Astana), Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo), Michael Storer (Team DSM), Salvatore Puccio (Ineos Grenadiers) and Rein Taaramae (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert).
In fact, the only team not represented is Bahrain-Victorious - which isn't too surprising given the massive shift they put in yesterday. Also, they lost Mikel Landa in Stage 17, the Basque climber attacking early on before throwing in the towel to cap a wretched Vuelta.

Dylan van Baarle a non-starter

A blow for Ineos Grenadiers who are down to just five riders with the Dutchman pulling out following complications from a hip injury sustained earlier in the race. Van Baarle was on the offensive early on yesterday before teammate Egan Bernal made his decisive attack with 61km to go. He joined Ecuadorian duo Richard Carapaz and Jhonatan Narvaez on the sidelines for Ineos, who really need something from today's stage to save their race...

156km: A flurry of moves from the outset

James Piccoli (Israel-Start Up Nation) is the first to go on the attack and he's soon joined by Pelayo Sanchez (Burgos-BH), Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto Soudal) and Bert-Jan Lindeman (Team Qhubeka-NextHash). Behind, more and more riders are showing interest on the front of the peloton so this breakaway should swell.

163km to go: Stage 18 under way!

The riders roll out of the start at Salas slightly earlier than expected and this key stage of the race is under way, with yesterday's winner Primoz Roglic back in red for the third time in this Vuelta. We have four climbs on the menu today in what is probably the queen stage of the race, culminating with the first ever ascent of the brutal Altu d'El Gamoniteiru - deemed to be the evil sister of the nearby Angliru. Here's what's on the menu...
https://i.eurosport.com/2021/08/31/3210601.jpg

Stage 17 recap - Roglic grabs red after cracking Bernal on Covadonga

The Vuelta a Espana finally came alive in the sodden Asturias mountains on Wednesday with a superb Jumbo-Visma one-two which saw Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic establish a hefty lead over his general classification rivals at Lagos de Covadonga. American teammate Sepp Kuss led the chasers home 1:35 down on the Stage 17 winner as Roglic moved back into the red jersey for a third time in this race after a third stage win.
Roglic now leads Spain’s Enric Mas by 2:22 with a second Movistar rider, Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez, in third place at 3:11. The defending champion rode clear of the main pack with 61km remaining of the 186km stage in the Picos de Europa national park, covering a gutsy all-or-nothing move from the Colombian Egan Bernal.
Bernal, the reigning Giro d’Italia champion wearing the white jersey as best young rider, threw the dice early after his Ineos Grenadiers team paved the way and strung out the main pack on both ascents of the Collada Llomena climb. The duo opened up a lead of over two minutes on the chasers before Roglic dropped Bernal 7.5km from the finish with a stinging attack on the steepest section of the final climb.
Bernal was caught by the pursuers inside the final two kilometres and finished in the Kuss group alongside British teammate Adam Yates, Movistar’s Mas and Lopez, and Bahrain Victorious pair Jack Haig and Gino Mader. Kuss kicked clear on the final ramp to complete the perfect day for Jumbo-Visma, the American pipping Lopez and Yates on the line to rise one place to seventh on GC.
A brutal and rain-soaked day saw Norway’s Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) relinquish the race lead and drop to 11th place in the standings after crashing on the treacherous descent of the penultimate climb having already been distanced by the favourites. Frenchman Guillaume Martin, the Cofidis rider who trailed Eiking by 54 seconds entering the stage, dug in deep but was dropped by the chase group on the final climb. Martin falls from second to fifth in the new-look top ten.
Read the full report here

Stage 17 highlights: Roglic back in red after supreme Covadonga ascent

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