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VUELTA’18 Stage 15: Pinot Primer Lugar!
Stage Report: Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) made major strides back up the overall classification with a wonderful stage victory on the Lagos de Covadonga. Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was able to cover every acceleration though and he heads into the final week still in red and looking like one of the strongest riders in the race.


Another Grand Tour stage win for Thibaut Pinot

This was always going to be a stage that was decided on the final climb. A very strong 12 man break went clear after a hectic 35km of racing and it looked like they might be in the play on the final climb but they were never given much time and when the final climb started there was only Ivan Cortina left alone at the front. He was quickly caught and Miguel Angel Lopez started the attacks, he split the GC group and we were left with just Yates, Quintana, Mas, Kruijswijk, Lopez, Pinot, and Valverde. Lopez was brought back but Pinot struck for home with 6km left to ride. The Frenchman was never given much time but as the overall contenders attacked amongst themselves Pinot was virtually forgotten about and he finished the day almost 30 seconds ahead. Quintana, Lopez and Yates looked the strongest but neither could distance the other and despite being dropped at numerous points, Valverde, Kruijswijk and Mas all reached the finish in virtually the same time. The podium remains the same but the battle for the top five has really heated up with Mas and Pinot both making significant steps up the rankings.


Yates held his overall lead - With no help from Quintana/Valverde

Route
The last stage of a long weekend of climbing is a 186km slog from Ribera de Arriba to Lagos de Covadonga. The high point is only 1,073m but don't be fooled, this is a serious stage with very, very little flat road. The first 70km feature plenty of rolling roads including the third category climb of Alto de Santo Emiliano (5km @ 5%). There is then a brief period of flat riding before the first of two ascents of the Mirador del Frito (4.9km @ 9.2%), the second ascent of the climb peaks again at 136km into the stage and from there there's around 30km to the foot of the final climb. The stats for the final climb are 12km at 7.8%, tough undoubtedly but not brutal. What those averages hide though are a first km of just 4% and two kilometers at 9-11km which drop too 5.1 and 4.9% respectively. The middle section of the climb features only sections above 7% and some at 11% and over. This should blow apart a GC battle that has already been pried open.



A Long Day Out
The break had been going clear with relative ease so far at the Vuelta but the peloton were putting their foot down today. It had looked like a break would go on the first categorized climb but despite numerous attacks nothing had set, although Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) snatched three points back to cut his deficit in the king of the mountain's competition to 17 behind Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis). After 35km of very tough racing a break of 12 finally formed, featuring: Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-Merida), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Ben King (Dimension Data), George Bennett and Danny Van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo), Pierre Rolland (EF Education First-Drapac), Tao Geoghegan-Hart (Sky), Bauke Mollema and Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo), Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates), Nick Schultz (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Nicholas Roche (BMC).


Another long day for the break

The peloton settled down and the gap rose out beyond three minutes as Mitchelton-Scott took their place on the front of the peloton. The gap continued to rise beyond the five minute mark but they weren't going to be given the freedom of the race, Bennett was sitting just ten minutes back and Simon Yates wasn't keen to give him a way back into the GC battle with the mountains of the final week looming.


The Basque fans made the trip to Asturias

As the first ascent of the Mirador del Frito loomed, the gap to the break began tumbling down, it was just 3:50 as the climbing started. Mitchelton-Scott had stepped aside though and their place was taken by Astana who were cranking up the pace. They were protecting Miguel Angel Lopez who now sat fourth on the overall, just 22 seconds from the podium and 47 from the red jersey. He was also growing into the race after being slightly anonymous in the first week.

Bauke Mollema and Ben King pushed on towards the top of the climb with the Dutchman taking the maximum KoM points, however despite opening a gap both riders were happy to sit up and wait for their breakaway mates to catch-up.


Astana were in charge of the peloton

Mirador Again
In between the first and second ascent of the Mirador del Frito Astana continued setting the pace but they were just holding the break steady and weren't eating into the 3:50 lead significantly. The second ascent was coming ever nearer and it was going to be taken on by a clearly exhausted peloton.

The break started the climb and almost immediately their gap was tumbling again, it was 3.15 after a few kilometers of climbing and Astana weren't looking like slowing down. Fabio Felline was doing all the pace making at the front for team mate Mollema after fellow sprinter Van Poppel had done the same for Bennett earlier in the stage. At the summit the results from the first ascent were switched with Ben King hitting the top first and Mollema coming in second. Around three minutes further back there was a depleted, Astana led peloton but Mitchelton-Scott were keen to hop on the front again as they crested the summit. The gap had decreased but it seemed like three minutes was the floor for the moment.

The descent of the climb and ensuing flat road had claimed a victim as Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Alexandre Geniez (AG2R La-Mondiale) collided and hit the ground. Kwiatkowski was left holding his ribs with Geniez less visibly injured but still slow getting up, it was certainly the end of a stage win hope for both of them today.

The generally tough nature of the stage had already kicked Van Poppel out of the break and he was now joined by Nicolas Roche who had found the going too tough on the second first category climb. The break was down to ten and their lead was now finally under three minutes, 2:28 with 21km left to go. They would take an advantage onto the climb of Lagos de Covadonga but how long would they be able to stay ahead once the climb pitched up? With the gap falling Ivan Cortina headed off alone, hoping to hit the climb first. Meanwhile, in the peloton Simon Yates was perched right on the back of the peloton which now resembled a long snake, it wasn't where the race leader should be.


Cows - The clouds were higher

Through the Clouds and Cows
Ivan Cortina began the climb with a one minute lead which meant the rest of the break had just 1:30 back to the peloton. Simon Yates was now back where he should be and the drama of the stage was about to begin. Almost immediately Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and former race leader Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) were sent out the back of the heavily reduced peloton. Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) was the next to be distanced which was surprising given how well he had been climbing at points in the race. The rest of the break were also gone and Cortina had a lead of just 54 seconds with 9.5km still left to ride.


Thibaut Pinot went for the win

Astana were doing plenty of work but they now just had two domestiques left and they hadn't yet been able to shell out any of the top 10 on GC. That didn't matter though because with 7.6km to go, Miguel Angel Lopez hit for home. He was followed by Movistar but the catch wasn't yet made, the gap was no more than 40m but it wasn't extending. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) made the junction but he was joined by the rest of the quickly reducing GC group. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was struggling at the back but it was Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) who was the next ride to uncouple. Uran wasn't out though, he almost made the back of the group but Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) hit out and nobody was following.


Yates was looking for help - None came

The Frenchman had suffered early on in the race but now sat in 11th, 2:46 behind. Pinot's advantage grew to 20 seconds but then Simon Yates jumped with nobody able to follow his initial acceleration. Valverde had recovered and he was now leading the chase and Yates wasn't getting away, the Valverde pace was hurting Uran though who again was out the back and Yates was now back in the fold. The other two riders in the Yates group were Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) who were both putting in incredible efforts.


A strong 2nd place for Lopez - But not much time gain

Yates hit the front again but he was countered by Miguel Angel Lopez. The continuous attacks had reduced the gap to Pinot to just ten seconds. Mas was the next to push clear and he was being chased by Valverde who was doing a sensational job for Quintana. Mas' lead was short lived but he went again and Yates followed, the two were pushing on in search of Pinot and Kruijswijk and Valverde were falling out the back door.


Pinot has been looking good

Yates went again and Quintana was immediately on his back wheel with Angel Lopez slightly slower to respond. Mas was the fourth man across the gap but he was punching with the big men on this climb. Lopez pushed on after a short downhill section and we had four chasers just 15 seconds behind Pinot and 12 ahead of the Valverde and Kruijswijk pair. Yates went again and Quintana responded immediately with Angel Lopez and Mas making it across the gap. The problem though was that they weren't driving on and the Valverde pair were coming back. As they were going to make the junction Yates went again but it was a short lived effort. Lopez pushed on put neither Quintana nor Yates wanted to do the work and as they slowed Valverde came back into the fold and set the pace for Quintana. Mas had jumped across the gap but he wasn't up with Lopez yet and he was caught by the Yates group. Valverde was doing the work for Quintana but Yates wanted some assistance and the Colombian wasn't interested in assisting. Lopez was getting away and had a lead of ten seconds on the Yates group. It was a day for the French though as Thibaut Pinot hit the line in the lead with Lopez 27 seconds back and Yates just two seconds behind after a storming final KM. Mas, Valverde, and Kruijswick all finished within a few seconds of Yates but Quintana was slightly disconnected after losing a few seconds. Uran crossed around a minute after Yates with Emmanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) a little further down the mountain.


Solo win for Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ)


Lopez finished at 28 seconds

Pinot looks like he may be a force to be reckoned with in the final week but he has more than two minutes to make up and there was a definitely feeling that Yates and the other podium players might have done more work to close the Frenchman down if he was closer on GC. The GC contenders came out to play but it was a shadow battle as the time gaps were very small. It looks like Yates, Quintana and Lopez are the three strongest riders in the race but who can actually drop Valverde and make it stick?


Simon Yates was only 2 seconds behind Lopez


Valverde brought in the other GC men

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Vuelta a España Stage 15 Result:
1. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ in 5:01:49
2. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana at 0:28
3. Simon Yates (GB) Mitchelton-Scott at 0:30
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 0:32
5. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
6. Enric Mas (Spa) Quick-Step Floors at 0:34
7. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar
8. Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale at 1:25
9. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe at 1:33
10. Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida at 1:49
11. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 2:38
12. Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 2:50
13. Adam Yates (GB) Mitchelton-Scott at 3:05
14. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb at 4:01
15. Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott
16. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe
17. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana at 4:35
18. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 4:43
19. Hermann Pernsteiner (Aut) Bahrain-Merida
20. Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 4:48
21. Sergio Henao (Col) Sky at 5:10
22. Oscar Rodriguez Garaicoechea (Spa) Euskadi Basque Country-Murias
23. Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates at 5:19
24. Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
25. Pierre Rolland (Fra) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale.

Vuelta a España Overall After Stage 15:
1. Simon Yates (GB) Mitchelton-Scott in 64:13:33
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 0:26
3. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 0:33
4. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana at 0:43
5. Steven Kruijswijk (Spa) LottoNL-Jumbo at 1:29
6. Enric Mas (Spa) Quick-Step Floors at 1:55
7. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ at 2:10
8. Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale at 2:27
9. Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida at 3:03
10. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe at 3:15
11. Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 4:19
12. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb at 6:56
13. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 7:44
14. Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates at 8:19
15. Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott at 10:10
16. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe at 11:21
17. David De La Cruz (Spa) Sky at 11:50
18. Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ at 14:05
19. Hermann Pernsteiner (Aut) Bahrain-Merida at 14:47
20. Mikel Bizkarra Etxegibel (Spa) Euskadi Basque Country-Murias at 19:15
21. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar at 19:43
22. George Bennett (NZ) LottoNL-Jumbo at 22:04
23. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe at 25:37
24. Sergio Henao (Col) Sky at 26:23
25. Benjamin King (USA) Dimension Data at 31:41.

 


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