The final mountain stage of this year’s Vuelta a España was always going to be as punishing on the peloton as the last 19 stages beforehand had been. The first attack came from kilometer two and so started the flurry of attacks. As a group started to form out front, our road captain, Mitch Docker found himself in there, but he admitted post stage that it wasn’t entirely on purpose.
“I was just following a guy’s wheel and then he started going hard and then the next minute I knew I was in the break and thinking, ‘Ah, this is not where I wanted to be,’” Docker explains whilst trying to compose himself after the efforts of another energy sapping stage.
As the break was pushing to get a gap with a couple riders chasing behind, Docker dropped back and Lawson Craddock attacked from the peloton. After a long chase he managed to bridge over to the lead group by the top of the second climb. But the effort took a lot from him, and as the peloton furiously chased and nearly brought the break back the effort was too much for him to stay with the lead group. But after spending over 600km in breakaways during this Vuelta a España, he can be happy with the continuous effort he’s put in day-after-day to get himself in there on many occasions.
With the group of nine riders out front, the gap to the peloton continued to yo-yo until they made up their minds about letting it go. As the stage settled into a rhythm the riders then had to deal with the cold and rain over the remaining climbs and descents.
“It was a really demanding stage,” Sergio Higuita said post stage after taking another top 10, coming home in sixth place. “The end of the stage was hard because we’re all riding along feeling the same, really tired and completely drained. It was a complicated stage because of the cold and the rain, and this really drains you and can be a bit overwhelming. Then the last 80-90km were really quick and intense with a lot of ascending and technical descents on narrow roads. You had to stay really focused and it took a lot of concentration to race.”
On the penultimate climb Miguel Angel López was the first to up the tempo but couldn’t shake his GC competitors nor our Colombian, Higuita. Near the top of the climb, Tadječ Pogačar attacked and by the time he crossed the finish line atop Plataforma de Gredos and gave it a salute, he had pulled off a long range attack and racked up a 1’30” lead over the favourites, jumping himself over Nairo Quintana and into third place on the general classification.
As the riders crossed the line exhausted from the effort of the previous 20 stages, there was also a moment of relief, with the traditional procession stage around and into Madrid, that looks like it’s a wrap for the 2019 Vuelta GC standings, with Primož Roglič keeping the leaders red jersey and Alejandro Valverde in second place.
Sergio Higuita commented post stage, “There have been many hard moments during the race, not just for me when I’ve crashed but for the whole team when we lost the others. There’s been times when we’ve reached the finish line and been so sad but the team has worked incredibly well together to support each other. It’s a long race, so many things can happen during three weeks.”