La Vuelta Stage 19: The Great Escape

A late race transition stage serves up a surprisingly spicy day of racing

Stage 19 of the Vuelta a España saw Magnus Cort win his third stage of this year’s race out of the breakaway ahead of Rui Oliveira and Quinn Simmons. This result might have reflected the prediction I made in yesterday’s post, but the stage itself, which traversed the gorgeous Galician landscape, did not resemble the lazy march I thought it would but featured a high-speed, day-long pursuit between the peloton and breakaway.

Despite working all day to control the gap to the breakaway to capitalize on the best sprinter in the race, Fabio Jakobsen, being dropped on the early climbs, and getting as close as 20-seconds inside the final 20-kilometers, teams DSM and BikeExchange failed to bridge the gap in time, with saw a rare breakaway victory over a full-on chasing peloton. The only change in the fight for the GC on the screaming fast day was Louis Meintjes, in 10th place overall at the start of the stage, crashing hard and dropping out of the race due to the injuries he sustained. While there was no real threat of any GC action on the day, it will be interesting to see how the harder-than-expected pace affects the contender as they head into an extremely difficult stage 20 and long time trial on Sunday’s final stage.

Stage Top Five:
Magnus Cort +0
Rui Oliveira +0
Quinn Simmons +0
Andrew Bagioli +0
Anthony Roux +0

Current GC Top Ten:

Stage 19 Race Notes:

85km: A large breakaway gets up the road, and even though DSM is represented in it, they decide to invest a huge amount of energy keeping the pace high and the gap in check so they can attempt to sprint for the win with Alberto Dainese. They have the gap at 2’24 with 86km-to-go.

55km: The break’s gap starts to drop and is at 1’20 30kms later. Rui Oliveira gets jumpy and decides there are too many freeloaders in the group and attempts to jump away, but an elite group is able to bridge up to him a few moments later. Attacking amongst themselves this far out will hurt the break’s chances to stay away.

42.9km: The gap is down to under a minute with 43km left. The pace is very high in the peloton and there is a crash about halfway down the group. Louis Meintjes, sitting 10th overall in the race, goes down hard and has to leave the race.

33.2km: The gap is down to 34-seconds and things start to look dire for the break. At this point, Quinn Simmons attacks after deciding he is better off shaking up the group and dropping the dead weight.

25.9km: Simmons’ move decants the group, and a few kms later, a more elite group bridges up to him. With only a 30-second gap, they will have to work together to have a chance of staying away, which will be difficult after Simmons has just attacked them.

15.8km: But, they clearly find common ground, since 10kms later, BikeExchange has come to the front of the peloton behind, is riding full-on and the gap is at 31-seconds.

6.5km: And inside the final 10kms, DSM comes to the front to pull when the gap is still at 30-seconds. The tailwind and slightly downhill is making it incredibly difficult for the peloton to ride faster than the break.

2.2km: Towards the finish, the chasers either give up or simply run out of gas, because we can see EF coming to the front to get onto the front of the peloton to slow things down to make sure the break, which has two of their teammates, don’t get caught.

250m: Craddock has been keeping the pace high for Cort and Simmons takes off incredibly early by starting his sprint from over 200 meters out. This allows the older and more experienced Cort to jump right onto his wheel.

Finish: Due to Cort’s positioning right behind Simmons, he is able to slingshot around and get a relatively easy win for his third win of this Vuelta.

Ten Takeaways:

1) Magnus Cort is quickly turning into Mr. Vuelta. He gets his third stage win of this Vuelta (and sixth of his career!). This, combined with Storer, Roglic, Jakobsen, etc., shows just how important momentum is for stage winners. It also shows how it is far better to come into a grand tour with top fitness instead of trying to build into it during the race.

  • At 28, he was one of the older riders in the group, and younger riders like Oliveira, Simmons, and Andrea Bagioli taking him to the line for a sprint shows how important experience can be. A small sprint after a hard stage is like shooting fish in a barrel for Cort, and you never want to go head-to-head against a rider as red-hot as Cort.

  • Cort should be considered a legitimate contender for the upcoming World Championship. 13 World Champions since the year 2000 have all at least started the Vuelta a Espana.

2) Quinn Simmons jumped far too early in the final sprint, which shows his inexperience, and potentially, a bit of hubris and overestimation in his own abilities. But his third place on the day shows he is emerging as a legit star. At only 20-years-old he is playing major parts in the biggest races and gets a podium at a grand tour stage.

  • I don’t have hard data for this, but I have to imagine an American this young has never podiumed at a grand tour stage.

  • It is a shame he is so personally abrasive since this is the type of superstar American rider we’ve been waiting for.

  • It is interesting that Simmons has pretty much made his own way to the WorldTour and skipped the USA Cycling’s U23 development program, which, ironically, is where many extremely talented juniors’ development starts to stall out.

  • Both him and Sepp Kuss, the other extremely successful American rider in the WorldTour, are both from the rugged Durango, Colorado, and grew up far outside the mainstream of the USA Cycling development system.

3) Fabio Jakobsen being dropped on the early climbs is the reason the stage got so spicy. The fact that the teams of the rest of the sprinters would invest so much in trying to pull back the breakaway on such a hard stage shows just how much they fear Jakobsen and that even in his absence, he shapes the race.

  • His Deceuninck - QuickStep didn’t miss a beat and still finished 4th on the stage with Bagioli.

  • This contrasts with a team like BikeExchange, who only seems to have a single card to play, Michael Matthews, and can’t adjust tactics according to how the stages play out.

4) I don’t believe the peloton miscalculated this stage, but just didn’t have the horsepower to close down an extremely strong breakaway.

  • The day-long pursuit meant the peloton couldn’t just close it down inside the final 10km.

  • Also, the tailwind gave the advantage to the breakaway, who could match the pace of the larger group behind.

  • And, DSM isn’t a big team, they are full of slight mountain stage hunters, while the break was full of powerful riders who almost resembled a university Rugby team.

5) Lawson Craddock was incredible all day in the breakaway setting pace. His ability to outpace two teams back in the peloton is the reason Cort won the stage.

  • Perhaps his ability to get in and drive a move like this is why USA cycling has selected him for worlds, despite a lack of many great personal results.

6) In the past, this stage would have been an absolute snoozefest as the main peloton free-wheeled along and the breakaway got a massive gap.

  • The downfall of these pure breakaway stages have made it more difficult for smaller teams and riders to win, since today’s breakaway had to be of higher quality than the chasing group.

7) Louis Meintjes, who was sitting 10th overall and riding one of the best races of his career, tragically crashes out of the race. This shows why the GC race is never truly over until it is over.

  • The irony of this is that his Wanty team significantly shaped the race yesterday by pacing for the first half of the final climb

8) BikeExchange is really struggling this season and today was a massive blow for him. They invested a lot into the chase and couldn’t close the gap, making matters worse, Michael Matthews was beaten by Dainese in the bunch sprint, which shows they likely wouldn’t have even won the race had they closed the gap.

  • Cort used to be on the team but they seemed to push out riders similar to Michael Matthews to court him back to the Australian outfit.

  • I have to imagine there will be questions asked about their decision to build a team around a rider who doesn’t win that often.

9) Groupama-FDJ made a calculated decision to not help chase down the breakaway, which would have likely made the difference and shows just how little faith they have in Arnaud Démare.

  • They did have Anthony Roux in the breakaway, but his chances of a win were extremely small, but the team clearly felt this was their best chance of winning the stage versus backing Démare in a sprint.

10) DSM, who also had a rider in the breakaway, is the flip side of this tactic.

  • They obviously thought Dainese winning the bunch sprint held their best chances of success versus letting Nico Denz try his hand upfront.

  • But, today showed the risk in attempting to control a stage like today. After working all day today, Romain Bardet and Michael Storer have to turn around tomorrow and attempt to defend Storer’s KOM jersey.

Stage 20 Preview & Predictions:

Tomorrow’s stage is an extremely particular one. The 202-kilometer stage from Sanxenxo to Castro de Herville in the stunningly green and rugged Galician region lacks many mountain passes but is up-and-down all day, has five classified climbs and finishes atop a 10km-long, 4.8% climb.

  • This could either be the ultimate trap stage or an absolute snoozefest breakaway day. It features 13,000 ft (4,000m) of climbing, which is similar to Liege-Bastogne-Liege but packed into a shorter course.

  • It would be a great day for the team of a GC contender to attempt to blow the stage up and catch out Primoz Roglic, but, the teams of Ineos and Movistar are both severely depleted and won’t have the firepower to attempt an all-day coup.

  • Also, DSM, the team that controlled today’s stage, will be looking to get Bardet and Storer into the breakaway to take KOM points from Primoz Roglic, who could accidentally take their lead in the competition, and Jumbo won’t see any point in controlling the gap to make the race hard.

  • The final climb's average grade isn’t particularly difficult, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The climb is extremely irregular and features pitches as steep at 16% as well as brief downhill portions.

  • This will favor Roglic, who I suspect will do incredibly well on this finish, and will win it if the breakaway is brought back.

  • Egan Bernal will likely have to attempt to win the stage to salvage the race for Ineos, and any time he can take back on Lopez before Sunday’s time trial will be incredibly useful.

  • Prediction: The stage, much like today, is all-out from the gun, with teams hungry for stage wins keeping the gap to the break in check. But, this tactic backfires when Primoz Roglic wins the stage ahead of Egan Bernal, who takes valuable time on Lopez before Sunday’s time trial.