Stage 17 was one of the toughest so far and created some significant gaps in the general classification.
The Vuelta a España riders spent the first mountain leg of the race's third and final week in Cantabria, where the climb of Los Machucos was waiting for them at the finish of stage 17, not with the red carpet rolled out, but instead with some insane gradients. The brutal and testing climb, which was debuting at the Spanish Grand Tour, was 7.2 kilometers in length and had an elevation gain of only 560 meters, but the steep gradients kicking up to 30% made the riders' life a real ordeal.
Julian Alaphilippe, one of the three Quick-Step Floors riders to land a win at the Vuelta, got himself infiltrated in a six-man group which was allowed by the peloton to go clear 15 kilometers into the stage and to open a nine-minute gap before the first of the stage's three categorized climbs. Despite establishing this considerable margin on the rolling roads leading to Portillo de Lunada, the sextet saw their hopes of fighting for the win go up in smokes once the chase was on and their advantage was halved.
Heavy fog made for poor visibility on the descent, but not even that stopped the pack from cutting the deficit on the escapees by the time they hit the base of Los Machucos. The excruciating HC climb, with its narrow roads, cement sections and double-digit gradients, poured lead into the legs of many riders, who got dropped from the red jersey group and lost big chunks of time.
David De La Cruz wasn't one of these, as he attacked from the bunch and pulled away from many of his rivals, before linking up with Julian Alaphilippe from the break, who paced him on the 16% ramps of Los Machucos; once Julian ran out of gas and David was back on his own, the Spaniard pressed on and continued his brave and relentless effort, which at the end of the stage won by Stefan Denifl (Aqua Blue Sport) propelled him back in the general classification top 10.
"I felt better today, the legs were stronger than in the past weekend and this gives me confidence for the remaining stages. I'm glad to be back in the top 10, but I still have a lot of work to do. Angliru looms on the horizon and many things can happen there", a tired but satisfied David said at the end of the stage which saw him notch another top 10 finish – his fourth – at this edition of the Vuelta a España.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele