Julian Alaphilippe, David De La Cruz and Matteo Trentin were all protagonists on the difficult stage 18.
On Thursday, the Vuelta a España peloton traveled from Suances to Alto de Santo Toribio de Liebana, for a crazy, action-packed medium mountain stage which included four classified climbs. Bob Jungels tried to surge clear after 30 kilometers, but the Luxembourg Champion was quickly brought to heel before a large group finally got a gap, which in just a few kilometers they took north of ten minutes.
Julian Alaphilippe and Matteo Trentin were part of the 20-man group which stayed together until Collada de la Hoz, the second-last-climb of the day. Attacks fired away there and several riders opened a gap as they crested the top of the ascent, among the ones making the cut being also Julian Alaphilippe, who forced the pace on the descent. Shortly after, on a false flat section, Sander Armee (Lotto-Soudal) attacked, only Julian and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) being capable of going with him.
Way behind, the red jersey group was thinning out by the meter, not due to a high pace, but as a result of the relentless attacks which came from what used to be the peloton. David De La Cruz was the one to open the hostilities, and soon others responded. The Quick-Step Floors rider launched several accelerations, but being an important GC player, he didn't get too much space and was reeled in, last time in the downhill.
In the meantime, a late surge of Armee saw him take the victory after dispatching both Julian Alaphilippe and Lutsenko. The Quick-Step Floors rider – who spent also the previous stage in the breakaway – crossed the line totally spent after one of the toughest and most demanding days of this Vuelta. His teammate, Matteo Trentin, was seventh and collected valuable points which helped him rise to second in the green jersey classification.
"We wanted to have one or two guys in the break and actually I worked to help Bob and Enric go there. After that tough and long stage spent in the escape yesterday, my plan was to take it easy now, but I ended up there myself, together with Matteo", 25-year-old Julian explained at the finish, where Quick-Step Floors took the prize for the best team of the stage. "I did my best to follow, but after yesterday's effort it was really difficult and the last two kilometers were really horrible. On the other hand, I am happy to be back and to feel that my form is still going upwards. Also, I'm glad we can almost see Madrid in the horizon."
The GC favourites waited for the last 1500 meters to go all out and ignite one attack after the other, which pulverized the group. David De La Cruz was among those distanced, but the Spaniard pushed hard to limit the damage and will take on the hilly stage 19 (Caso – Gijon, 149.7km) from 11th place overall.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele