The young Brit is 18th overall with eight stages to go at the Spanish Grand Tour.
After a quiet start which took the bunch through San Mames, the stadium of eight-time La Liga champions Athletic Bilbao, stage 13 exploded and following several skirmishes, 29 riders extricated themselves from the peloton and formed a break which looked capable of going all the way to the line, especially as their maximum advantage went north of eight minutes.
Victorious one day earlier in Bilbao, where he soloed to his tenth Grand Tour stage win, Philippe Gilbert infiltrated again in the break, but despite the huge gap the leaders enjoyed, the peloton managed to reel them in, helped also by the six classified climbs that eroded the gap and poured lead into the escapees’ legs by the time they arrived at the bottom of Los Machucos.
This beast of a climb, averaging 9.2% over 6.8 kilometers, made just its second appearance at La Vuelta, and just like in 2017, it mercilessly blew the bunch to pieces on its opening slopes which ramped up to 25%. James Knox started the ascent as part of the red jersey group, but he struggled once the pace went up and the GC favourites started turning the screw, shedding riders out the back.
As the kilometers ticked down, the 23-year-old Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider continued to climb at his own pace and even catch and pass riders who began losing contact with the main group near the top of the climb, concluding this agonising stage just outside the top 10, in a solid 13th, a result that helped James maintain his place inside the top 20 overall at the last Grand Tour of the season.
“I don’t think there’s a particular tactic to go up Los Machucos, it’s just about survival and not going too deep from the bottom. I did other climbs comparable to this, but today was very tough due to that string of ascents we had before the last one. That was where some teams upped the pace and made us all ride full gas. Once I got dropped, I just remained calm and climbed at a steady tempo, as this was the thing to do. But the nice thing is that I feel good and I hope I will keep these legs for the final week of the race”, a confident Knox said after picking up his best stage result in a Grand Tour stage.
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