Crosswinds and an out-of-this-world team effort carry James Knox into the top 10 overall, with just four stages remaining.
A massive show of strength, endless amount of guts and an immeasurable performance from the entire Deceuninck – Quick-Step team contributed to a gripping Vuelta a España stage 17, which not only will easily go down as one of the best in the history of Grand Tours, but also netted a string of accolades for the Wolfpack, including a 60th UCI victory of the season.
On paper, it should have been a relatively quiet day, over a slightly undulating terrain, from Aranda de Duero to Guadalajara, where the race returned for just the sixth time in history. But the Wolfpack had other plans and as soon as the bunch exited the neutral zone, they asserted their authority over the race, ripping the peloton through the crosswinds and forcing what proved to be a crucial selection.
Eros Capecchi, Rémi Cavagna, Tim Declercq, Philippe Gilbert, Fabio Jakobsen, James Knox, and Zdenek Stybar all booked a place in the 46-man group and brought out the heavy artillery, showing again why our squad are the peloton’s crosswinds experts. From kilometer three until the finish of the longest stage of this year’s Vuelta (219.6km), Deceuninck – Quick-Step relentlessly drove a burning pace, putting over six minutes between the leading group and a depleted field on this fast, dramatic stage, and turning the race upside down.
A sudden injection of pace with 40 kilometers remaining helped the chasers cut the deficit by more than a minute, giving a glimmer of hope to the bunch, but it was just a brief moment which immediately cooled down, as the Deceuninck – Quick-Step-powered group continued to ride unabated, causing more havoc and averaging more than 50km/h as they pushed the lead out to 5:30.
Inside three kilometers to go, Zdenek Stybar threw in an effort as the road went up and carved out a small advantage, but he was pulled back with 500 meters to go. Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) was the first to open the sprint, but Philippe Gilbert remained attentive and tracked down the attack, catching and surging past the Irishman when he ran out of steam on the stiff gradient to the line, thus adding an 11th Grand Tour stage win to his tremendous palmares.
“The stage was complicated and very aggressive right from the start with the wind and everything, but we were very motivated and had a plan, so we hit the front early and did our thing, a 220km team time trial. The echelons are part of this team’s DNA. It was just crazy and ruthless out there and I can tell you I have never experienced anything like this in 17 seasons as a pro”, Philippe Gilbert said after his 77th pro victory. “I am sure this stage will forever remain in the history of La Vuelta and people will talk about it for many years from now on. All this makes my win, which was possible only with the help of a fantastic and committed Wolfpack, even more sweet and unforgettable.”
On a truly astonishing day for the team, packed with great racing and a whirlwind of emotions, which brought four Deceuninck – Quick-Step riders in the top 10 in Guadalajara, including a solid third for Rémi Cavagna, James Knox’s leap into eighth on the general classification ended up being the cherry on the cake.
“We knew at the start that it was going to be windy, we knew it was exposed, and we went full gas as soon as we had the opportunity. When we found ourselves at the front, we knew we were going to give everything and really believed we would go all the way to the line. We rode for the overall standings, but also to protect Phil. What we did today is pretty unreal and I’m not sure I’ll ever top this”, said the 23-year-old Brit, who couldn’t contain his delight after having been one of the day’s main beneficiaries.
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