UAE Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogacar continued his unbelievable run of form on Stage 16 of this year’s Vuelta a Espana, by digging deep on the final climb of the day to help drop Alejandro Valverde.
Movistar’s Valverde currently sits above Pogacar in second place in the General Classification with a lead that has now been reduced to 54 seconds.
The stage from Pravia to Alto de la Cubilla Lena featured three classified climbs and the action for the GC men was reserved for the last one. As the breakaway men contested the stage victory, which was eventually taken by Jakob Fuglsang, of Astana, the GC riders eyed each other up on the 17.8km climb that led to another summit finish.
With 4km to go Miguel Angel Lopez, also of Astana, attacked the group in an attempt to distance Pogacar, who leads him in both the overall and youth classification. However the young Slovenian was able to match Lopez’s accelerations – as was the race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma). The three riders eventually worked as a unit and crossed the line together to put time into Valverde and the rest of their GC rivals.
Pogacar remains third in the GC, but has closed the gap on second place by 23 seconds. He also remains in the white youth classification jersey ahead of the final rest day of the tour.
Pogacar said: “Today was a tough day, above all in the finale when Lopez attacked me several times. I gave everything I had to follow him and it went well at the end. It will be a really exciting duel until the last day.
“Today was also a good day because I gained some time on Valverde, and also maintained my advantage on Lopez. I’m tired, I think like everyone, in the morning and after the stage, but I continue to feel good during the race. I hope to be at the top in the last week too.”
After the rest day the race heads from Aranda de Duero to Guadalajara for a 219.6km flat stage, which is likely to end in a bunch sprint finish.
Stage 16 results:
1 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team 4:19:04
2 Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Ineos +0:22”
3 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Astana +0:40”
14 Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates +5:58”
General Classification after Stage 16:
1 Primoz Roglic (Slo) Jumbo Visma 62:17:52”
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar +2:48”
3 Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates +3:42”
UAE Team Emirates’ Diego Ulissi will be looking to replicate his 2017 win at the GP Montreal, as he leads a seven-man squad to North America for a double bill of racing in the French Quarter of Canada.
The team will take on both the 201.6km Grand Prix Cycliste de Quebec (September 13) and the 219.6km Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal (September 15), two challenging WorldTour races that are played out on street circuits around the respective host cities.
The team, which also includes Sven Erik Bystrom, Rui Costa, Dan Martin, Rui Oliveira, Jasper Philipsen and Jan Polanc will be guided by sports director Neil Stephens.
Ulissi said: “I have special memories of these races in Canada. I won in the past in Montreal, and it’s a race that you need to be switched on for from start to finish.
“For the 2019 edition, the organisers have decided to add two laps of the race circuit, bringing the total count to 18 climbs which will therefore make it even more important to arrive in Canada with a good condition and be present as a team with as many riders as possible in the final.
“The goal is to do well in these races and bring forward the condition from the Deutschland Tour.”
Stage 7 may prove to be a defining moment in the 2019 Vuelta a Espana for UAE Team Emirates as the cream of the General Classification rose to the top – with Fabio Aru and Tadej Pogacar asserting themselves as serious contenders by taking top 10 positions in the race, and the overall GC, behind stage winner Alejandro Valverde.
The 183.2km route, which started in Onda, featured five categorized climbs and finished with a punishing ascent up the Mas del la Costa. A select group of riders, including Aru and Pogacar, hit the bottom as a unit but began to splinter as the ramps pitched up to gradients in excess of 20%.
Both UAE Team Emirates riders fought their way up the climb valiantly and crossed the line together to claim 7th and 8th spots, just 51” behind the Spanish World Champion.
Their efforts also put both riders firmly into the General Classification top 10, where they now sit at 6th (Pogacar) and 10th (Aru).
Speaking to his performance, Pogacar said: “It wasn’t just the last climb that was tough, it was the whole day. It was really fast right from the start making this stage the hardest of the week. I am feeling in good shape at the moment, so we will have to wait and see about tomorrow – and then we have our rest day.”
Aru added: “I definitely felt better than the last few days but the left leg is not 100% yet. Today I had a lot of fatigue, but at the same time I did the last climb better than I expected. I hope to be back at 100% soon.”
Stage 7 also proved to be a memorable one for Sergio Henao as he climbed his way up the Mountains Classification – where he now sits in second. The race was, once again, fast and furious from the off – with multiple early breakaways being closed down by the peloton.
After 60-minutes on the road the average speed was just shy of 50km/h – but that didn’t deter Henao and a small group of companions trying and succeeding to create a gap ahead of the first categorised climb up Puerto del Marianet. Henao was the quickest over the top, picking up his first set of mountain classification points.
The trend continued as he worked with the breakaway to crest three more summits, take maximum points and jump up to his current spot.
On Saturday La Vuelta heads from Valls to Igualada for stage 8. The hilly route is just 166.9km long and with only one categorised climb along the way it will either be a day for the breakaway or one for the sprinters to contend.
Stage 7 results:
General Classification after stage 7: