Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) became the second rider to complete a triptych of Grand Tour stage victories this year, joining Matteo Trentin in an illustrious club. After winning on the Stelvio in 2012 and on the Mont Ventoux at last year's Tour de France, he out-sprinted his rivals to win stage 19 of the Vuelta a Espana.
Gijon does not quite have the same ring as the Stelvio or the Ventoux, but the win is a major milestone for the Belgian who had set out on the three-week race with intentions of achieving the record. It looked like it might not happen after he fell ill earlier in the race, but he's glad that he's done it sooner rather than later.
"I won at the Tour last year, so I had two out of three so the third one then became an objective," explained De Gendt. "This year was not very good in the Tour. I was in very good condition, but I felt like the best was yet to come. This year there were a lot of stages that were good for a breakaway, so it was my objective to win a stage this year in the Vuelta. If I didn't succeed, then I would have come here again to try and win a stage. I'm happy that it's finished now and now I can focus on just more stages."
Stage 19 was likely to be De Gendt's, and others', final chance at a stage win in a Grand Tour in 2017, with the Angliru likely to be decided by the general classification contenders and the sprinters set to dominate in Sunday's stage into Madrid. Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of competition to make it into the move, and De Gendt had to use his plentiful experience in breakaways to constantly assess which riders would be best to tag along with.
"To go in the breakaway, I was looking at the two guys with leaders jerseys because I knew that they wanted to be in the break," he said. "In the green jersey competition, if Trentin won today then he would only have to be in the top seven on Sunday. I was looking at him at the start, but when the climb started I did my best to drop the sprinters and then the teams with more guys. There were some teams with more than two and I was alone. I tried to drop the helpers of the guys who were going for the stage."
De Gendt's win is the second straight stage victory for Lotto Soudal with Sander Armee dropping Alexey Lutsenko on Thursday's hilltop finish. Tomasz Marczynski has given the team another two, on stages 6 and 12, giving them four in total - more than their last two Grand Tour performances put together, which yielded just one. They had initially intended on taking Rafael Valls as their general classification rider, but he broke his hip in a training crash just days before the Vuelta, ripping up the team's pre-race plans.
"We are all guys who wanted to win a stage," said De Gendt. "Yesterday, Sander, who is one of our helpers throughout the year, was able to win a stage. There was no more stress after three victories. Today was the last chance for the breakaway, and I was in the break. Then it's easier. If you don't have a leader, you can do whatever you want in a race. We also don't have a sprinter, so we are all guys who can go for breakaways. If you have a lot of guys who want to go then you have a lot of chances to win a stage."