Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors) kept his hopes of winning the Vuelta a Espana's green jersey alive with a strong seventh place finish on stage 18. Trentin started the day third in the competition, but has now moved up a spot and trails classification leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) by just 16 points with three stages remaining.
There is a total of 87 points still up for grabs in the final days, leaving victory wide open. Trentin led the classification throughout much of the opening week thanks to three stage wins and some second-place finishes. He is keeping the battle for green in the back of his mind, but he thinks that his chances of success are less than slim.
"It's in my mind, but I know that it's going to be about a five percent of possibility to bring it to Madrid. It all depends on the results of the GC guys day-by-day," he told Cyclingnews ahead of stage 18. "For example, if Froome hadn't cracked a little bit [on Los Muchacos] then for sure he would win it after the stage. It's just a points jersey and not a sprints jersey."
Trentin says that going for the intermediate sprints is a fruitless task, with so little on offer and so late in the day. And while there are a tidy 25 points on offer for the winner of the day, 15 riders get awarded points towards the classification with little separating the top riders. As the competition wishes to reward it, a rider that can be consistent across most stages will come out the winner, and with such a tough Vuelta a Espana course the better climbers have the upper hand.
"[The intermediate sprints] are useless, they are always so close to the finish and with so few points available," explained Trentin. "The stage result makes a lot of difference, but the difference in points between the fourth and seventh or eighth is not that much. So, if you win you get quite a lot but if you're always well placed like the GC guys in this kind of parcours, like the GC guys always are they have much more advantage than me. If you see the GC and the points classification, I'm the only non-climber in that group.
"If for any reason the green jersey comes to me then I'll be happy but I'm not going to go and die on the road to try and bring it home. Like I've said since the beginning of the Vuelta, it's almost impossible."
Trentin might say that he's not going to go all out for the green jersey but after telling Cyclingnews that he would take it easy on stage 18, he got into the break and raced home for seventh place. Trentin's search for another stage win will help him in his quest for green and two of the three remaining stages provide him with a platform to bid for another victory to add to his palmarès.
Sunday's stage into Madrid will be a clear-cut chance for the fast men, while stage 19 to Gijon is less straightforward. The downhill run towards a relatively flat finish is a good chance for the Italian, but he will have to negotiate a tough obstacle of the Alto de Colladona in the opening 30 kilometres of the stage.
"It's good for the breakaway but it's also really hard because you see the first category climb just after 27 kilometres so it's going to be hard to get into the break," he said. "Let's see, I won't die for it but if it is possible to go for it then it would be a good stage for me."
Green jersey or not, it has been a great Vuelta a Espana for Trentin, who will leave Quick-Step for Orica-Scott at the end of the season. Coming into the race, he had hoped for a handful of sprint finishes to have a go on, but the course would prove much more challenging than the profiles implied. Trentin still doubled his Grand Tour victory tally in less than two weeks and has won from both breakaways and sprints.
"Of course I was here to win but I didn't expect to find such hard stages like that. If you look at it on paper, it looked like there were four or five possibilities for the sprinters but in the end there was only really two before Madrid. Let's see, but I'm pretty happy about it."