A gripping finale to stage 20 of the Vuelta a España saw Bahrain Victorious emerge the biggest winners of the day in the GC battle as Australia’s Jack Haig moved up a spot into third overall while his teammate Gino Mader heads the Best Young Rider’s classification in fifth.
As Haig recounted after the race, the two Bahrain Victorious riders were able to take advantage of Ineos Grenadiers' ferocious accelerations, first by Pavel Sivakov and Tom Pidcock and then by Adam Yates, in the second half of the stage.
“On the longest climb of the day” - a first category midway through the stage - “there was a rolling plateau where people started to gamble and it just happened to be that Gino and me were in the perfect position,” Haig recounted.
“I knew if we were going to get away we needed one of the two Movistar riders, which would ideally be Enric [Mas] and one of the Ineos riders” - either Egan Bernal or Yates - [as] “it basically meant the group behind didn’t do any chasing.”
As Haig pointed out, Mader did much of the spadework in drawing the group of GC favourites clear until they were able to connect up with Bahrain Victorious teammate Mark Padun, who dropped back from the early break.
From then on, both he and Mader could benefit from Padun’s work on the front, both pulling away from Bernal and Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar), the latter the previous occupant of the podium position until he abandoned, and getting as close as possible to the break of the day.
“They both did an awesome ride to the foot of the final climb. I knew Yates was going to attack on the steeper gradients to get as much of an advantage for the final TT, but I managed to limit my losses.”
After holding Yates at just four seconds to the summit of stage 20, Haig is now lying third at 4:48 a minute up on Yates, while Mader is now in fifth at 8:14 with nearly three minutes over Bernal.
Looking ahead to his chances of making the podium, Haig argued that, “It’s a nice position to be in, but it’s definitely not safe and done,” Mader’s options on finishing ahead of Bernal are arguably more solid prior to the TT.
“It was a crazy day. Having Padun in the breakaway really saved our day,” Mader, already a stage winner in the Giro d’Italia this year ahead of Bernal, argued later. “Once Ineos put on the pressure it was full gas and everyone was on the limit.
“I knew I was here for Jack and I wanted to get him on the podium and I think we achieved that and I got a little extra, so it’s been a really nice day.”
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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