A day after he came agonisingly close to winning a second steep, uphill Vuelta a España stage, Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo) went back to his sprinting roots in Cordoba to claim a finely calculated victory over Deceunink-QuickStep’s Andrea Baglioli and Team BikeExchange’s Michael Matthews.
What made his victory more impressive was that Cort had been in the thick of the action on very different terrain the day before. He was the last of a five-man break to be caught on Wednesday’s 'Mur de Huy' summit finish at Valdepeñas de Jaén as Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Enric Mas (Movistar) powered towards the line.
Then on Thursday, on a radically different finish, the versatile Dane came off a perfectly-timed late lead-out from teammate and former Vuelta stage winner Jens Keukeleire that allowed him to go for the line, with just enough space to fend off a fast-accelerating Baglioli.
The Dane recognised that Keukeleire had been instrumental in putting him in the right place at the right time to claim his fourth career sprint victory out of five Vuelta stages.
“He did an amazing job, and the first time he did that for me was actually here when we were teammates [in Orica-BikeExchange] and I won in Madrid in 2016,” Cort said, recalling his second Vuelta stage victory on the final day of the Vuelta five years back.
“I have to thank him and all my teammates for supporting me on a day when I had tired legs from Wednesday’s stage, but I got through all the same.”
As well as feeling the knock-on effects of Wednesday’s stage, like the rest of the peloton, Cort had to face the triple challenge of an ultra-fast stage, temperatures peaking at around 40C degrees and two deceptively-tough climbs in the final 50 kilometres.
“That last climb [Alto del 14% - Ed] was very hard, on the steep part between two and one kilometres from the top I was trying to do my it at my own tempo but I was getting dropped from the bunch,” Cort said.
“But I gained confidence when I saw that Matthews and Matteo Trentin [UAE Team Emirates] had been dropped too and I could come back with those guys.
“Matthews' team were very strong pulling back the break, and then me and Jens talked through what we knew had to be done. A huge thanks to him.”
As for the heat, Cort recognised that it had been tough. “It was 39 degrees out there, and I think the team had a lot of people out there on the road. They were doing a very important job giving out the bidons. I got through a lot of cold drinks.”
Already a stage winner at the summit finish of Cullera, as well as third in a bunch sprint in Molina de Aragon, Cort admitted that he had not expected to be in such good shape on the climbs so quickly. But once he realised he was doing so well on the hillier stages, he realised he had to take advantage of it.
“Me and the team talked it through and we said that reduced bunch sprints like today’s were a definitive option. So they did a great job looking after me and I could sit at the back for many hours while other guys were fighting for the break today.
“I felt the effort from yesterday in my legs on the late climbs today, but then I could get over them with the bunch and be ready to go for the sprint, and that’s what mattered at the end.”
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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