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Vuelta a España: Storer takes King of Mountain lead as reward for solo break

ALTU DEL GAMONITEIRU SPAIN SEPTEMBER 02 Michael Storer of Australia and Team DSM celebrates winning the polka dot mountain jersey on the podium ceremony after the 76th Tour of Spain 2021 Stage 18 a 1626km stage from Salas to Altu dEl Gamoniteiru 1770m lavuelta LaVuelta21 on September 02 2021 in Altu dEl Gamoniteiru Spain Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images
Michael Storer (Team DSM) steps into the lead of the Mountains Classification on stage 18 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Michael Storer (Team DSM) set out on a long range attack on stage 18 of the Vuelta a España, chasing another stage victory to add to the two he has already swept up at the Spanish Grand Tour this year. Caught on the final climb, this time the stage win was out of reach for the 24 year old Australian but he still ended up with something to show for his efforts, the lead in the King of the Mountain classification. 

Storer, who was also given the combativity award after his 60km solo break, started the day in second place in the climbers competition, which his teammate Romain Bardet leading with a substantial advantage. Bardet’s tally of 51 points at the end of stage 17 left him 17 points ahead of the Australian, and one more point ahead of Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), while Rafal Majka (UAE-Team Emirates) sat just a little further back with 29 points. 

When the large break got away on the testing 162km stage finishing atop the Altu d'El Gamoniteiru, there were two of the riders from that top five in it, Majka and Storer, who of course had every incentive to take the opportunity to soak up those King of the Mountain points. That meant when the UAE-Team Emirates rider came to the front of the group near the top of the first climb, the Puertu de San Llaurienzu, Storer and Thymen Arensman were quick to protect the jersey – then on the back of teammate Bardet in the peloton – taking the top two spots for Team DSM and leaving Majka with the lesser points of third place. 

Then, as Storer continued out the front after launching on the Altu de la Cobertoria and continued to add points it soon became clear that the man most likely to take the jersey from Bardet on stage 18 was actually his Australian teammate.

“I’m happy to keep the jersey in the team today,” Storer said in a team statement. “Seeing as I was in the break it was worth picking up the points; it doesn’t matter who it’s with in the end, just as a team we want to win the jersey so it’s better if two of us have plenty of points going into the next stages.”

Storer ended the day with 59 points, while Bardet attacked out of the peloton to take second on the penultimate climb and lift his tally to 54 points, while overall race leader Roglič’s second on the summit finish line narrowed the gap and put him in third place in the mountains competition with 48 points.

Keeping the polka-dot jersey in the team, however, wasn’t the goal of the day as Storer, who is moving to Groupama-FDJ next year, was looking for a third solo win at the Vuelta to add to his victories on stage 7 and stage 10.

That is why he launched from the break on the second of four climbs, with more than 70km still to go, as with Bahrain Victorious leading the chase the gap was kept too small to instil confidence the group out the front could survive even to the start of the final challenge of the Altu d’El Gamoniteiru, let alone to the top of the 14.6km ascent with an average gradient of 9.8 per cent.

“The peloton didn’t give us much room and we only had four minutes on the second big climb so we really knew that we had to push the pace if we wanted to go for the stage,” said Storer. “We were hoping that some other people would come with me so I’d have some company through the valley road but no one reacted when I pushed the pace so unfortunately I was by myself.”

“I was happy I could get over the second last climb still in front. Heading onto the last climb we knew I probably needed more time than two minutes because it was a long way through that valley road and there are limits to what’s possible to hold on out front. Especially when a lot of teams seemed interest in closing the gap, so it was a bit unlucky that we didn’t get the big advantage needed for the last climb.”

Storer was caught ten kilometres from the finish line, first by David de la Cruz (UAE-Team Emirates) and then by the rest of the overall contenders as the battle to secure the podium spots played out. Miguel Ángel López (Movistar) ultimately claimed victory on the queen stage of the Vuelta a España, while race leader Roglič came second ahead of Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers). Bardet was the first Team DSM rider over the line in 12th place. Once caught Storer dropped off the pace and finished in 37th place, 11:25 behind the stage winner.