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Vuelta a Espana 2018: Stage 19

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Good afternoon and welcome to the beginning of the end. The beginning of the end of the Vuelta a Espana that is. Today is the first of two crucial mountain stages that will ultimately decide the winner of the 2018 race. 

We have a treat in store for you today as the Vuelta heads out of Spain and into Andorra. There is just one classified climb today, the Coll de la Rabassa, but there is 2,618 metres of ascent in this 154km stage. Right from the word go, the riders will begin a upwards grind to the official foot of the climb with 17km to go. The Rabassa is peaks out at over 2,000 metres so altitude will be a big factor in the finale. 

The riders have set off from Lleida and are currently making their way through the neutral section. They should pass through kilometre zero in a little over five minutes. 

Simon Yates lost a bit of time to Alejandro Valverde on Wednesday's stage and goes into this penultimate mountain day with a 25-second lead over the Spaniard. 

If you want to take a closer look at what to expect in the next two days, read Alasdair Fotheringham's excellent preview of the Vuelta's trip to Andorra, here.

We have one confirmed DNS in Lukas Postlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe). That leaves us with 159 riders compared to the 176 that started the race. 

Simon Yates might be from Bury but he knows this area very well. This is what he had to say at the start of the day. 

Simon Yates might be from Bury but he knows this area very well. This is what he had to say at the start of the day.

The flag has dropped and we begin our trek into the Andorran mountains. 

There was a two-wheeled star of another kind at the start line earlier on. MotoGP champion Mac Marquez, who is from Catalonia, paid a visit to the Vuelta paddock. He spoke with race director Javier Guillen, visited Peter Sagan on the Bora-Hansgrohe bus and started the day's stage. 

It has been a very busy start to the day and after 10km we have four riders with a very slim advantage over the peloton. 

The four-man move has been reeled in. There is a lot of competition to get into the breakaway and it is not going to be let go too easily, unlike yesterday. 

Nairo Quintana's third week hasn't gone brilliantly so far and he is sitting in sixth place after dropping off the podium at the start of the week. He's still determined to claw his way back up the standings over the next two days. 

Scott have released pictures of Matteo Trentin's European Champs bike. Trentin won the title in Glasgow last month and has been riding the newly done up bike at the Vuelta a Espana. You can take a closer look at it here.

125km remaining from 154km

All of this aggressive racing is also softening up the general classification riders. There will be no saving of the legs ahead of the final climb as we continue this high pace. 

This is one of the early breakaway attempts that was unable to snap the elastic. 

Today's finish climb is not new to the Vuelta a Espana, but there will be some in the peloton that it will be new to. The climb was last featured in full in 2008 when Alessandro Ballan won, en-route to taking his world title in Verese - incidentally, the first World Championships that I ever went to. Riders in today's peloton that were racing on that day are Alejandro Valverde, Igor Anton, Hubert Dupont and Nicolas Roche. Team Sky DS Gabriel Rasch was also racing on that day. 

107km remaining from 154km

Movistar is doing a big turn on the front of the peloton and they haven't quite let this one go yet. The gap stands at just over a minute and it is coming down. Don't go and make that cuppa just yet, we still have a fight on our hands. 

Mitchelton-Scott are on the brink of their biggest ever result. They came close at the Giro d'Italia before Simon Yates' spectacular collapse in the final week. They've learned from that and have been trying to keep Adam Yates as fresh as possible to help his brother. We saw him doing a big turn earlier in the week and he will be key in the coming days. Read more about their approach the Vuelta with Matt White here.

99km remaining from 154km

Here was the group before Clarke sat up. 

With the gap being brought down to just 10 seconds, several riders have bridged across to Kwiatkowski and Ghebreigzabhier. We now have nine up front and more are trying to get across. 

94km remaining from 154km

More and more riders are trying to get across but the peloton is still close behind. The pace has the riders in single file, it's brutal. 

Attacks are coming from the breakaway too. Alesaandro de Marchi is one of the instigators, no surprise there. Pierre Rolland is among them and Michal Kwiatkowski is handing in there and it looks like his teammate Sergio Henao might be in there too. It's like trying to count cats in a playground at the moment. 

With just 90 kilometres to go, will we see a breakaway go at all? Movistar are not intent on letting something go clear just yet and they've moped up all but around six riders. 

It is seven riders up front for now and they are: Sergio Henao (Team Sky), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), Jesus Herrada (Cofidis), Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), Igor Anton (Dimension Data), Pierre Rolland (EF Education First-Drapac), Alessandro de Marchi (BMC Racing). However, there are still more attacks and it hasn't settled at all. 

The peloton brings back this group of seven and Thomas De Gendt now tries to go off the front with a teammate. He currently leads the mountains classification. 

The peloton brings back this group of seven and Thomas De Gendt now tries to go off the front with a teammate. He currently leads the mountains classification. 

For reference, this is how it stands in the mountains classification at the moment. 

Another move has gone clear with Tao Geoghegan Hart leading the charge. He has a teammate with him, perhaps Jonathan Castroviejo, EF Education First have two riders in there too, while Lotto Soudal, Groupama-FDJ and Burgos BH both have a rider in there. The peloton is not letting them go, however.

Away from the racing for a moment, if I may, Colombia have named their line-up for the World Championships. It is a formidable team with many of the riders in contention here at the Vuelta a Espana. Ivan Sosa will headline the nation's under 23 team, too. Read more about it here.

Ok, back to the racing and we now have three riders off the front of the peloton. It looks like Tom Van Asbroeck (EF Education First), Jonathan Castroviejo (Team Sky) and Benjamin Thomas (Groupama-FDJ). They have a very small margin at the moment. 

News coming in that Laurens De Plus has abandoned the race, bringing the peloton down to 158 riders after Postlberger's earlier DNS. 

76km remaining from 154km

Movistar still working hard on the front. They have the whole team working on the front and the gap is just a minute at the moment and it isn't growing. 

71km remaining from 154km

A discussion going on between Van Asbroeck and Castroviejo in the breakaway. The former tapped the latter on the back. Maybe discussing the future of this breakaway. 

It seems Van Asbreock was informing his companions that he'd had enough and was going to drop back to the peloton. We have just two riders in the break now and their advantage is just 1:10 at the moment. 

Some more non-Vuelta news for you today and Spanish newspaper AS reported that WADA have made an appeal to the courts in an attempt to be allowed to reveal the names of some of those involved in Operacion Puerto. Read more about that here.

64km remaining from 154km

Of course, yesterday's stage is proof that just about anything can happen at the Vuelta a Espana but the leaders will need more than two minutes in hand when they hit the bottom of that final climb. 

It will be interesting to see how Movistar and the other GC teams play it today because the intermediate sprint comes just before the Coll de la Rabassa. With bonus seconds available, will Movistar try to shut this breakaway down before then? Even if they don't, there will still be one bonus seconds up for grabs, but they could do with the full haul of three. There are also 10 available on the finish line for the stage winner.

Team Sky were quite active in the first half of this stage and did finally get Castroviejo into the breakaway. Ahead of the start, David de la Cruz said they would take an aggressive approach in the final mountain stages. 

56km remaining from 154km

A great image of Simon Yates and Alejandro Valverde on the start line this morning. There will be no such niceties when they are knocking seven bells out of each other on the final climb. 

Pavel Kochetkov pays a visit to the medical car. It looks like he's got his fingers caught on something and he's getting his right hand taped up. 

49km remaining from 154km

Just under 30 kilometres until the foot of the climb and Movistar is still working on the front. They complained earlier in the race that Mitchelton did not help them make the chase, but they seem more than content to put in the effort today. Mitchelton playing this well as they keep their noses out of the wind for now. 

Some of you may have followed on social media Larry Warbasse and Conor Dunne on their #NoGoTour following the demise of the Aqua Blue team last month. Dunne is still searching for a new team but yesterday it was confirmed that Warbasse had signed a one-year deal with AG2R La Mondiale. Read about that here.

Thibaut Pinot has had a mixed Vuelta a Espana. After losing time early on, he won at Lagos de Covadonga last weekend. He's feeling the strain of a three-week race but he's keen to get a little bit more out of his Vuelta.

37km remaining from 154km

The peloton is on a short descent but from here it will be a gradual ride to the bottom of the climb, where the gradients start at 13 per cent. 

This is what the riders can expect at the end of today's stage. 

32km remaining from 154km

The two groups have come back together but the peloton is strung out and there are several riders that have been distanced. 

That is a massive show of strength from Movistar. Can they keep piling on the pressure or is this too much too soon? We'll have to wait and see. Remember, the gap is just 25 seconds between Yates and Valverde. 

That upping in pace has brought the gap to the escapees down to 1:26. They keep plugging along at their own pace for now as we enter the final 30 kilometres. 

Just over 10 kilometres before we reach La Rabassa. Seems like an appropriate moment to remind you of the general classification. I will keep it pinned to the right side of the page too as these times will be very important to remember.

The vote for the most aggressive rider for the day is open for the next 15 minutes. Jonathan Castroviejo, Benjamin Thomas and Imanol Erviti have been nominated. Head here if you want to make your vote.

22km remaining from 154km

Benvinguts a Andorra. 

The last 2km of La Rabassa is a lot harder than the profile suggests. Flat section 600-400m to go then the final kick to the line is 8-10%. Add in the altitude and maybe see some small gaps.

19km remaining from 154km

Here are Tony Gallopin's thoughts on La Rabassa. The Frenchmen is currently sitting in 10th place overall after winning a stage in the opening week. 

17km remaining from 154km

Interestingly, Quintana is just behind Anacona on the front of the peloton. LottoNL-Jumbo are keeping a watchful eye and George Bennett is in Quintana's wheel and he has Kruijswijk right behind him. Simon Yates is next. 

Quintana has moved further back now and is with Valverde. 

The peloton is being whittled down very quickly as riders get blown out the back due to the gradient. Peter Sagan looks like he's come to a standstill as he just tries to push the pedals around. 

Gorka Izagirre is among those that have been dropped. He would have been a good support rider for his brother Ion, who is sitting seventh overall. 

14km remaining from 154km

Sepp Kuss has been dropped from the group. He did such a good job for the LottoNL-Jumbo team earlier in the race. This is his first appearance at a Grand Tour. 

Simon Yates swings across the road and takes a good look back at see who is in this front group. Jack Haig is in there for him and it looks like Adam Yates is moving up. 

13km remaining from 154km

It is still Bennett up front for the Dutch team. He was in contention for the overall going into the second week but suffered hard last week and is now more than 40 minutes back on the overall standings. The team's hopes now lie with Kruijswijk, who is fifth for now. 

12km remaining from 154km

Quintana needs a lot of time and this is a long way out. Bennett and Kruijswijk are quickly on his wheel. 

Mitchelton-Scott are trying to pull them back and the gap is quite small at the moment. 

Fabio Aru has been put in trouble by this push in pace and has been distanced. 

11km remaining from 154km

De la Cruz has been gapped now. This has not been the best Vuelta for him. 

Pinot wants to join the party up front and he bridges across to Quintana and Kruijswijk. 

This is a very strong lead group and the gap is growing ever so slightly. 

Pinot pushes on and the other two are forced to chase. Mitchelton-Scott continues to lead the chase in the group behind. 

10km remaining from 154km

Simon Yates attacks and gets across to the three leaders.

Yates moves straight up to the front of the group and is now setting the pace. The others seem content to sit in his wheel. 

Valverde is of course in the group behind, giving Quintana the perfect excuse to do diddly squat in the front group. Movistar would prefer that it was Valverde up there. 

8km remaining from 154km

Wow, Quintana pulls the handbrake and drops out of the leading group. The chasers are not that far behind though and perhaps he's looking to help Valverde. 

A helicopter shot shows that the gap to the leaders is only around 15-20 seconds. The sight of Quintana coming back lights things up and we see a few little digs. 

Quintana is pacing Valverde now. They are the only two Movistar riders left in that group. We get our first time check and it's 15 seconds. 

6km remaining from 154km

Kelderman attacks and Bilbao tries to chase

A puncture for Quintana. Oh no!

A F1-speed change of wheel for Quintana and he's on his merry way again but he really didn't need that. 

The pace has slowed while Quintana tries to get back on but that sees the gap to the Simon Yates group is over 30 seconds now. 

As the gradients ease slightly, Gallopin heads off after Kelderman and the three up front. 

My apologies, the 30 seconds is to Kelderman. The gap to the Valverde group is now a minute. Holy smoke. 

4km remaining from 154km

Quintana is trying his best but cannot make a dent in the gap to Yates. After a quick discussion with Bilbao, Lopez attacks and Quintana is dropped. 

3km remaining from 154km

Pinot attacks

2km remaining from 154km

The front group is all together as we go into the final two kilometres and they have 44 seconds on Kelderman and 1:04 on the Valverde group. If things continue as they are, Kruijswijk should make it back onto the podium. Pinot should also make up a place in the top 10. 

Another attack from Lopez

Quintana off the back again but Valverde, Mas and Uran get up to Lopez. 

Repeated attacks from the main chase group and Valverde can't take the pace. He is distanced as is Kelderman, who was brought back. 

The leaders are into the final kilometre, minus Kruijswijk, who has been dropped. 

Further back, another attack from Lopez and Uran is dropped. Only Mas can go with him. 

Pinot attacks and he takes his second win of the Vuelta a Espana. 

Yates crosses the line four seconds later and Kruijswijk makes it over about 10 seconds after Pinot. 

Uran is back with Lopez and Mas an he attacks. He wants some seconds. 

Uran takes fourth but Lopez and Mas are right behind him. , Kelderman is next up and then Valverde hits the line over a minute behind Pinot.

Quintana comes over the line 1:48 back. 

Riders are coming over the line in dribs and drabs. That was a brutal day out. 

Movistar really laid it out today but it blew up in their face. Valverde holds onto second place but he's now 1:38 behind Yates, who looks much more likely to ride into Madrid with the red jersey on his back. 

Kruijswijk is one of the major winners today. After suffering on Wednesday, he has vaulted back onto the podium with a 17-second gap to Mas in fourth place. 

Here is how the stage finished

Here are the new standings. The same riders are in the top 10 but there has been a bit of movement. 

A comment from your winner today, Thibaut Pinot.

That is two very canny victories from Pinot. He's been a bit on and off in the Vuelta, but on his good days he has been top notch. He would have preferred a much better GC placing and he can still climb the standings but two wins is a nice haul for the Frenchman. It is a good sign for him ahead of the World Championships at the end of the month. 

Steven Kruijswijk really helped set up the move that did so much for Pinot and Yates, following that attack from Quintana near the bottom of the climb. Here is what he had to say after the finish. 

Kruijswijk prefers the long grinds like today, where he can push out a steady pace. It's the really steep stuff that generally puts him in trouble. Tomorrow is brutal with so many climbs but they're generally quite steady so should suit him. The stage stays above 1,000 metres for most of the day but does not go above 2,000, which will be music to his ears if he suffered in the final kilometres of today's stage. If Valverde has another bad day, he could make his way up to second overall. 

One small consolation for Movistar is that they're still in command for the team classification. They lead Bahrain-Merida by more than 27 minutes. I'm sure they would give that away to take the overall title. Save for something miraculous, Valverde does not look like he will win the race. Instead, it seems that he could be in a battle to save his podium place. If he has another day like today, both Kruijswijk and Mas could jump above him and maybe even Lopez if he isn't careful. 

Simon Yates took a massive step towards taking the overall title at the Vuelta a Espana. He is understandably cautious about his chances after his Giro d'Italia experiences and with such a tough day still to come. He was also very complimentary about Pinot and the work he did in the lead group. 

Yates collects another red jersey.

For results, images and a comprehensive report of today's action, make sure you go here

Thibaut Pinot celebrating a second stage victory at the Vuelta a Espana. 

That is it from our coverage of today's Vuelta a Espana stage. We all need some time to recover after that frenetic stage but I hope you'll join us tomorrow for a leg-stinging stage through Andorra. Don't forget, we will have plenty of reaction coming in from our reporters on the ground, Alasdair Fotheringham and Patrick Fletcher. 

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