Stage 17 of the Vuelta a España brought another summit finish and with it yet another victory for the breakaway as Rigoberto Urán followed Jay Vine, Richard Carapaz, and Thymen Arensman to claim a mountain stage triumph.
Urán's victory, his first at a Grand Tour since 2017, came after a huge battle among the breakaway on the summit finish, with Lawson Craddock (BikeExchange-Jayco) caught in the final kilometre before a Jesùs Herrada (Cofidis) attack looked to seal the win at 850 metres to go.
The Colombian managed to catch the stage 7 winner, though, passing him inside the final 200 metres to take a thrilling win. Quentin Pacher (Groupama-FDJ) took second just behind, while Herrada was third two seconds later.
Craddock had looked set for a solo victory heading into the closing kilometres of the 9.4km closing climb, having kicked off the attacking from the break 20km out from the finish. He raced up much of the mountain alone, followed closely behind by the remains of the break.
It was Urán who led a select group across as the riders hit the final kilometre, setting up a tense race to the line which saw the 35-year-old secure the 15th win of his career.
With the breakaway finished 5:11 up on the GC favourites, the win also saw Urán leapfrog into the GC top 10. He now lies in ninth, 9:33 down on race leader Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl).
Back in the peloton, Evenepoel defended his overall lead with ease despite an attack by Enric Mas (Movistar) on the closing slopes. The favourites all finished together at over five minutes down, barring João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), who had jumped away to steal some time in the closing kilometre.
Evenepoel, Mas, Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) finished within 13 seconds of Almeida, with Miguel Angel López (Astana Qazaqstan) a further five seconds down and Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) losing 49 seconds in the general classification.
How it unfolded
Following the morning abandon of Primož Roglič following his crash in Tomares on Tuesday, the Vuelta a España rolled on without the three-time champion and to another summit finish at the Monasterio de Tentudía.
A peloton of 138 men started the 162.3km stage, which brought plenty of hills and rolling roads, even if there were no classified climbs on the way to the finish. The final 10km of the stage, though, would be occupied by the final climb to the finish.
The second-category mountain is officially 9.4km long, though is more like two climbs separated by a false flat period in the middle. While the climb averages 5.2%, the first ramp (2.3km at 7.1%) and second ramp (4.1km at 7.5%) would prove more testing than that.
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) was the first attacker of the day, but the Belgian who hadn't seen a break since stage 3 didn't last long out front before being caught. His move did kick off the fight for the breakaway with Clément Champoussin (AG2R Citroën), Robert Stannard (BikeExchange-Jayco), and Ryan Mullen (Bora-Hansgrohe) among the other early, unsuccessful attackers.
It would take 40km, raced at an average of 50kph, before a breakaway got away from the peloton, with major names such as Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates), Bob Jungels (AG2R Citroën), Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-EasyPost), and Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) making the move.
Wright's teammate Gino Mäder was also in there, as was Jungels' teammate Champoussin, plus Jesús Herrada (Cofidis), Quentin Pacher (Groupama-FDJ), Lawson Craddock (BikeExchange-Jayco), Alessandro De Marchi (Israel-Premier Tech), Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo), and Arkéa-Samsic duo Simon Guglielmi and Elie Gesbert.
Several others had attempted to make it across, but that was the group for the day, the peloton letting them go as they built a gap. QuickStep-AlphaVinyl largely rode in control of the peloton, though they weren't overly concerned about the men in the break, letting the move build a gap up to seven minutes.
Urán was the best-placed on GC in the lead group, though at 15 minutes down after a disappointing race he posed little threat to the top of the standings. His lead – and that of his breakmates, remained at seven minutes as the riders headed into the final 50km after a largely quiet day out.
The breakaway riders worked well together for much of the day, with little to fight over before the final kilometres of the day. It wasn't until the 20km to go mark that the riders decided to start taking their chances and attack.
Craddock was the first to make a move, jumping away over an uncategorised climb ahead of the descent towards the base of the Tentudía. He was brought back as Wright struggled out the back, but was quick to counter, heading off alone to pull out a gap on the way down.
The American, fighting for his first career Grand Tour stage win, hit the final climb alone, though he enjoyed only a slim margin of 10 seconds as he began the climb. Further back, the peloton still lay at seven minutes, unworried by the breakaway moves as Ineos Grenadiers, Movistar, and Astana Qazaqstan led the way into the start of the mountain.
Craddock's gap only grew on the lower slopes of the climb, jumping up to 25 seconds as he closed in on the final 5km. Back in the chase group, Gesbert, Urán, and Champoussin made a move as they sought to haul in Craddock.
Into the final 4km, the trio were within 10 seconds of the sole leader, though Gesbert soon let go with the Frenchman unable to keep the pace as Soler, Herrada, and Pacher made their way across. A kilometre later, the pace behind had stalled a little, with Craddock holding his advantage and even adding a few seconds.
The final 2km saw the chasers start to try and attack each other on the 7% slopes, though Craddock had the advantage of making and following his own pace as he approached the finish. It was his former EF teammate Urán led the way across with Herrada following, the pair finally making the catch just under the flamme rouge.
Champoussin and Soler also got across, bringing the lead group to five men in the battle for the finish line. The AG2R man immediately went on the offensive, though Herrada was quick to catch and make an attack of his own soon after.
Urán once again led the chase behind the solo Herrada, who looked set to race away to the win. However, he faded as the gradient ramped up closer to the line, with Urán speeding past just in time to claim the victory ahead of a fast-finishing Pacher.
Back down the climb, second-placed Mas had put in a rare attack as he sought to take the fight to Evenepoel. The Belgian, however, didn't look to be in any trouble on the way up, matching the acceleration and eventually finishing just ahead of the Spaniard.
Almeida, at over seven minutes down on red, was afforded more leeway to move. The Portuguese rider attacked late on after his teammate, podium contender Juan Ayuso, had tried. He was allowed a gap, though only a small one, eventually crossing the line nine seconds up on Evenepoel and Mas, while the remainder of the top 10 contenders – barring Arensman – finished within 25 seconds of him.
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