Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck) proved himself king of the mountains at the Vuelta a España for the second time in three days, triumphing on a summit finish once again at Colláu Fancuaya to win stage 8.
The Australian once again proved the strongest man from the breakaway, soloing home from a powerful group to ride through the fog to another win and with it the polka dot mountain jersey.
Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) had threatened to bring the Alpecin-Deceuninck climber back inside the final kilometres of the steep Asturian climb, but it was Vine who prevailed once more, dragging out 43 seconds by the time he crossed the finish line.
"I think at the start I thought 'I don't if we can stay away' and they seem to be chasing us pretty intently," Vine said after the stage. "So, I decided to target the first few KOMs. In the valley we had a really good group. The FDJ guys had three in the move and QuickStep were controlling, so from that point on I thought 'OK, if I can get the KOM points without too much of a struggle I'll go for it' but the stage was definitely still the main goal."
On the final 10km climb to the finish, Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan) had opened the hostilities with a move 6km from the line. Vine was first to react and then went over the top in response, pushing on alone.
A chase group formed after the break had shattered behind Vine, but nobody would be able to bring him back over the second half of the climb as the riders ascended above 1,000 metres of altitude.
"Lutsenko did a starting move, and I was sort of in the wheel, so I decided to follow. After he pulled off there was no indication that he was going to do a second attack. I decided it was about a 25-minute effort from here, similar to what I did two days ago. I kept the pressure on and after a minute and a half I looked down and there was no wheel. I forced myself to get to the next hairpin and then I looked back and there was no-one, so I kept going."
The Spaniard took second place, while Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) was third. After 1:20 of waiting, the GC men emerged from the fog onto the final ramp, with red jersey Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) leading a select group home.
Evenepoel finished with Enric Mas (Movistar) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in tow, with Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) the next best men on the road, 13 seconds down.
Further back, the likes of João Almeida, Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) and the rest lost 50 seconds and more at the finish.
How it unfolded
Stage 8 of the Vuelta a España saw the peloton depleted further by three COVID-19 cases and the illness of Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ), but 171 riders took the start in Pola de Laviana with the race heading back into the mountains.
The 153.4km stage would bring the second summit finish of the race at another new climb, the 10.1km, 8.5% Colláu Fancuaya. Five other classified climbs dotted the route, including the second-category Alto de la Colladona at the start and the Alto de la Mozqueta 50km later, but the stage would be all about the final summit finish.
With climbing straight from the off it was no surprise that the attacking began almost as soon as the flag was dropped to start the stage. Riders such as Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), and stage 6 winner Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck) were among the early movers on the 6.4km Colladona.
Richard Carapaz also infiltrated the group, though the Ineos Grenadiers man – who lay within three minutes of the red jersey – would soon drop back to the peloton, his presence in the move too dangerous for him to continue.
Over the top of the climb, it was Vine who claimed the full five points to add to his 11 from the Pico Jano and take him to 16 and the virtual KOM lead. Marc Soler, who triumphed in Bilbao on stage 5, followed, making it a two-man move on the way down as more attackers chased furthere back.
QuickStep-AlphaVinyl, controlling the peloton for Evenepoel, decided the move out front was a satisfactory one and duly knocked off the pace on the descent as 10 men came together at the head of the race.
Vine and Soler were joined by Lutsenko, Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Lucas Hamilton (BikeExchange-Jayco), and Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ). Armirail's teammates Thibaut Pinot and Sébastien Reichenbach bridged over, too, adding more firepower to what was already a quality breakaway group.
At the Mozqueta, Vine snaffled another five points to bring his total to 21, while shortly afterwards reports filtered through that KOM leader Victor Langellotti (Burgos-BH) had abandoned the race with a suspected broken collarbone and concussion following a crash.
On the way down the climb and into the final 100km, the break enjoyed a 3:45 gap over the peloton as QuickStep continued on the front.
Barring Itamar Einhorn (Israel-Premier Tech) becoming the next man to abandon the Vuelta, little happened during the mid-part of the stage as QuickStep continued to control and Vine added another three points to his haul on the Puerto de Tenebreo at 55km to go. As the leaders headed towards the penultimate climb of Perlavia, the peloton still lay 4:20 back.
At the top, Vine grabbed another three points to make it 27 in the KOM standings, leaving the final summit 40km later the main prize left to fight over. Before the climb, though, Pedersen still had 20 points to take at the intermediate sprint 25km from the line to take over the green jersey lead.
On the run-in to the base of the Colláu Fancuaya, QuickStep remained on the front, chipping away at the break's lead and taking a minute off as they hit the final 20km. Pedersen was gone from the front group shortly afterwards as the road rose up, while Armirail was next to go before the climb proper.
Three minutes back in the peloton, QuickStep were joined up front by Ineos Grenadiers, though the Belgian team were back in control as the road reared upwards. Lutsenko and Vine launched the accelerations in the break at 6km to go, with the Australian pushing on alone soon after as the break shattered behind him.
A kilometre later, Vine was making his way up the 17% gradients at 2:20 up on the peloton as Pinot, Soler, and Taaramäe led the chase 25 seconds down, though the group seemed to be making little headway.
Back down the road, the GC group was blowing up on the harsh gradients as Evenepoel led the way with Enric Mas (Movistar), Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), and Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) the only men able to follow him.
At 1.5km to go, Soler had emerged as the solo chaser behind Vine, who looked set for a second mountain stage win in just three days. The Spaniard had raced another yo-yo stage, as he did during his stage 5 victory, but couldn't make it across to the super-strong Vine.
Once again, the GC battle blew up behind the break as Evenepoel looked the strongest of the lot for a second time in the mountains. The young Belgian rode home with Mas and Roglič as the three proved the strongest in the fight for the red jersey, as a swathe of their rivals shed yet more time on what was another hard day out at the Vuelta.
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