Welcome to live coverage of stage 20 of the Vuelta a España!
Today's stage is a 207.8km test from Manzanares El Real to Guadarrama with a brutal up-and-down parcours on the menu for the 148 remaining riders in the race.
207.8km to go
We're underway! With climbing coming straight from the flag, the attacks have immediately started for those desperate for a final chance in the breakaway.
First climb of the day is the category 3 Collado del Portzago (10.8km at 3.4%). The pace is high and it's a sign of what's to come on a final brutal day of hilly racing before the calm flat stage into Madrid tomorrow.
200km to go
No surprise to see Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) back on the move even after his brilliant stage win yesterday. He'll be on a mission to take his fourth stage win today as part of his bounce back from the disappointment of alling out of GC on stage 13.
Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) is riding as Marc Soler does, attacking off the front with pain all over his face. 3.6km to to the crest of this opening climb.
Soudal-QuickStep are putting the team to work for Evenepoel in a large group of riders that have a slim advantage.
Evenepoel has been on the attack since the flag in the King of the Mountains jersey. He's now pushing on through this first descent of the day with all his aerodynamic prowess on show.
A massive group of riders has got up the road, between 35 and 40 riders present
Jumbo-Visma have assumed their position at the head of the peloton with the gap approaching the minute-mark. It's full on racing at the front with the pace being kept high by those getting away.
Evenepoel, Soler, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Andreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny) are among those present that could threaten the victory.
180km to go
31 riders confirmed as present in this huge breakaway. Evenepoel is the closest on GC 27:53 from the lead and despite early reports of Enric Mas (Movistar) possibly making the move, the Spanish rider isn't up the road and is sat in the peloton with the remainder of other GC favourites.
Four of the 31 riders in the break have already won stages at this year's Vuelta: Evenepoel, Kamna, Kron and Rui Costa. Those with the Portuguese former World Champion will be wary of his tactical plays given how he outfoxed Kamna and Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) on stage 15.
Here's a complete list of everyone in the breakaway group:
Remco Evenepoel and three Soudal-QuickStep teammates: Mattia Cattaneo, James Knox and Louis Vervaeke, Wilco Kelderman (Jumbo-Visma), Marc Soler, Finn Fisher-Black (both UAE Team Emirates), Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Wout Poels, Antonio Tiberi (both Bahrain-Victorious), Lennard Kämna, Ben Zwiehoff (both Bora-Hansgrohe), Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ), Romain Bardet (Team dsm-firmenich), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), Iván García Cortina, Einer Rubio (both Movistar), Andreas Kron, Sylvain Moniquet, Lennert Van Eetvelt (all Lotto-Dstny), Edward Planckaert, Jimmy Janssens (both Alpecin-Deceuninck), Dorian Godon, Andrea Vendrame, Nicolas Prodhomme (all AG2R Citroën Team), Rui Costa (Intermarché - Circus - Wanty), Matteo Sobrero (Jayco-AlUla), Élie Gesbert (Team Arkéa Samsic), Fernando Barceló (Caja Rural - Seguros RGA), Joel Nicolau (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Pelayo Sánchez (Burgos-BH).
Soudal-QuickStep have both the most numbers with four riders, and the favourite for (yet another) stage in Evenepoel, and consequently are the team setting the pace in the break. Their lead is up to 3-30 as they climb the second hill of the day, the category 3 Puerto de la Cruz Verde.
1km from the top of the climb. The ever-lively Soler attacked before the top of the last climb to take the maximum KOM points ahead of Evenepoel, will he do so again this time?
In fact, Rui Costa moves to the front of the group over the top of the climb to take the points, white Evenepoel is further back. All this is pretty much moot though, as Evenepoel has the classification sewn up.
The pace was steady over that climb, and slow enough for all 31 riders to remain in the breakaway group. With no GC threats infiltrating it, and all bar four teams (Cofidis, Lidl-Trek, Astana, Total-Energies) represented, the peloton are happy to let them up the road, and despite the slow pace a large gap of 3-30 has opened up between them.
Evenepoel might be the favourite for what would be his fourth stage win of the race, but there’s plenty of talent in their breakaway to rival him.
Marc Soler was climbing excellently earlier in this Vuelta, and has been let off the leash and is free to get into the breakaway since slipping out of the top ten on GC.
Wout Poels has grown into the race and dropped all but a very select few of the GC riders on the Angliru. Now he’s gotten into the break he’ll have a chance to ride for personal glory, in terrain that, as a former Liège–Bastogne–Liège winner, will suit him.
150km to go and the gap is up a little, now to 3-50. There's a long way to go, but it seems likely the stage winner will come from the break.
Some riders are also looking for a second stage win: Lennard Kämna, who triumphed at the end of the first week, and Andreas Kron, hoping to bookend his Vuelta with another win having claimed his first way back on stage two in Barcelona.
The riders in the breakaway are climbing the third hill of the day, La Escondida, which is 8.8km long and averages 4.2%. With 7 more climbs still to come afterwards, nobody wants to commit too much so early, and the pace remains steady.
Jumbo-Visma are controlling the peloton, despite having a man up the road in Kelderman. Evenepoel is the highest placed rider in the break on GC at 27-53, so they can afford to let them get far up the road without having to worry.
Kelderman is talking to the team car now just off the back of the breakaway group. It'll be interesting to see what his plan is today - Kuss, Vingegaard and Roglič are unlikely to need him to drop back given their big advantage on GC, so he should have freedom to go for the stage win, while also not under any obligation to work with the other breakaway riders.
The break has reached the top of the climb, with Geraint Thomas leading them over the summit this time, with no contest for the points. The peloton will be here for about four minutes time.
Here's Sepp Kuss, safely in the peloton. So far this stage is playing out in exactly the kind of relaxed way he'd have hoped for, with him being subjected to no attacks - either from rival teams or his own teammates
130km to go, and the gap is slowly gettig bigger. It's now up to 5-00. That's of no cause for concern yet for anyone in the peloton regarding the GC, though Santiago Buitrago might have to keep an eye on it - he's currently in 10th place, with Evenepoel 15-33 behind.
As you can see here, there are some dark clouds in the sky today. The heavens haven’t opened yet, but the threat is looming over the race and could complicate matters, especially considering all of the descending to be done throughout the stage.
We’re on the fourth climb of the day: Alto de Santa María de la Alameda. This one’s the shortest so far at 5.5km, but also the steepest with an average of 5.5%.
While we’re waiting for the racing to get going here at the Vuelta, why not check out what’s happening over in Switzerland at the Tour de Romandie Féminin? The queen stage of the race has just finished - you can read our report here.
That’s another climb over and done with for the break. They’ll enjoy a brief descent, but will be climbing again soon up the Alto de Robledondo (3.9km at 6.3%).
Here's Juan Ayuso in the peloton. He was riding more aggressively earlier in the Vuelta, and was talking a big game too about challenging for the red jersey, but has since been more humbled. He could yet make a big, bold move in pursuit of the 2-52 he needs to remove Primož Roglič from the podium, but is more likely to be looking over his shoulder at Mikel Landa and Enric Mas - both are within just 30 seconds of his time.
Louis Vervaeke leads the break over the Alto de Robledondo with Evenepoel on his wheel, meaning half of the day’s ten climbs have been completed.
Still no sign of the race livening up yet. The pace is down in the peloton, who are taking the climb very easily.
The gap has grown to almost six minutes as the riders descend to the foot of the next climb. The pace isn't high in the breakaway group, but it's even slower in the peloton.
We're inside the final 100km, and the gap has tipped over six minutes for the first time today.
Evenepoel is by his Soudal-QuickStep team car and having a chat. He’s also picked up an ice pack to wear - despite the grey conditions, and the slow pace, it’s clearly still hot work out there.
The peloton has just finished the first lap of this long circuit, and are about the start climbing La Escondida again.
They're climbing now, and Evenepoel is lurking near the front of the breakaway group. We know he loves to go long, so surely won't wait until the last climb to make his inevitable move.
Jumbo-Visma are riding with more intent on this climb. Robert Gesink is at the front and has stretched the peloton out single file, while the gap to the break has come down to 5-40.
The breakaway has reached the top of the climb, and still remain all together. We continue to await an attack to break up the race.
Now the peloton reach the top. The pace has slackened again, as Dylan Van Baarle calmly eats a gell while approaching the top. The gap is back to over 6 minutes.
Evenepoel is back at the team car again, having another discussion. It'd be interesting to know if he has a set point he's planning to attack at, or improvising. Despite the strength and size of the group, this still feels like his stage to lose given how he’s been riding, but a tactical mishap could see him miss out.
The riders are on the Alto de Santa María de la Alameda again. Evenepoel is riding at the front of the break, and seems to have picked the pace up a bit.
And now we have an attack. At last! Bora's Ben Zwiehoff is the man to ignite the race. The battle for the stage victory begins here.
About five riders joined Zwiehoff initially, and now the rest of the break are making their way back up to them.
The break are all back together again, but there's still 2.5km to ride before the summit for more attacks.
Marc Soler has a dig, but fails to get away. Now Ivan Garcia is on the move.
Garcia's been brought back, as has a counter-attack by Tiberi and Martinez. Less than 1km to the top.
Pelayo Sánchez is the next to make a move, and has a gap as the summit approaches.
Sánchez crossess the top first, and has Cattaneo about to join him. He'll appreciate the company.
It's an interesting move by Cattaneo, as his presence means Evenepoel can follow wheels and wont have to do any work.
Sánchez and Cattaneo have been brought back on the descent. The group is all back together, but hostilities have very much been opened and more attacks are surely imminent with the start of the next climb just a few kilometres away.
That climb is the Alto de Robledondo, the steepest one on this circuit, and the breakaway riders are on it now.
All those attacks have also had the effect of increasing the gap between the peloton and the break. It’s now at 6-50, as Jumbo-Visma continue to set a calm pace.
Soudal-QuickStep have taken control of the break and are setting the pace. It seems they want to prevent any more attacks for now, and so far have succeeded, with none coming on this hill ascent with just 1km left to climb.
Soudal-QuickStep lead all the way to the top, keeping the group together, with Knox first to the summit. It seems the plan is to wait until later for Evenepoel to make his expected move.
Now comes a descent and a short uncategorised rise before the next, and penultimate, climb of the day, Puerto de la Cruz Verde.
The weather's taking a turn for the worse. It's raining a little, and threatening to come down heavier.
The peloton, being led by Van Baarle once more, still hasn't reached the top of the climb. They're now over 8 minutes adrift.
The kilometres are being eaten up quickly on this descent. 50km to go for the break, who will be ascending the unclassified hill shortly.
Soudal-QuickStep have upped the pace on this rise. The weaker climbers in the group are being dropped out of the back.
Knox is the the rider setting the pace, and has teammates Cattaneo, Vervaeke and Evenepoel on his wheel.
The break are descending again, but that rise caused a lot of strain. 15 riders of the original 31 made it to the top together, athough many of the rest are rejoining again now.
Soudal-QuickStep are still motoring on these rolling roads leading to the next climb. Their work has seen the gap to the peloton grow to over 9 minutes.
Incidentally, the break’s advantage means Evenepoel has jumped from 13th to 12th on the virtual GC. Not that he’ll be bothered about that - his one aim today, having sealed the King of the Mountains classification, is to win the stage.
1km until the break start climbing Puerto de la Cruz Verde. This is likely to be a crucial moment in determining who will win the stage
They're on the climb now, just as their lead to the peloton grows to 10 minutes for the first time.
Still Soudal-QuickStep set the pace on the climb, although there has been a change with Vervaeke taking over from Knox. No attacks yet.
3km still to climb, no attacks from the break yet. The pace from Soudal-QuickStep is proving too fast to allow any.
No riders are going off the front of the break, but some have been jettisoned off the back. There are about 20 or so riders left.
Hugh Carthy is right at the back of the group, struggling to hold on. On paper he’s one of the best climbers in the break, but has been well off his best form at this Vuelta.
The break crest the climb with still about 20 riders left in it. Still no attacks, so it seems everything is going to come down to the final climb.
Said climb is Alto San Lorenzo de El Escorial, and will be tackled in about 10km time. It’s a 4.5km effort that averages 6.5%, but features very steep double-digit ramps that are sure to split the breakaway group and ensure the best climbers get a gap.
Among the riders who have been dropped from the lead group are Andreas Kron, Finn Fisher-Black and James Knox. They’re not coming back, either, already several minutes adrift.
Just 20km left now. It's been a long day of racing, and the legs will be starting to hurt. This final climb is set to see carnage in the break.
There’s a change back in the peloton, who are about to reach the top of Puerto de la Cruz Verde. Jumbo-Visma’s Dylan Van Baarle has been dropped, and Arkéa–Samsic have taken control at the front.
Presumably the team are working to defend Cristián Rodríguez's twelth-place on GC, which is currently under threat from Evenepoel.
Back up ahead, the lead group are on the climb, and Cattaneo has taken over the pace-setting.
Evenepoel is on his wheel, but still lots of quality climbers who can challenge him - Kelderman, Poels, Rubio, Thomas, Soler, Bardet, Rui Costa, Martinez and Kämna are all still present.
Attack from Poels!
Lennert Van Eetvelt is trying to follow, but Poels has a gap.
Van Eetvelt has caught up to Poels, and they both have a gap. Evenepoel not looking as strong as expected.
Pelayo Sánchez and Soler are together behind the leading duo.
Evenepoel is in a group behind, with three other riders.
Soler has dropped Sánchez and is charging after Poels and Van Eetvelt.
1km to the summit, and Soler has joined the 2 leaders.
Here comes Evenepoel! He's attacked out of the group behind and is bearing down on the leaders with Sánchez.
And now Poels attacks from the lead group. He appeared to have a gear problem further down the climb, but has clearly fixed it now.
Pelayo Sánchez has dropped Evenepoel - not sure anyone was expecting that on the climb.
Poels reaches the top a little ahead of Soler and Van Eetvelt, followed by Sánchez, then Evenepoel
Sánchez and then Evenepoel get back into the leading group on the descent. The others will have been really hoping to take the Belgian out of contention.
Just a few more kilometres of descending before the flat-run in to the finish. This is shaping up to be an exciting finish.
Evenepoel attacks on the descent! Having been dropped on the climb, he's now flying on the downhill.
Soler's leading the chase back to Evenepoel, and has just about brought him back.
It's kicking off on the climb in the peloton, too, with Movistar setting the pace. Is an Enric Mas attack coming?
Only about 10 riders left in the peloton after that effort - namely, the riders in the top10 of GC
Roglic takes to the front, and has Kuss on his wheel. Jumbo-Visma want this controlled.
Up ahead, just 6km left to ride. The 5 leaders are still together.
Evenepoel's leading the group wit 5km to go. He's got the best pedigree as a sprinter, and all eyes will be on him.
Mas has accelerated in the peoton, but hasn't dropped the riders he's hoping to leapfrog on GC: Ayuso and Landa.
Just 3km to go now for the leaders.
They have to be careful as there's a chase group not far behind them.
The threat of that chasing group has prompted the leaders to keep working together. 1.5km until the finish line.
Final kilometre for the break, looks like it's going to be one of them for the win.
Poels goes early...
Evenepoel is chasing him...
Poels just hangs on for the win!
It was a very close on, but a gesture of frustration from Evenepoel after he lunged for the line confirms Poels as the winner.
On a day described as the Vuelta's answer to Liège–Bastogne–Liège, it seems apt that both first and second on the stage were former winners of that monument.
Meanwhile the reduced peloton is being led by Movistar as they approach to the finish. Mas hasn't managed to get rid of Ayuso or Landa, though.
Poels rode a very smart finale, taking the others by surprise by starting his sprint very early, prior to a corner. Evenepoel managed to latch onto his wheel eventaully, but just too late to come around him on the line.
There are only 10 riders left in the peloton being led by Almeida. They are the riders who make up the top 10 on GC.
The stage passed with virtually no incident for Sepp Kuss, who will now surely be crowned the overall winner.
Here's the picture the Jumbo-Visma PR team wanted - their 3 leaders, Kuss, Vingegaard and Roglic, crossing the line together arm in arm.
This stage all but confirms Kuss as winner of the 2023 Vuelta. It's easy to forget just how much of an outsider going into the Vuelta, but his success is surely matched only by Tao Geoghegan Hart at the 2020 Giro as the biggest Grand Tour upset in the last decade.
Those three Jumbo-Visma dropped out of the peloton in the final kilometre while the others sprinted to the line, meaning they lost a few seconds. But they still comfortably seal all three places on the overall podium, a historic landmark for the team.
All smiles among the Jumbo-Visma riders at the finish. What a relief for the team, after things threatened to boil over a few days ago
Thanks for joining us today. Here's our full report of what happened in the stage, on the day that Wout Poels did what so few have managed at this Vuelta and gotten the better of Remco Evenepoel, and that Sepp Kuss overcame the final hurdle to all-but confirm overall victory.
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