López writes his name in the Gamoniteiru
Queen stage with a debut finish: the Gamoniteiru was an unknown. Today was the last great battle of this Vuelta 2021 and nobody was going to hold anything back. In the end, little strength and a very hard pass resulted in an attack by Supermán López in the last part of the pass giving the first victory to Movistar in La Vuelta a España 2021. And what a victory it was. Mas held off Roglic throughout the climb.
First part: attack, large group, 5 minutes for Storer
The last bullet arrived, the silver bullet, the moment of truth. Stage 18 was undoubtedly the last step before the final days of this Vuelta 2021 and it brought a real stage, a demonic profile and a main course at the end: the debut of the Gamoniteiru, an insane pass of almost 15 kilometres at 9.8% at an altitude of more than 1700 metres at the summit. A special category hell.
Looking at the profile, one forgot that the cyclists had to climb three other passes beforehand: San Llaurienzu, a first category climb, 10 kilometres at 8.6%; La Cobertoria, 8 kilometres at 8.6%; and a second category ramp, the Alto La Segá, 12 kilometres at almost 4%. Of course, with such a plan for today, it was only natural that fear would spread among the peloton, some 150 brave riders in search of survival over the 162 kilometres of the stage.
But among the brave there are always fearless ones. The first of them was James Piccoli. The Israel Start-Up Nation rider attacked at kilometre three and broke the calm, which was joined by a small group that kept adding riders and adding riders, until there were 32 at kilometre 15, with a lead of just over 1 minute and 20 seconds.
That gap went on and on, unchecked and without fear on the part of the important teams in this Vuelta 2021. Piccoli didn't have enough with that first attack, and attacked again inside the breakaway, a fact that meant that, no matter how much the peloton pulled, the gap remained the same.
Cold day, with the threat of rain from yesterday, but with no rain during the morning. Good weather for pedalling, bad for downhill and facing the cold air, so the cyclists protected themselves so as not to catch cold on the way down from San Llaurienzu.
From the breakaway, a group of 18 riders first segmented and, from among them, Storer made a breakthrough. He broke away alone 70 metres from the finish line and took a minute from his pursuers and a little more from the large group from which he had escaped. Movistar, in the frame, pulled the peloton and reduced the advantage over the big group, but Storer increased his advantage over them and went two minutes ahead. The situation with 30 kilometres to go, with the last two passes ahead and the Gamoniteiru waiting, was just that, but there was still plenty of room for improvement.
The outcome at Gamoniteiru
Obviously, Movistar's hopes were pinned on Roglic faltering after yesterday's exhibition in Covadonga. The Slovenian was still in tune with the group, so Movistar tried to up the pace, to try to leave him alone. Kuss came in second yesterday, so all alone was going to be difficult, but it was worth a try.
UAE began to pull hard and caught all the escapees. All of them except Storer, who was in the last stretch with hardly any options. A brave rider and a great Vuelta 2021 for the DSM rider. In that second category Cordal UAE tightened all the nuts. Majka collaborated with his leader and filtered the group of favourites, something that was also useful for Movistar, with only Mas, López and José Joaquín Rojas who was a supporter until he was exhausted. There was a very fast downhill and the climb to the hell of Gamoniteiru.
And, with no time for doubt, the Gamoniteiru began. Here was this pass that has generated so many expectations. Bardet had gone but had rejoined the peloton, so it was Storer against the world. Just over two minutes for him when Rojas disconnected with 12 kilometres to go. And that's when David De la Cruz emerged. Tremendous the cyclist from Sabadell: slow but steady start, like a slab, break away from the bunch and take a minute, catch Storer and rush with attitude towards the last 7 kilometres of Gamoniteiru. Excellent.
Storer stuck to the Catalan's wheel, but held on for a kilometre. However, the Intermarché was in the mood to pull and the advantage was down to 35 seconds, but David's cadence gave hope. With just over 4 kilometres to go, things changed: a tremendous change of pace by Egan Bernal, and Roglic on his wheel. The Colombian was back in the lead, but Lopez was very attentive and closed the gap, taking Mas with him. But all this was damaging for De la Cruz, who saw his chances vanish. And, after that effort by Superman Lopez, the Movistar rider could see that he was stronger, so he didn't think twice: 3.5 kilometres from the finish line, he attacked with an impressive cadence, with legs from another galaxy.
Lopez took 35 seconds and passed De la Cruz like a motorbike. With 2 kilometres to go, Roglic attacked. Only Enric Mas and Egan Bernal held him off, enough for Roglic to put on the handbrake. Just when they regrouped, Roglic accelerated again and Bernal replied. Small attacks impossible to make big differences on a pass like the Gamoniteiru. So they ended up regrouping after a few metres. López was going to win big, like a champion. He is a cyclist with a winning character who adds another mythical summit to his list of victories: his fourth stage win in La Vuelta, this time in the fog.
- López, M.A. (Movistar) | 4:41:21
- Roglic, P. (Jumbo Visma) | +14
- Mas, E. (Movistar) | +20
- Roglic, P. (Jumbo Visma) | 73:24:25
- Mas, E. (Movistar) | +2:30
- López, M.A. (Movistar) | +2:53