Michael Woods of EF Education First-Drapac proved the strongest of four riders from the break who were together as they entered the final kilometre of a brutal final climb of today’s Stage 17 at the Vuelta to win in the fog that shrouded the summit of the Balcon de Bizkaia.
Behind, race leader Simon Yates of Mitchelton-Scott ceded 8 seconds to his closest rival, Alejandro Valverde of Movistar but retains a 25 second lead.
The big losers among the overall contenders were the Spaniard’s team-mate Nairo Quintana, and the man who leapfrogged the Colombian into third place yesterday, LottoNL-Jumbo’s Steven Kruiswijk, who crossed the line together, 56 seconds behind Yates.
As a result, Quick-Step’s Enric Mas moves up to third overall, 1 minute 22 seconds off the lead, with Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez a further 14 seconds behind in fourth place.
Once again it was a big break that eventually formed on today’s 157-koilometre stage from Getxo, comprising 26 riders, among them former Vuelta champion Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain-Merida and the ever-combative Thomas De Gendt of Lotto-Soudal, the latter on the hunt for mountains points.
The final. 7.3-kilometre climb had an average gradient of 9.7 per cent but ramped up to a leg-sapping 25 per cent with around 2.5 kilometres to go.
By the time the general classification contenders hit that point of the ascent, Quintana had already been dropped and never looked like recovering, and Valverde’s status as Movistar’s undisputed leader as the race heads into its final days looks assured as he attacked inside the closing few hundred metres to close the gap on Yates.
Ahead of them, just four riders from the break remained in contention as they headed under the flamme rouge and into the final kilometre.
Besides stage winner Woods, the group contained Team Sky’s David de la Cruz, Dylan Teuns of BMC Racing and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Rafal Majka.
The latter was hoping to celebrate his 29th birthday with a stage win, but after being briefly dropped alongside Teuns with 1.5 kilometres to go had no energy left after battling to rejoin the leaders.
Woods’ attack inside the closing kilometre proved decisive. The effort the Canadian had to make to distance his rivals was clear on his face, although he revealed after the stage that there was something else at stake - his desire to win the stage in tribute to his stillborn son.
We'd be happy for Woodsy regardless but part of our emotion is all about this: "My wife had a stillbirth two months ago. We lost the little guy. His name was Hunter. The whole time I was going up the climb, I was thinking of him. I wanted to win so badly for him + I did it." pic.twitter.com/bu2bCZBf7T
— EF Education First - Drapac p/b Cannondale (@Ride_Argyle) September 12, 2018
Teuns would finish second, 5 seconds behind, with an identical gap to de la Cruz and Majka having to settle for fourth.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.