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Gesink was overhauled by Remco Evenepoel within sight of the finishline atop the Alto del Piornal on stage 18 of the race Thursday in a nailbiter of a finish.
“I was happy to be in the break … but not so happy after that,” Gesink joked at the finish. “You win some you lose some.”
Jumbo-Visma vowed to claw something back from a race gone wrong, and Dutch veteran Gesink became the rider to try when he made the barnstormer break that formed early in Thursday’s mountain stage deep in the rugged Extremadura.
“I was happy with a good reset for the team, we set our mindset, we came here to win with Primož,” Gesink said.
“Yesterday was a tough day and we showed today we have nice legs to do something nice with him as a team. But unfortunately, it was a great day until 200 meters to go.”
A frantic flurry of attacks unfurled in the GC group behind Gesink after he got away high on the grinding Piornal summit and wrestled his bike toward a standout solo victory.
Evenepoel’s storming late acceleration from Enric Mas’ wheel in the closing straight denied the rider 14 years his senior his first victory in six years.
“I never looked back, until one minute I looked back and saw a front wheel coming. Then I knew it was going to be really difficult,” Gesink rued. “But I did make it in the winner’s picture so that’s quite nice.”
From superdomestique to near stage-winner
Gesink’s victory count ran dry when Jumbo Visma – the team he rode with since he turned pro – became a WorldTour topping superpower.
Gesink shelved his own ambitions and became the team’s guiding veteran employed to guide riders like Roglič, Steven Kruijswijk, and Jonas Vingegaard toward three-week podiums.
The team gifted him the red jersey after it won the opening team time trial in Utrecht, but solo victory could have meant more.
“Three years ago I changed my style of riding and training to support our GC men, and to change back I wasn’t sure I can do it. So I’m quite happy I can change back and ride for myself once again,” Gesink said Thursday.
“Unfortunately there were two better today, that was tough to see but, ach, its kind of nice to ride for victory for myself again. But I’m not going to say I’m the happiest man on the earth right now.”
Six years since Gesink last scored victory – also at the Vuelta a España – maybe he still has the winner’s touch … maybe.