Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) withstood a late charge from Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) to retain his GC lead at the Vuelta a España on Saturday with only a final sprint stage in Madrid remaining.
David Gaudu (Groupama FDJ) took his second stage win of the race, attacking out of the breakaway on the steepest slopes of the Covatilla climb before riding past three attackers ahead of him. Gino Mäder (NTT Pro Cycling) and Ion Izagirre (Astana) took second and third.
The final four kilometers of the Covatilla summit finished made for dramatic viewing as Carapaz went on the attack in an effort to pull back his 45-second deficit in the classification.
Roglič looked to be crumbling through the final kilometers but was able to limit his losses to the charging Ecuadorian and survived a late move from Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) to hang on to his red jersey. Barring incident or disaster, the Slovenian will win the Vuelta in Madrid on Sunday, defending his 2019 title.
“It’s always good to have an exciting finish,” Roglič said afterward. “I had just enough so that I knew that if I rode at my tempo then it should be enough. The finish was good – I wasn’t always in control but then in the end at some point, you need to just do your thing.”
The result leaves Roglič 24 seconds ahead of Carapaz. Carthy finishes up third overall, 47 seconds back. Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) was dropped when the attacks started flying in the GC group. However, the Irishman did enough to limit his loss to Enric Mas (Movistar) to hang on to fourth overall.
The foul weather from earlier in the week returned Saturday, with temperatures of below 10 degrees and hammering rain and wind battering the bunch from the opening hour.
A bumper breakaway of 35 went clear early on, with Jumbo-Visma and EF Pro Cycling both posting riders into the group, whereas Ineos Grenadiers held their riders back with Carapaz. Gaudu, Mäder, Izagirre were all present in the escape, along with multiple riders from UAE Team Emirates, Sunweb, Cofidis and Movistar.
The breakaway stretched their lead over the opening cat.1 climb of the day and after a nervous, sketchy descent on rain-slicked roads, still held four minutes of a gap over the main bunch, being led by Jumbo Visma.
The rain eventually relented and the sun shone briefly, drying out the roads before heavy mist gathered over the mountainous parcours, which included six categorized climbs.
Movistar started pushing the pace through the lumps and bumps ahead of the intermediate sprint and continued drilling the pace over the cat.3 Alto de Peñacaballera with 40km to go as the break’s lead fell to around two minutes. Movistar’s tempo began to do the damage to the teams of the main leaders, with only Andrey Amador left with Carapaz and Carthy also only with one rider.
The break slowly split down as the weather and tricky terrain took its toll, and going into the final hour of racing around 20 riders were left in the escape, with Rui Costa, David de la Cruz (both UAE Team Emirates) and Bruno Armirail (Groupama FDJ) the most active in driving the pace.
Soler attacked out of the GC group on the penultimate Alto de la Gargantain in an effort to join his remaining teammate Imanol Erviti in the breakaway. Erviti dropped back out of the bunch toward the top of the long cat.2 climb to help Soler bridge up to the lead group, which had started to extend its lead again after seeing their advantage tumbling in the hour before.
Just as Soler made contact, the breakaway began to attack each other, with Mark Donovan (Sunweb), Mäder and Izagirre attacking over a short cobbled section through a small village with 15km to go.
Heading into the 11.7 Covatilla summit finish, the lead trio led the break by 40 seconds, with the peloton over three minutes behind them.
Izagirre repeatedly attacked the leaders as the steepest 12+ percent sections of the middle of the mountain kicked. The trio came back together the first time before Izagirre went again with 6km to go, dropping his rivals.
Meanwhile, Gaudu attacked the main breakaway group with countryman Guillaume Martin (Cofidis). Gaudu climbed relentlessly to shatter the gap to the front of the race, riding straight past all the attackers into the race lead.
Back in the GC group, Carthy kicked off the action with 3.5 kilometers to go as he looked to move up from third place. The Brit darted across to the other side of the road as he accelerated, splintering the lead group, with only Carapaz, Roglič, Mas, and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana) able to retain contact, with Dan Martin dropped.
Mas and then Carthy both threw in moves through the next kilometer before Carapaz made his major move as the gradient eased with 3km to go, with Roglič leading the chase just a few seconds back. The Ecuadorian kept grinding away as Roglič struggled to regain contact.
Roglič was gifted by making contact with teammate Lennard Hofstede who had been in the day’s break. Hofstede took up the pulling for his teammate with around 2km remaining as the Slovenian looked to be struggling, while Carapaz pulled over 20 seconds of a gap. Hofstede crumbled after a few minutes, leaving Roglič with Mas and Carthy as Carapaz continued motoring ahead as he looked to reverse his 45-second deficit in the classification.
Roglič looked to be crumbling as he went into the final 1500 meters, and Carthy accelerated away from him, also looking to move up the podium.
The easing in gradient in the final kilometer – along with some help from Mas, who was looking to gain time on Dan Martin – was just enough to salvage Roglič’s race. The Slovenian piled everything into the final stretch to finish 21 seconds behind Carapaz and cling on to his GC victory. Barring disaster, Roglič will win the Vuelta a España on Sunday.
“For sure having Hofstede, every meter that he could do, it was a really nice job from the whole team,” Roglič said. “What can I say, I’m super happy, and it’s a really nice way to finish the season.”