Breakaway beats the bunch to the line as Peter Sagan narrowly denied on Vuelta a España stage 18
After more than a week without the slightest hint of a flat finale, the sprinters had staked their claim on today’s flat stage. Everything about the day suggested that it would be contested by the fast men, from the lack of categorised climbs to the pleasant weather conditions, but the break had other plans. Starting out as a trio, the escapees were never allowed to go too far ahead, their lead never exceeding 2:30, but in the closing kilometres, the duo that remained managed to hold out just enough to frustrate the chasing peloton. The UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, was just metres away from catching them, the Slovak rider having taken matters into his own hands to sprint to the line alone, taking third on the line. Finishing with the bunch, there was no change in the GC standings, with Emanuel Buchmann keeping hold of eleventh position.
The journey from Ejea de los Caballeros to Lleida was a simple one, tracking the 186.1km stage in almost a straight line from west to east. The profile was similarly easy, with one of the flattest routes of the Vuelta so far, and no categorised climbs over the entire day. In spite of this, there was no chance of this being an easy day for the peloton, with this being a perfect chance after the many hilly and mountainous stages for the sprinters and their teams to control the pace and to give the crowds a fast finish at the day’s finale. On a day like today, it’s the riders who make the going tough, as opposed to the terrain, and the race would really come to life in the final 30km when the sprint teams would mobilise and start to ramp up the pace for the end of the day.
The Team Tactics
There was no doubting that the team was going to ride for the UCI World Champion today. After several mountain stages, Peter Sagan would be relishing the opportunity to stretch his legs and make the most of the flat terrain today, while his BORA-hansgrohe teammates would be more than happy to push the pace hard in the run-up to the finish and get him in a position to contest the win. While the finale was more one for the out and out sprinters, the Slovak rider was likely to have come through the mountain stages fresher than some of his rivals. Only at the finale would anyone know for sure. While there were unlikely to be any challenges for the GC riders, it would be important to see that Emanuel Buchmann made it to the finish unscathed in what would promise to be a fast and chaotic final few kilometres.
After clinging on over the climbs of the past fortnight, there were still plenty of sprinters in contention in the race. There hadn’t been a bunch sprint since stage 10, and you could be certain that the faster riders weren’t going to allow this stage to go to the breakaway. Regardless of this, the escape came, but only three riders were brave enough to challenge the might of the sprinters. This small group was allowed to extend their lead to 2:30, but they were made to feel that they were always at the peloton’s mercy, the gap barely changing as the day went on and the bunch never appearing to be troubled by the trio up the road. Coming into the final 10km, the gap dropped from 1:30 to less than a minute in just a couple of kilometres, owing to the efforts of the five BORA-hansgrohe riders on the front, but it wasn’t until the race hit the streets of Lleida that the peloton realised they might not make it – the remaining two riders maintaining the slimmest advantage as they passed under the Flamme Rouge for the final kilometre. With the sprinters in the peloton not reacting to the threat in front of them, Peter Sagan took matters into his own hands and surged ahead, leaving the bunch behind. Just making contact with the second-placed rider as he crossed the line, the UCI World Champion had to settle for third, knowing that if the finish were only a few metres further up the road, the win would have been his.
01 J.Wallays 3h57’03”
02 S.Bystrøm +0:00
03 P.Sagan +0:00
From the Finish Line
"As expected, the finale was really busy and the roundabouts didn’t make it easier. Of course, we wanted to go for a stage win with Peter, so we are disappointed with the result. We pulled hard to close the gap but in the end, it wasn’t enough." – André Schulze, Sports Director
"Flat and fast stage today with a strange finish. I felt in good shape but it's a pity I missed the win as the break managed to hold on until the end." – Peter Sagan, UCI World Champion
"The finale was extremely busy and in the last 4-5 kilometres there were so many roundabouts which made the race hectic. After 18 stages, I feel a bit tired but I think this was to be expected. Tomorrow, we have another mountain stage where I will try my best once again. After that, two more mountain stages and then we finally arrive in Madrid." – Emanuel Buchmann