The La Vuelta Espana was the final Grand Tour of the 2018 season and although last, was certainly not least, providing thrilling race entertainment daily.
The Grand Tour was won in tremendous fashion by a dominating Simon Yates of Mitchelton-Scott, claiming his debut Grand Tour win, as well as the team’s first since its inception in 2011.
Following a devastating loss of the Maglia Rosa leaders jersey in the Giro d’Italia earlier season, as late as Stage 19 and concluding 13 consecutive days in the lead – it was no surprise when he came into La Vuelta Espana chasing redemption and ready to take on Red.
The Briton was well supported throughout the race by the impressive and ambitious Mitchelton-Scott outfit, with right hand men – Australian Jack Haig and twin brother Adam Yates playing pivotal roles in his success when the road turned upwards.
How Simon Yates Stole the Show at La Vuelta Espana…
Yates and Mitchelton-Scott approached La Vuelta Espana with a little more tactical caution, following his experience of perhaps laying it too far on the line and plumeting out of contention in the earlier Giro D’Italia.
He sat fairly pretty up until Stage 9 when he somewhat quietly moved himself into the lead by a slim margin, following a consistent opening week in the standings.
Red was stolen away all too soon, however when Alexandre Geniez of AG2R La Mondiale claimed Stage 12, storming to victory following an emphatic breakaway win. Fellow breakaway rider, Jesus Herrada of Cofidis also riding himself into La Vuelta Espana final standings lead, bumping Yates down to second by a little over 3 minutes.
Although Red was taken, it ended up being a wise and tactical call by the Mitchelton-Scott squad to let the break succeed and allow the lead to be taken over. The decision enabled the team and Yates to have some pressure removed for several stages while Cofidis took control. Ultimately, it was inevitable that Herrada would not be an overall contender, so to allow him the glory was appropriate, although undoubtedly a very impressive performance by the Spanish rider.
The aggressive Simon Yates that has provided endless entertainment for the cycling world in 2018, was back with a vengeance and patience was no longer an option, however on Stage 14 when he attacked to take Stage honours in the closing km of the gruelling Alto Les Praeres and claim La Vuelta Espana leaders jersey back.
He and team then went on to hold it impeccably through to Madrid – Yates never once looking threatened or showing any real sign of struggle. A tough fight for the 26 year old, no doubt but it was certainly clear to viewers just how much stronger he was over his rivals and probable that the jersey would likely only be lost if a mishap were to occur.
To really settle his lead, he took it to his rivals and showed his dominating strength on the final two Andorran mountain stages, outclassing them all and moving himself into a more comfortable, stable lead in the final standings, enabling him to enjoy the last hurrah into Madrid that bit more.
Who were La Vuelta Espana Contenders in the Final Standings?
Up until a drama-filled Stage 20, it was looking like Spanish favourite and since (now) current World Road Champion, Alejandro Valverde would be up for second place. The all-round successor was hot on the heels of Simon Yates since the early stages and undoubtably his biggest threat and rival for the majority of La Vuelta Espana.
Valverde – a crowd favourite and Spanish cycling hero, came into the race a local favourite, proving his incredible versatility as well as form from very early on, emphatically winning Stage 2 and Stage 8 in uphill sprints.
His early success enabled the Spaniard to put Yates under pressure and stay within distance in the final standings with just 0.25 seconds separating the pair up until as late as Stage 19 and still within two minutes ahead of Stage 20. Here, Yates’ strength simply got the better of Valverde and he exploded back into the distance, leaving the battle wide open for the remaining podium places.
In the end, it was a combination of consistency over the three weeks and incredible late race strength that saw a phenomenal battle go down between Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana Pro team).
Ultimately, it was Quick-Step’s young talent, Mas showing his exceptional climbing ability in the final mountainous Stage 20 to steal the Stage and second place in La Vuelta Espana final standings, battling it out over López who also climbed up into third.
Sprint Kings of La Vuelta Espana?
Peter Sagan and Elia Viviani came into the race as hot favourites to take home a Stage victory or two. The former World champion, Sagan came frustratingly close on numerous occasions throughout, but much to anyone’s surprise left without a victory to his name.
It was Italian champion, Viviani who stole the sprint show – claiming a hat-rick of three victories and concluding his La Vuelta Espana on a high with Stage honours in Madrid. No real surprises there following his sensational Giro D’Itlalia sprint domination earlier season.
A challenge did come from French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni on Stage 5, using his impressive turn of speed to take a Stage victory for Cofidis.
La Vuelta Espana Time Trial Dominance by Dennis.
La Vuelta Espana departed with nothing but a bang as Australian speedster and Time Trial specialist, Rohan Dennis stormed to victory in the opening 8km Time Trial and into the leaders jersey.
Since, Dennis has gone on to win the Road World Championship Time Trial honours, so fair to say his form and performance was nothing less than exceptional.
He proved his seamless condition once more when he went on to annihilate the field in Stage 15’s Time Trial, winning by a huge margin of 0.50 seconds over his closest competitor and BMC team mate, Joseph Rosskopf.
One for the Breakaway…
La Vuelta Espana, 2018 edition was certainly one for the breakaway. Attack after attack and aggressive, jaw-dropping racing was what was delivered day by day and more often than not, the breakaway succeeded. The opportunists were certainly on fire, and there were many a memorable Stage victor crowned throughout.
It all started on Stage 4, when a gutsy – yet smart performance took Ben King (Dimension Data) over the line first from his breakaway peers to claim the first Category 1 summit finish of La Vuelta Espana. One stage wasn’t quite satisfactory for the American as he went on to win Stage 9 in similar fashion, attacking the break to win atop the Puerto de Alfacar climb, outshining climber Bauke Mollema (Trek–Segafredo) in the process.
It was Australian, EF Education First-Drapac rider Simon Clarke that kept the breakaway success momentum going on Stage 5, winning from a thrilling three-up sprint with the hungry, dropped remains of the breakaway hot on their tails. Clarke used his track cycling background and speed to superbly outsmart and run his competitors to take his second La Vuelta Espana Stage victory (since 2012).
The longest day of La Vuelta Espana came on Stage 11 with 209km in store. A 19 man breakaway was finally let go following 100km of aggressive racing. Alessandro De Marchi of BMC proved too good for his rivals up the final climb, taking stage honours.
Yet another notable breakaway win was Euskadi-Murias rider Oscar Rodriguez’ Stage 13 victory over Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe). The victory marked Rodriguez’ first of his pro career and what a way to do it – at La Vuelta Espana and atop the Alto La Camperona.
Next up, it was Canadian Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac) to win Stage 17 from a day long-large breakaway selection, making his move up the final Alto del Balcón de Bizkaia. The Canadian only just claimed honours over BMC’s Dylan Teuns with a final attack and gruelling push to the line in very hazy, fog-lined conditions. For Woods, It was his first World Tour win and highly emotional due to personal circumstances which made the victory that more powerful to view.
The last of the breakaway successors was Jelle Wallays of Lotto-Soudal who won from a three man breakaway, established as early as 3km into the stage. The trio timed it perfectly, denying the sprinters a late La Vuelta Espana opportunity before the final sprint run into Madrid.
Maillot Rojo at La Vuelta España
Who wore Red? There’s no doubt that Simon Yates wore it best, but before he claimed La Vuelta Espana honours for good, there were a few other contenders and Maillot Rojo wearers.
Opening Stage winner Rohan Dennis stormed into Red but immediately handed it over come Day 2 following a strong display from Michal Kwiatkowski of Team Sky, who held it from Stages 2-4.
The big La Vuelta Espana surprise came from Rudy Molard (FDJ) who took it over following breakaway success on Stage 5. Molard impressively held it through to Stage 9, where Yates then got a brief feel for it, before loaning it to Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) for several stages.
The feel for Red was all he needed, however as he went on to claim it back and wear it proudly for the remainder of La Vuelta Espana.
La Vuelta Espana was a huge success, providing some sensational race action across some of Spain’s most stunning regions and daring terrain. Interested in experiencing it for yourself in 2019? Register your interest, HERE.