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Vuelta a España 2019 Stage 18 Highlights: The GC Battle Continues In The Mountains | GCN Racing

We’re back in the mountains for stage 18
of La Vuelta a Espana, here on GCN Racing. Yesterday, just, wow. 219kms of frantic cross
and tailwind action resulted in the fastest ever road race of over 200kms, 50.6kph average. The fastest of them all was Philippe Gilbert,
who took his 2nd stage win of the race after getting the better of Sam Bennett. This hand sling between riders, illegal under
UCI rules, would ultimately cost Miguel Angel Lopez in the form of a 10 second penalty. Primoz Roglic retained his red jersey, but
my word did he, his team, and plenty of other teams have to fight for it. Nairo Quintana was the only major threat to
get into the front move, and in doing so launched himself up to 2nd place on GC, albeit still
2 minutes and 24 seconds off the pace. Today, another stage to make the sprinters
weep. 4 first category climbs along the route, which
had been extended up to 178.2kms by the organisers. It may not have been a mountain top finish,
but there was still plenty of terrain for the climbers to get their teeth stuck into,
and the penultimate opportunity for them to shake up the general classification. The only flattish section came at the start,
and we saw plenty of riders attempting to get a head start before the first climb of
the day. The first major, move, though, came once the
climb had started. Wout Poels of Team Ineos in a solo move off
the front, near the foot of the climb. The pace behind was always high, but coming
towards the top, Poels still had a 37 second advantage. And it would be he that would take the maximum
10 points going over the top of the climb. Behind, though, Bouchard could be content
with the 6 points on offer for 2nd, extending his lead in the blue polka dots competition,
and my word is he sporting a lot of blue polka dots. The gap to Poels tumbled on the following
descent as the relentless attacking continued, and he would, eventually, be joined by teammate
Tao Geoghehen Hart, Bouchard himself, Tobias Ludvigsenn, Sergio Higuita, Nick Schultz and
Louis Meintjes. Another group would soon come across, with
representation from Astana, Movistar and Jumbo Visma all adding to the potential tactics
that the teams could use later in the day. The last man across was Herman Pernsteiner
of Bahrain Merida. He was a big loser in yesterday’s stage,
falling from 10th to 17th on GC having lost over 23 minutes. Behind, Jumbo Visma had things just as they
wanted them, this was turning out to be a much simpler stage to control than yesterday. Or at least it was until Astana hit the front
on the penultimate climb of the day. They had to do it, though, time is running
out for Lopez to take the white jersey or even make the podium. Up front, Poels was on the attack again, Higuita
glued to his wheel, Meintjes trying his best to get across. Fuglsang was the last rider from Astana to
do a monster turn on the front, and we all knew what was coming next. A massive attack from Lopez, the rest seemingly
unable to go with him. Thankfully for Roglic, though, Sepp Kuss was
being as reliable as ever, immediately hitting the front of the group behind to set a tempo. And it was a tempo that meant that Lopez’
lead never crept up too high, just 11 seconds as they neared the top of the climb. For this man, Goeffrey Bouchard, this was
another opportunity to take some more points in the KOM competition, he took the full 10
having crossed it first. He’s looking good now to take that jersey
all the way to Madrid. On the descent, Omar Fraile had dropped back
to help Lopez and was absolutely drilling it on the front. Meanwhile out front, by this point, was Sergio
Higuita. He’s shown us already in this race that
he can climb, and even sprint, and now he was showing us his prowess on the descents. As they came to the foot of the final climb,
the Lopez had group had caught all but one of the breakaway, but soon after, they’d
all been caught by the Roglic group, and we were back to square one. For this man, though, it was all about the
stage win. He was one of the big losers on yesterday’s
stage, but that clearly hadn’t affected his morale, or legs. Lopez, though, could not be held back today. Perhaps sensing some weakness in his rivals,
he went on the attack again, and he would put Pogocar in some trouble. Valverde, Roglic and later Majka were able
to make it up to him, but the white jersey was a little way behind with Quintana. Whatever happens, it’s been a great race
for this man, but was the white jersey slipping away today? Coming to the top of the climb, and Higuita’s
gap was dwindling, 45 seconds to the chase group of 4, this stage was still hanging in
the balance. Playing into Higuita’s favour, though, was
the fact that only Lopez was working in that group behind. Valverde didn’t want to further distance
Quintana, Roglic didn’t need to, and Majka just, didn’t. The gap between them and the Pogacar group
was continuing to increase, though, and by this point Lopez was back in the virtual white
jersey. Carl Frederic Hagen was once again doing a
great ride for Lotto Soudal, though – he’s been one of the revelations of this race. Coming under the flamme rouge and Higuita
could almost breathe a sigh of relief. 23 seconds his gap, and although he was clearly
suffering, he wasn’t showing any signs of slowing down. It’s been a tough old race for EF Education
First, who lost half their team to crashes and injuries in the first week, but perseverance
pays off, and today they were rewarded with their first Grand Tour stage win of the season,
and a first pro win for Higuita. Behind, Roglic managed to outsprint Valverde
for 2nd place, taking the 6 bonus seconds with it. For Lopez, though, it was all about the time
gap to the group behind. And it would be significant, almost a minute
to Hagen, Meintjes, Quintana and Pogacar. Another young rider and another Colombian
wins big. Higuita is just 22 years of age, and only
made the leap to the WorldTour at the start of May this year. For Roglic, it’s one step closer to taking
home his first overall grand tour win. His advantage is now bigger than it’s ever
been, We’d really appreciate your support here
on GCN Racing so that we can continue to bring you coverage of the biggest races. There’s a subscribe button just below this
video, and next to it, a bell icon – click on that and you’ll get a notification every
time we upload, or go live, with a new race. Tomorrow, the peloton should be able to have
a slightly easier day. A 165.2km stage into Toledo, that looks reasonably
easy. A third category climb from the start is the
only major hurdle of the day, after which we have rolling to flat terrain. However, don’t expect this to be a classic
bunch sprint, the last 1km is uphill on a 6% gradient, so it’s possible we’ll see
yet another breakaway success. Once again, there is also the chance of crosswinds. My prediction: Luis Leon Sanchez. See you tomorrow.

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