The main favourites of the Vuelta once again battled for victory on Thursday, in the last big mountain stage of this 2021 edition. At the top of the unprecedented Altu of El Gamoniteiru, Miguel Angel Lopez came away with the victory in front of the red jersey Primoz Roglic. Earlier, Olivier Le Gac again managed to make the day’s breakaway, even if the latter could not match the GC contenders for the stage win. The next two stages may offer more opportunities.
“It was just a matter of having some fun”, Olivier Le Gac
Quite surprisingly, it didn’t take long for a breakaway to establish itself on Thursday, on the last real mountain day of the Vuelta. Most of the interested teams being in front made it also possible for the good move to go early. There were no less than thirty-two riders in the lead after a few minutes of racing, and Olivier Le Gac was there for Groupama-FDJ the day after his brief solo ride in the Lagos de Covadonga’s stage. “I was again motivated today, and when I saw the big group going, I made an effort to bridge across,” said the man from Brittany. “It was another hard stage with 4,500 meters of elevation gain”, added Franck Pineau. “Therefore, it did not really suit us, especially since we lost Rudy. However, the guys left are extremely courageous. Olivier, in particular, was already on the attack yesterday. He fought hard to get to the front again today despite the sore legs. Well done and hats off to him”. At the head of the race, the former junior world champion got the company of some great climbers while Bahrain-Victorious did not allow the gap to increase too much in the back.
Therefore, the pace was still quite intense at the bottom of Puerto de San Llaurienzu (9.9km, 8.6%) after forty kilometers of racing. So much so that Olivier Le Gac momentarily dropped from the breakaway. “They went full gas right from the bottom and I knew I couldn’t go handle this pace really long,” he explained. “So I took my own pace, and I did well, because it eventually calmed down a bit and a few riders who first fought to stay in contact were never able to get back again”. “He still had yesterday’s toxins in his legs,” said Franck. “He tried to manage these climbs as best he could knowing that it would be difficult to win under these racing circumstances anyway. He paced himself, but the red jersey group eventually brought everyone back”. The 28-year-old was dropped from the break, for good, in the Altu de la Corbertoria, and got caught by the “peloton” with about fifty kilometres to go. “Considering it was a summit finish today, it was just a matter of having some fun in front and spending the day in the breakaway,” he added. “There were great riders with me, but the breakaway didn’t even make it. It’s still a good day and it’s always nice to be in front”.
“No worries at all with the time limits”, Franck Pineau
The last breakaway survivor and future Groupama-FDJ addition Michael Storer was caught in the relentless final climb of the Altu of El Gamoniteiru (14.5 km at 10%). “I was not in any trouble for the time limits, so I tried to save as much energy as possible before this last climb,” added Olivier. “But we still had to climb up there, and it was awful!” The Frenchman crossed the line thirty-five minutes after the winner Miguel Angel Lopez as Kevin Geniets was the team’s first rider to reach the top, about 15 minutes after the Colombian. “We have no worries at all with the time limits, even with our non-climbers”, added Franck. “Arnaud almost chooses the gruppetto he wants to finish with. Ramon also does his thing very well. We had no problem from that point of view. Now, winning is another thing…” On Friday, the terrain won’t be so hilly in stage 19, but the first quarter of the race will still include a few climbs where the break could go. “It may suit us more tomorrow and the day after,” said Franck on Thursday evening. “We hope to perform well on these stages. But before thinking about it, we’re going to rest well and sleep well”. “We feel the fatigue”, confirmed Olivier. “Let’s first recover properly”.