Stage 19 of the Vuelta a Espana on Friday around Talavera de la Reina was less animated than some might have hoped, but Groupama-FDJ still gave it a go in the final. While a reduced bunch sprint was coming, Miles Scotson attacked in the last six hundred meters in order to upset the sprinters. The Australian did take a few bike lengths, but he could not avoid the return of the pack 250 meters from the line and another victory of Mads Pedersen. Saturday, the penultimate stage will be the last opportunity for the climbers.

A circuit stage was on the riders’ menu this Friday on La Vuelta, two days before race’s end. Yet, the day’s circuit was… sixty-four kilometres long, was to be covered twice, and included a rather steady climb to Puerto del Pielago (9km at 6%). Unfortunately for the climbers, the last forty kilometres were descending or on the flat, but many still hoped for the breakaway to make it again today. Therefore, a lot of attacks occurred for ten kilometres, but when Jonathan Caicedo (EF Education-EasyPost), Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) and Ander Okamika (Burgos-BH) managed to get a gap just prior to the first climb, the peloton then allowed no one else to go away, except for Lawson Craddock (EF Education-EasyPost). “We expected a bit more movement at the start. There were some, but the peloton stopped everything when we reached the climb”, explained Philippe Mauduit. “We knew for 2-3 days that Trek-Segafredo had a plan for today’s stage, but we also knew that they weren’t going to get much help. There was therefore a small hope that the peloton would be very active and that a big breakaway would form. It did not happen, and I think that all the teams interested with the general classification were very happy with this scenario. As far as we were concerned, we just dealt with the situation, and it was a recovery day for our climbers”.

“It was worth a try”, Miles Scotson

The leading trio was able to get a four-minute lead in the first hour of racing, but the peloton closed the gap with fifty kilometres remaining. In the second ascent of Puerto del Pielago, the peloton really got small, but sixty riders or so were still in the red jersey group at the top. Among them: Thibaut Pinot, Sébastien Reichenbach, Rudy Molard but also Miles Scotson. The latter then tried to recover for the final, which was to crown a fast man. A reduced bunch therefore headed for the finish, and Miles Scotson first moved back up in the last five kilometres before launching his attack with 600 metres to go. “I could sprint, but if I had the opportunity to go, then I had to go, because I could never have won the sprint,” he said. “Maybe I could have finished in a good position, but I thought that it wouldn’t have been career changing and we don’t know when the next time a reduced bunch arrives will be. The way I came up and attacked was not perfect, but I had to try. The chances of winning like that were small, but if you don’t try, you don’t succeed.” An important piece of Arnaud Démare’s lead-out train usually, the Aussie tried to use his power to make a difference. Although he was able to gain fifteen metres following his acceleration, the peloton did not ease off behind.

“I tried not to look back too much but I was hoping to make a bigger gap,” he explained. “The first time I looked back, I felt Trek-Segafredo was kind of in my slipstream. In these circumstances, it’s hard to make a good gap and to stay away, especially when you know how fast it goes in the last 200 metres. But it was worth a try, I have no regrets”. Brought back 250 metres before the line, Miles Scotson was then in the best seat to see Mads Pedersen start his sprint, and win. The Groupama-FDJ rider eventually crossed the line in 25th position. “He held onto the peloton and made it over the climb to try his luck in the final kilometre”, resumed Philippe. “He preferred to take the risk of attacking. If Pedersen had found himself alone 400-500 metres from the line, it might have been possible. Unfortunately for Miles, Tiberi was still able to do a bit of work, but it was a good attempt. You have to try, especially when you have the qualities to do so. Either way, it’s a good sign for Miles. He has suffered a lot since the middle of last week with nasopharyngitis. He was close to abandoning two days ago because he was really struggling. Things were going a little better this morning, he had a good day and he managed to get over the climb with the peloton. It is also good news for Sunday, because we’ll have a lead-out man to try to do a good sprint with Fabian”.

Before the closing stage in Madrid, a last hilly stage featuring almost 4000 meters of elevation gain will see the team’s climbers give their last shot on Saturday. “There is everything for this to be a crazy stage”, concluded Philippe. “Will the breakaway manage to go to the end, or will the peloton come back because of the fight for the podium? It will still be 50/50, but we will obviously have to try”.

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