Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) sprang clear of Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) as the road tilted uphill in the final 800 metres of stage 18 of the Vuelta a España, and hung on as it flattened towards the line. On what was perhaps his best shot of toppling the dominant Italian sprinter, the world champion didn’t put a pedal stroke wrong. The problem was that Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal) was already celebrating victory.
Sandwiched between two big mountain days, Thursday’s stage was the only one of the entire Vuelta not to feature a categorized climb, and a bunch sprint seemed an inevitability.
The uphill kick in the finale was widely predicted to level the playing field between Sagan and Viviani but in the end it mattered little as their teammates failed to bring back Wallays and his breakaway companion.
“I saw those two up the road and yeah, I had to go long, but that’s it, I couldn’t get them,” Sagan said as he was bundled into his personalized camper van in Lleida.
“Third was the best I could do. It’s like that.”
The peloton’s fluffing of their lines was all the more surprising given the seemingly innocuous nature of the break. There were only three of them in there on a day totaling 186km and, what’s more, they were kept on an unusually short leash of 2:30 pretty much all day.
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