Another day down: Vuelta a España leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) came through stage 18, which he described as “the easiest so far.” But the Pyrenees and the race’s final showdown are looming fast on the horizon.
With a tailwind pushing the bunch along at an average speed of 47.1kph all day, an attentive Yates completed the stage in 19th place in a hectic finale. He was part of the front peloton of some 40 riders that shattered on the last little uphill through Lleida as the sprinters’ teams tried – in vain – to chase down stage winner Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal).
The Briton goes into the Pyrenees, therefore, with his 25-second advantage over Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and a 1:22 lead on third-placed Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) intact.
Yet as Yates savoured a moment of quiet before the oncoming GC storm, the Briton recognised that taking the overall victory in the Vuelta a España will be anything but straightforward.
“It was a very calm day, the easiest so far at the Vuelta,” Yates told reporters afterwards. “The finish was very fast, so I made sure I was in the front there to be safe. I’m feeling good.”
However, he had no doubts that Mas and Valverde would try to win the race and that with two GC stages left to fight, the battle would be renewed on Friday in the Pyrenees with a vengeance. On the plus side, he said, he was completely confident in his team’s abilities to help him defend his lead.
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