Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal) let out a guttural roar as he crossed the line to win stage 18 of the Vuelta a España, and he was still screaming his head off as he rounded the bend beyond the finish line and wheeled to a halt by his team bus. It was a visceral display of emotion and it turns out it was all inspired by the rider most famous for wearing his heart on his sleeve, Thomas Voeckler.
Speaking in his winner’s press conference in Lleida, Wallays recalled the uncanny similarities between Thursday’s Vuelta stage and the 2014 Paris-Tours, where, as a 25-year-old, he beat the Frenchman in a two-up sprint from the breakaway.
“The first time I make it to finish line in a break was Paris-Tours and I learned a lot from Thomas Voeckler. Here I did the same,” he said.
“In Paris-Tours we were with 11 guys, I think, and Voeckler already had many victories. He said ‘we go easy, easy, easy, easy, because everyone wants to sprint and if you close the gap too early they go on the attack’. So we went easy until 40 kilometres to go and then went hard. Then me and Voeckler we went full until one kilometre to go.”
Wallays only had two companions this time, Sven Erik Bystrom (UAE Team Emirates) and Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH), but he issued the same messaged he’d heard four years previously.
“We spoke immediately and everyone agreed we would accelerate in the last 45 kilometres,” he said. “We knew the peloton was playing with us – it’s always the same – but in the last 25km we still had two mins so we knew we had a chance.”
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