photo credits @ La Vuelta
Rui Costa (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty) claimed stage 15 of the Vuelta a España in a sprint finish today, while defending champion Remco Evenepoel fell short in his valiant effort to continue his recovery from a meltdown earlier this week.
Former world road champion Costa held off Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) following the 158.5-kilometer route from Pamplona to Lekunberri, as Evenepoel ended in fourth
Costa won via a late tactical masterclass as he slowed down the pace and appeared to lull Buitrago and Kamna into a false sense of security before accelerating over the finish line to claim his first Grand Tour win since 2013.
“I believed in myself. The season started very well for me and now winning a stage of La Vuelta is very important for me and for the team. I’m very, very happy,” said Portugal’s Costa, who won the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana in southern Spain in February
German Kamna did well to finish second, overcoming a crash in the final three kilometers and getting back up on his bike to power past Colombian Buitrago.
“(Crashes like Kamna’s) are things that happen in races,” Costa said.
“We had already done that downhill once and I saw that he was going very fast so I hit the brakes because I knew that if we followed his pace, we could crash.
“It’s a shame for him and then it was just about playing for the stage win. It went my way and I’m very happy.
Evenepoel, who claimed a superb victory on the mountainous 14th stage on Saturday after finishing 27 minutes off the pace on Friday’s climbs, rode an aggressive race and made his intent to climb back up the rankings clear from the start.
The Belgian Soudal Quick-Step rider attacked several times throughout the race and engineered a breakaway with just over 80 kms left.
He ran out of steam in the final 15 kms and at one point was almost 30 seconds behind, but roared back with a desperate effort to finish two seconds slower than the leading trio.
Evenepoel is now just over 16 minutes off American Sepp Kuss, who retained the leader’s red jersey. Kuss’s Jumbo-Visma team mates Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard are second and third in the overall standings.
Monday is a rest day in the Vuelta. Tuesday’s stage 16 is a 120.5-km route from Liencres Playa to Bejes, which is mostly flat but ends with a steep climb.
A handful of riders got away on the early ramps of the category 3 Puerto de Lizarraga, which quickly became a sizable group as Evenepoel finally made a move that stuck, taking the likes of Juan Pedro López (Lidl-Trek) and Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) with him in a 22-rider group. However, the climbing action didn’t stop there, as Vingegaard and Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) attacked from the peloton, drawing out a small group of GC favorites before managing to bridge to the group up the road.
The presence of Vingegaard and Soler meant the group wasn’t going to be given a big gap, with many of the escapees getting reined-in before the top of the climb. However, Evenepoel was determined to push on, though, attacking out of the fading break with Costa and Cristián Rodríguez (Arkéa Samsic), which later became a group of 15 as several riders from the earlier move, plus some new attackers, joined the front of the race.
Evenepoel took maximum points over the first climb, extending his lead in the King of the Mountains classification, possibly one of his motivations for getting up the road on stage 15. The situation remained stable for a long stretch, with the leaders’ holding onto a three minute advantage, but going into the final 50km Alpecin-Deceuninck got involved in the chase, upping the pace and slightly eating into the gap.
A series of attacks later unfolded in the break as the escapees made their way to the top of the Puerto de Zuarrarrate, with a contingent of nine going clear along the descent. The attacks continued over the next uncategorized rise, with Chris Hamilton (dsm-firmenich) leading the way, but no one was able to shake a determined Evenepoel who followed every move.
With 20km to go, the leaders had a three and a half minute lead as the stage looked to be building towards another breakaway victory. Heading into the base of the final climb – a second ascent of the Puerto de Zuarrarrate – Buitrago and Costa attacked and finally managed to get a slight jump on Evenepoel, which soon turned into a thirty second gap. Before the top of the climb, Kämna bridged from the chasers to the front of the race, and the leaders became three onto the descent and the final few kilometers.
Going into the final 3km, misfortune befell Kämna as he overshot a corner and came off the road and his bike. He got back on quickly, and the lack of cooperation between the other two riders allowed him to get back onto the front group. Continued discord in the front saw them almost caught by the chasers, but eventually it would be the original trio who fought it out for the victory. Kämna opened his sprint first and looked the strongest, but Costa was able to launch off his wheel and take the other side of the road, and just edged out the German on the line. Buitrago took third, while Evenepoel took fourth, two seconds behind.
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