Reporting from Asturias, Spain.
A resilient and determined Remco Evenepoel dominated the day, conquering each summit as it arose, sealing the KOM competition atop La Cruz de Linares.
Evenepoel crossed the finish line with an impressive lead of 4 minutes and 44 seconds over second-placed Caruso. Andreas Kron (Lotto-Dstny) completed the podium, finishing 5 minutes and 10 seconds behind Evenepoel, just ahead of Poole.
However, the biggest question hanging over the day after the Stage 17 drama was whether Sepp Kuss’ red jersey would be attacked by his Jumbo-Visma teammates, Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič.
This did not ultimately come to pass. After the contentious Stage 17 finish, in which Kuss was dropped by the pair, evidently the team dynamic has been addressed behind the scenes, as Kuss was protected up the final climb.
As a result, Kuss is now in an incredibly strong position to carry the lead all the way to Madrid for his first Grand Tour win, given this was the final stage to offer clear attacking opportunities – although a deceptively tough Stage 20 may yet cause late fireworks.
Remco Renaissance Continues
After the 10 km mark, hints of a breakaway started to form. Their gap began to widen, and numbers continued to grow until a 14-man strong unit prevailed.
It was a day for the breakaway. At certain points, the gap grew to almost 12 minutes, more than in any other stage of this year’s Vuelta a España.
Jumbo-Visma led the peloton with their domestiques, but with no GC threat up front and a stranglehold on the GC competition, the gap steadily grew.
Despite pedigree within the breakaway, Remco was feeling confident.
“I felt I was the strongest in the group and didn’t have to waste any time; I just had to go for it,” he said, in reference to his attack 30 km from the finish.
Although reigning champion Remco Evenepoel had plans to repeat his victory at this year’s Vuelta, his hopes all but evaporated after his Stage 13 capitulation on the slopes of the Tourmalet.
Nevertheless, as he crossed the line, he pointed to his head, indicating his mental fortitude.
“After my off day, I had to turn the page and go for the stages. I won three of the most beautiful stages in the Vuelta, and I took the mountains jersey, so I think it’s been an amazing Vuelta even though the GC plan didn’t work out. We can be very proud,” he said.
“It’s amazing to finish the stage with such good feelings and to have such good legs at the end of the Vuelta. It means I’m still improving and that I just had a bit of a bad second week. I think we should be happy and proud.”
Jumbo-Visma Silence The Critics
Controversies were raging this morning, with Ineos Grenadiers rider Geraint Thomas stating, “I feel for Kuss; I feel like he deserves a bit more respect. Not necessarily from the [other] riders either – I think more from his team.”
After the bizarre scenes seen on ferocious inclines of the Angliru yesterday, Jumbo-Visma silenced the critics, with Vingegaard and Roglic clearly working for Kuss’s race lead.
The pivotal moment unfolded as Mikel Landa initiated the initial offensive move halfway up the climb, with Ayuso swiftly joining him.
The spotlight remained firmly fixed on Jumbo-Visma, and Vingegaard stayed true to his earlier declarations, assuming a crucial role by taking the lead to support Kuss with dedicated pacing duties.
In a late surge to the line, Juan Ayuso and Enric Mas made an attempt to break free from the general classification group but were unable to create any real distance between Kuss and Roglic.
Vingegaard, however, conceded a few seconds in the final stretch, allowing a bit of daylight to emerge between him and Kuss.
Kuss now has a 17-second lead in the overall standings with only three days left in the Vuelta. Primož Roglič trails in third place, 1 minute and 8 seconds behind.
The Jumbo-Visma trio looks to have secured a historic Vuelta podium sweep, barring any late calamities.
Sepp Kuss had a smile on his face as he crossed the line; when asked if the race was done and dusted, he replied:
“It’s getting closer. Tomorrow is a bit of an easier stage, but you have to stay focused. Stage 20 will be a long and hard stage. We’re out of the big mountains, but there are always some tough ones.”
“I have to thank the guys for helping me and keeping it together. It was a nice experience, and I have to thank them.”
Vuelta a España 2023: Stage 18 Results
- EVENEPOEL Remco (BEL/Soudal-QuickStep) 4:47:37
- CARUSO Damiano (ITA/Bahrain – Victorious) +4:44
- KRON Andreas (DEN/Lotto Dstny) + 5:10
- POOLE Max (GBR/Team dsm – firmenich) + 5:12
- OURSELIN Paul (FRA/TotalEnergies) + 5:17
- BERNARD Julien (FRA/Lidl – Trek) + 6:11
- BERNAL Egan (COL/INEOS Grenadiers) +7:01
- AYUSO Juan (SPA/UAE Team Emirates) +9:29
- MAS Enric (SPA/Movistar Team) + Same time
- KUSS Sepp (USA/Jumbo-Visma) + Same time
Vuelta a España 2023: General Classification Standings after Stage 18
- KUSS Sepp (USA/Jumbo-Visma): 65:31:27
- VINGEGAARD Jonas (DEN/Jumbo-Visma): + 0:17
- ROGLIČ Primož (SLO/Jumbo-Visma): + 1:08
- AYUSO Juan (SPA/UAE Team Emirates): + 4:00
- LANDA Mikel (SPA/Bahrain Victorious): + 4:19
- MAS Enric (SPA/Movistar Team): + 4:30
- UIJTDEBROEKS Cian (BEL/BORA-hansgrohe): + 7:37
- VLASOV Alexander (BORA-hansgrohe): + 8:35
- ALMEIDA João (POR/UAE Team Emirates): + 10:20
- BUITRAGO Santiago (COL/Bahrain Victorious): + 12:20
Vuelta a España Jerseys after Stage 18
KUSS Sepp (Jumbo-Visma)
GROVES Kaden (ALPECIN-DECEUNINCK)
EVENEPOEL Remco (Soudal – QuickStep)
AYUSO Juan (UAE Team Emirates)
Stage 18 Combativity Award
EVENEPOEL Remco (Soudal – QuickStep)