Philippe Gilbert won stage 17 at the Vuelta a España after the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider ambushed Sam Bennett in the finishing straight of the 219.6km run from Aranda de Duero to Guadalajara.
On what was expected to be run-of-the-mill transitional stage – one which took the riders from Tuesday's rest day towards Thursday's mountainous stage – crosswinds in Burgos quite literally blew the race apart.
Indeed, speaking afterwards stage winner Gilbert admitted that in his 17 years as a professional he had not experienced winds as he did on Wednesday.
"It was really fast," Gilbert told Eurosport. "At some point we were doing 75km/h on the flat. I had a 54x11 [gear ratios] and I was spinning all the time. In 17 years as a pro, I don’t think I’ve ever done that. It was really really crazy.
"The crosswinds and echelons are part of the team’s DNA and I also love it. It’s not the first time I win two stages in a grand tour but I’ve never done it three times. Friday’s stage suits me and I’ll try to fight for victory in Toledo."
Gilbert, who had six Deceuninck-Quick Step riders alongside him on a stage that was meat and drink to the Belgian classics specialists, made his move after first team-mate Tim Declercq had attacked before it was the turn of Zdenek Stybar to tease out Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) who was tipped for the stage win.
With the sprinter Bennett having taken the bait and had chased down Stybar a little too early, Gilbert reined in the Irish champion who on spotting the 37-year-old Belgian almost stopped pedalling. In the end Gilbert just rolled over the line to claim his second stage at this year's Vuelta.
However, while Gilbert and his team-mates – including James Knox, the 23 year-old Briton who climbed into the top 10 on general classification in only the second grand tour of his career – were celebrating the stage win, race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana) who had started the day in first, second, third and fourth places respectively, attempted to limit their losses having missed the decisive split.
While the quartet edged towards the line, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who finished 10sec after Gilbert was left calculating the impact the crosswinds had made on what could turn out to be a decisive stage in the third and final grand tour of the season. In the end Quintana gained 5min 29sec on the quartet, propelling the Colombian up to second overall ahead of team-mate Valverde.
Surveying the damage at the line Roglic remained phlegmatic. "It was a hard day," he said. "I made a mistake. I shouldn't have [been] where I was, I should have been in the front. The team saved me with a big effort. They just went full gas from the very beginning and that was it for the rest of the day.
"We’re still in a really good position. It was a hard day for everyone. We lost a battle today, but not the war. I never felt like La Vuelta was lost. Other guys wanted to finish as fast as possible so it was full gas until the finish line. We'll see in Madrid but things are still looking really good for us. La Vuelta is really unpredictable and we can expect still big fight for the days to come."
The Vuelta continues on Thursday with the 177.5km stage from Comunidad de Madrid. Colmenar Viejo to Becerril de la Sierra and concludes in Madrid on Sunday.
General classification update
Primoz Roglic will wear the leader's red jersey for another day with the Jumbo-Visma rider taking a 2min 24sec advantage over Nairo Quintana into the mountains. Alejandro Valverde will start the stage in third place with the world champion trailing his team-mate by 24sec. James Knox, the 23-year-old Cumbrian who is riding only his second grand tour, is up to eighth overall, just 23sec behind Rafal Majka.
Roglic retains lead; Quintana up to second
Primoz Roglic has crossed the finish line, but the race leader lost 5min 29sec to Nairo Quintana. As a result there has been a big shake-up in the general classification as Quintana roceted up to second while his Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde will start Thursday's mountainous stage third overall.
Gilbert wins his second stage at the Vuelta!
After taking up the chase all alone, Sam Bennett was reeled back in by the veteran classics specialist Philippe Gilbert who, in the end, just rolled past the Irishman who looked spent. Another stage win at this year's race for the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider. The young British rider James Knox looks absolutely delighted for Gilbert and, one imagines, a little bit chuffed for himself too. By my calculations, Knox just climbed into the top 10 on general classification. The clock is ticking on Primoz Roglic et al.
1km to go
Zdenek Stybar is still out in front, but Sam Bennett is leading the chase.
2km to go
Zdenek Stybar has gone off up the road, but can the Deceuninck-Quick Step classics man win his first ever stage at the Vuelta or has he been deployed as a decoy on behalf of Philippe Gilbert or Rémi Cavagna?
3km to go
Tim Declercq attacks off the front as Deceuninck-Quick Step test their rivals, but having lost Fabio Jakobsenwho will be their man today? Could it be one for Philippe Gilbert who is looking lively?
5km to go
A few roundabouts navigated, but nothing too technical. A slight change in direction means a change in the direction of the wind – obviously – and I'm hearing there is a headwind near the finish line.
8km to go
Nairo Quintana et al lead the stage by a shade over five minutes. Movistar, Sunweb and Deceuninck-Quick Step are sharing the workload on the front. Edvald Boasson Hagen is shifting up the field, Sam Bennett is loitering with intent too. The Irishman, remember, has already won two stages at this year's Vuelta and is currently the man to beat in the sprints, but will he pay the price of having no team-mates with him throughout what has been a very tough day in the saddle?
10km to go
Primoz Roglic is losing more and more time now, the fire in the chasing group appears to have gone a little. Meanwhile, in the leading group Sunweb are working hard on the front, presumably working for Nikias Arndt who will be eyeing the stage while Wilco Kelderman will be thinking about time he can gain on general classification.
12km to go
As the leading group speeds towards the finishing line, Nairo Quintana's advantage has grown to almost five minutes. The Colombian is 2min 48sec behind Primoz Roglic on the virtual classification while Alejandro Valverde is now third – he started the day second.
20km to go
Say what you like about Nairo Quintana, but he never gives up. Ever. Despite knowing that his soon-to-be-former team-mates are chasing hard in an attempt to eat into his advantage, the Colombian is riding full gas and taking his turns on the front. His advantage on Primoz Roglic on the stage has grown out a handful of seconds to 4min 43sec.
— La Vuelta (@lavuelta) September 11, 2019
TV pictures are showing the riders flying along at over 80km/h right now –and that's not downhill – the average speed for the day is 49.6km/h.
23km to go
The maillot rojo's group is, against all the odds, chipping away at Nairo Quintana's lead on the stage. As a result Alejandro Valverde has regained his place on the virtual general classification podium.
25km to go
Fabio Jakobsen and his Deceuninck-Quick Step team-mate Eros Capecchi have gone out of the back of the leading group which is good news for Sam Bennett who will be hoping to contest the stage win in a short while. The leading group now looks a little like this: Silvan Dillier (Ag2r-La Mondiale), José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jonas Koch (CCC), Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quick Step), James Knox (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Lawson Craddock (EF Education First), Sam Bewley (Mitchelton-Scott), Dion Smith (Mitchelton-Scott), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Owain Doull (Ineos), Wout Poels (Ineos), Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos), Ian Stannard (Ineos), Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), Nikias Arndt (Sunweb), Rob Power (Sunweb), Max Walscheid (Sunweb), Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates).
35km to go
That injection in pace from the Movistar riders caused a split in Primoz Roglic's group which now trails the stage leaders – and Nairo Quintana – by 4min 40sec. Luis León Sánchez has dropped back out of the leading group to assist his Astana team-mate Miguel Ángel López. The leading group has shelled couple of more riders on a slight incline, but Irish sprinetr Sam Bennett who has already won two stages at this year's Vuelta, is hanging in their despite having no team-mates.
40km to go
This is ridiculous, isn't it? After Alejandro Valverde shunted to the front of the chasing group the gap on Nairo Quintana reduced to 4min 40sec. On the face of it that looks like one team-mate attacking another, however there is a suggestion that the old veteran is attempting to fatigue Primoz Roglic who is now isolated and has no team-mates alongside him. Making the Slovenian work that little bit harder may cost him dearly once the race returns to the mountains, though the flipside of that coin is that Valverde may be reducing Quintana's advantage on the day. Interesting.
Are Movistar doing a Movistar? | 45km to go
Not 100 per cent sure what is happening in the second group tactics wise, but Alejandro Valverde and his Movistar team-mates have shifted themselves to the front and it looks like they are helping Jumbo-Visma, Astana and UAE Team Emirates chase the leading group featuring the world champion's team-mate Nairo Quintana. That's just crazy.
50km to go
As one wise old sage has observed on Twitter (Peter Cossins), Alejandro Valverde and his Movistar team-mates Jorge Arcas, Antonio Pedrero and Marc Soler are happily riding in the wheels of Jumbo-Visma, Astana and UAE Team Emirates who are "chasing like loons on the front". As Cossins points out, they are more than likely saving their legs for tomorrow's mountain stage where they can again attempt to roll over Primoz Roglic, tickle his tummy, an nick the maillot rojo off his shoulders. Roglic's group trails by 5min 25sec.
55km to go
Astana, UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo-Visma are riding in a sort of team time trial through-and-off formation, now working well as one tight unit looking determined to reduce the gap, or at least limit their losses on the leading group on the road. However, while Primoz Roglic's group is benefiting from the tailwind, so is Nairo Quintana's. In fact, the Colombian's advantage has grown out again to around 5min 30sec. Such is the speed that these riders are now travelling that we are expecting them to finish the stage well ahead of schedule – the earliest predicted finish time was 4.18pm (BST), but at this rate they could complete the stage an hour before that.
65km to go
Each and every rider out on the road is absolutely flying. Those on the front appear to have resolved their earlier issues and have started to work a little better together, while back in Primoz Roglic's group Astana and UAE Team Emirates are sharing the workload with Jumbo-Visma.
Tailwind time | 75km to go
After swinging around a left-hander, the riders benefited from a tailwind which appears to have helped the Primoz Roglic group a little more than the leading group whose advantage has dropped to 5min 15sec. Either way, the whole field is flying right now . . .
Peloton just clocked at 84kph...in a 70kph zone.
— Daniel Friebe (@friebos) September 11, 2019
Hello, what's this? | 80km to go
It appears that not all is well in the leading group and words have been had between Deceuninck-Quick Step and Movistar. The Belgian squad were not happy with a Movistar rider who, although sat on the front of the group, was not riding hard enough. He soon peeled off allowing the diesel that is Tim Declercq to roll on through. As a result of that mini spat, their lead on the maillot rojo dropped to below six minutes. That could cost dearly come the end of stage.
We have moving pictures!
The international television feed has just dropped and we can see Jumbo-Visma working had on the front of what is now the second group on the road. Unsurprisingly, it appears that the rest of the group are leaning on the Dutch squad knowing full well that it is their responsibility to close the gap if they want to protect Primoz Rolglic's lead. However, the leading group has actually increased its lead to over six minutes now. This is incredible racing, just a shame we missed all of the real action – when the echelons formed earlier in the day before the elastic snapped and Jumbo-Visma were left in the gutter. Think Ed Pickering summed up this stage the best . . .
This is the best Vuelta stage I've never seen.
— Edward Pickering (@EdwardPickering) September 11, 2019
Marcato sits up | 85km to go
Marco Marcato(UAE Team Emirates) has dropped out of the back of the leading group, presumably sitting up on behalf of team-mate Tadej Pogacar who is alongside Primoz Roglic. Another rider who missed the break today is Miguel Ángel López (Astana) who started the day in fourth spot, 3min 59sec off the lead.
The big break
Ok folks, here's who is in the leading group: José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Gorka Izagirre (Astana), Luis León Sánchez (Astana), Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jonas Koch (CCC), Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Eros Capecchi (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick Step), James Knox (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Lawson Craddock (EF Education First), Sam Bewley (Mitchelton-Scott), Dion Smith (Mitchelton-Scott), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), Owain Doull, Wout Poels (Ineos), Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos), Ian Stannard (Ineos), Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), Nikias Arndt (Sunweb), Casper Pedersen (Sunweb), Rob Power (Sunweb), Max Walscheid (Sunweb), Alex Kirsch (Trek-Segafredo), Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates), Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates), Oliviero Troia (UAE Team Emirates).
For those who can't be bothered counting the number of riders listed here, there are 32 riders in the breakaway and their advantage on the maillot rojo, the leader's red jersey that is currently resting on the shoulders of Primoz Roglic, has grown to 5min 16sec which propels Nairo Quintana up to second on virtual general classification ahead of his Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde who is in the main group along with the posse of Jumbo-Visma riders who missed the main move of the day. Quintana will be delighted with how today's stage is playing out, but the Colombian is not the only one: Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) who started the day in 10th spot, 10min 34sec off the lead, is now up to fifth on virtual general classification and as mentioned below, James Knox is now up to eighth.
Such is the composition of this leading group, that I think it will be extremely difficult – impossible, even – for Roglic et al to reel them back in. While the likes of Bennett, Jakobsen, Arndt and Boasson Hagen will be thinking about contesting a sprint in a little over two hours' time, there are also a number of general classification riders here who will be more than happy to form alliances with their rival squads in order to gain as much time as possible over Roglic and Tadej Pogacar.
Hello and welcome to our live rolling blog from stage 17 of the 74th edition of the Vuelta a España, the 219.6km run from Aranda de Duero to Guadalajara. As I imagine you will know, we are now into the third week of the third and final grand tour of the season and, as it stands, Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) is on course to become the first Slovenian to win a grand tour. The 29-year-old led Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) by 2min 48sec overnight while compatriot Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Team Emirates) was third at 3min 42sec. Today, on paper, is a stage where the fastmen were expected to prevail while those in the general classification race were poised to take a backseat.
However, the crosswinds have turned up on what is apparently a fairly exposed route. The result? Utter chaos and carnage out on the road where a huge 32-man breakaway has gone off up the road while further back splits have been created.Deceuninck-Quick Step has six riders – yes, SIX! – in the front group including their sprinter Fabio Jakobsen and the young Briton James Knox who may break into the top 10 on general classification here today should this sizeable gap hold.
Ineos also has numbers up front, but the main talking point, probably, will be the fact that Nairo Quintana and three of his Movistar team-mates have managed to avoid the split. As for Roglic? All seven of Jumbo-Visma's riders are in the fourth group on the road and they are trailing Quintana by almost five minutes. If today's stage were to finish now then Quintana would rocket up to third in the standings – he started the day sixth, 7min 43sec adrift of Roglic.
There are currently no television pictures of the race, but I am hearing that the international TV feed will be starting 30 minutes earlier than planned due to the extreme circumstances in which today's stage has found itself. What drama.
As it stands . . .
Here's what the standings look like in the general, points, mountains, young rider and team classifications after 16 days of racing.
The Cycling Podcast: re-cap of the previous stage
Monday's stage was another first ascent for the Vuelta a España as the riders tackled La Cubilla, the so-called “Galibier of Asturias.” The team heard what some of them made of it once they had reached the summit as Jakob Fuglsang won the stage ahead of Tao Geoghegan Hart, who was on the attack for the second day in a row.
Richard Moore and Daniel Friebe discuss the action and hear from the previous day’s stage winner Sepp Kuss, his Jumbo-Visma team-mate George Bennett, and our diarists, James Knox and Nick Schultz. Knox had a particularly successful day, featuring in the break and moving up to 11th overall.
The Cycling Podcast is supported by Rapha and Science in Sport