The opening road stage of the Vuelta a España saw some of the main contenders for overall victory go on the attack with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) soloing to victory in Calpe. The stage also saw Nicolas Roche take over the lead of the race, six years after a first stint with La Roja.
The race split after an intense battle on the last climb of the day, the Alto de Puig Llorença, with more than 20km to go and the Colombian climber made the most of the situation to open up a 5” gap to a chasing group led by Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb) ahead of Primoz Roglic (Team Jumbo-Visma). Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) dropped 37” with Roche taking over the race lead.
The 176 riders paid tribute to Bjorg Lambrecht – Lotto Soudal’s rider who tragically passed away at the beginning of the month after a crash in Poland – with a minute’s silence before the start of the stage from Benidorm. Attacks went from the start and it took 15 kilometres for a break to get away at the bottom of the 20-kilometre climb up the Puerto de Confrides (cat-2).
Sander Armée (Lotto Soudal) and Angel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) made the most of this first climb of La Vuelta 19: Madrazo claimed the first KOM points 1’30” ahead of two chasers, Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Willie Smit (Katusha-Alpecin). Astana drove the bunch for the leader Miguel Angel Lopez with a delay of 6’30”. The chasers then joined the leading duo on the second climb of the day, the Alto de Benilloba, and Madrazo took 3 more points at the summit.
The gap was almost up to 7 minutes when Sam Bennett’s Bora-Hansgrohe team got to the front of the bunch with 130 kilometres to go. The German squad steadily reduced the gap and the pack crossed the finish line for the first time (km 156) with a delay of 1’25”. Sander Armée dropped his breakaway companions with 41 kilometres to go and was eventually reeled in by the bunch 10 kilometres further on.
The race opened up on the last climb of the day, the Alto de Puig Llorença (3km, 9.5%). Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) set a hard tempo and only 20 riders remained in the front group as Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) trailed by 40” at the summit.
Another group of six strong riders attacked with 20km to go: Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First), Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott), Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) and Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates).
They enter the last 10 kilometres with a lead of 20” over the Lopez group. Nairo Quintana accelerated again with 3 kilometres to go and soloed to victory, 5” ahead of Nicolas Roche, who takes the red jersey from Miguel Angel Lopez as the Colombian dropped 37” on the line.