Lagos de Somiedo (Spain): David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) picked up the biggest win of his career in Stage 11 on the Alto de la Farrapona on a day of stalemate between red jersey Primoz Roglic and his general classification rivals in La Vuelta.
Frenchman Gaudu zipped clear of fellow escapee Marc Soler (Movistar) on the home straight to open up his Grand Tour account in style in the Asturias mountains. Spaniard Soler, already a winner in this race in Stage 2, crossed the line four seconds adrift.
Team Sunweb duo Michael Storer and Mark Donovan came home 52 seconds in arrears for third and fourth, ahead of Frenchman Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), who extended his lead in the polka dot jersey competition on a day which featured four first-category climbs of increasing height and difficulty.
Russia’s Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana) surged clear of the streamlined main pack in the final kilometre to take sixth place just before Ireland’s Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) led a select quartet featuring Roglic in red, the green jersey of Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and white jersey Enric Mas (Movistar) over the line just over a minute down on the winner.
With their mind firmly focused on Sunday’s showdown on the Alto de l’Angliru, Slovenia’s Roglic and Ecuador’s Carapaz stay tied for time at the top of the standings, with triple stage winner Roglic in red by virtue of his superior aggregate stage results.
By leading the main GC favourites home for seventh place, Martin moved above Carapaz in the points classification – and so it will be the Irishman who assumes Roglic’s green jersey on Sunday’s queen stage. He trails both Roglic and Carapaz by 25 seconds on GC, with Britain’s Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) still in fourth but now 58 seconds back after being tailed off in the closing moments of the 170km stage in northern Spain.
Although he missed out on a second stage win, Spain’s Soler had something to smile about by the Lakes of Someido after rising four places to sixth, while compatriot Mikel Nieve rose into the top 10 at the expense of his Mitchelton-Scott teammate Esteban Chaves, who struggled on the double-digit ramps of the final climb.
Victory for Gaudu was only the third in the 24-year-old Frenchman’s burgeoning career – and his first in one of cycling’s Grand Tours. So often deployed as a mountain lieutenant for Groupama teammate Thibaut Pinot, Gaudu finally found an opportunity to showcase his climbing ability following the earlier withdrawal of his compatriot from the race.
Gaudu was part of a nine-man break which never held more than a three-minute advantage over the pack as an early polka-dot battle between Martin and his king of the mountains rival, the Belgian Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), eventually gave way to a skirmish for the stage as the big guns kept their powder dry behind.
The start of the stage at Villaviciosa was delayed as many of the riders voiced their displeasure with the time gaps awarded on Stage 10 that saw the leader’s jersey change from Carapaz to stage winner Roglic.
A number of the teams – with Ineos’ double Vuelta champion Chris Froome particularly vocal – were unhappy that the race organisers made a change to how the stage’s time gaps were judged after the race had been ridden. The UCI, however, rejected the appeal during the course of Saturday’s stage and Friday’s results will stand.
Once the first of two stages in the Asturias mountains got under way, Wellens showed his cards with an early attack to pick up maximum points over a third-category leg-stretcher. The Belgian was reeled in by pack before resuming his KOM tussle with Martin on the first of four first-category climbs.
But both riders left it too late to pick up any points on the Alto de la Colladona, forging clear of the pack in pursuit of five leaders too late to add to their respective points tallies.
Wellens and Martin joined forces with Gaudu to bridge over to the leaders on the descent as eight escapees rode onto the Alto de la Cobertoria with a two-minute gap on the pack, which had reformed after all the early fireworks.
It was at this point, with just over 80km remaining, that Soler made his move and extricated himself from the peloton, joining teammate Nelson Oliveira in the break moments before Wellens was shelled out the back ahead of the summit.
Martin took maximum points as the move – which also included the Australian Storer and Britain’s Donovan (both of Sunweb), Gaudu’s hard-working Groupama teammate Bruno Armirail, and the Dane Niklas Eg (Trek-Segafredo) – increased its advantage to over three minutes, putting Soler into the virtual top five at the expense of his Movistar teammate Mas.
Martin doubled up on the Puerto de San Lorenzo to strengthen his grip on the polka dot jersey – his tally of 50 points at the end of the day more than double that of his nearest challengers, Carapaz and the American Sepp Kuss of Jumbo-Visma.
On the final climb of the day, Gaudu and Soler rode clear with 5km remaining with the Sunweb duo in pursuit and a tiring Martin dropping further back. Two minutes further down the road, Roglic was surrounded by four Jumbo teammates – and although Carapaz no longer had any support from his Ineos Grenadiers team, it became clear that the fight for red was to be put on hold for another day until Sunday’s short but sharp Stage 12 to the Angliru.
Gaudu and Soler enjoyed a bit of cat-and-mouse as they entered the final kilometre, the Frenchman particularly anxious when forced to ride on the front. Sick of constantly looking over his shoulder, Gaudu slowed and forced his rival to launch the sprint – and when Soler did just that, Gaudu had a superior kick.
Punching the air, the Frenchman roared with delight as he took a win that was a long time coming. Behind, the only piece of action came from Vlasov, who darted clear of the pack of favourites – but it was too little, too late, as the Russian only took a few seconds back before Ireland’s Martin led the riders in red, green and white home.
So, we move on to Sunday’s rendez-vous with the mythical Alto de L’Angliru – the goat-track whose double-digit ramps have earned the climb the status as the hardest in all of the Grand Tours. The 109.4km Stage 12 is short but could do some real damage ahead of the second rest day.