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Race leader Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) answered every attack by his main rival Enric Mas (Movistar Team) on Thursday’s 18th stage of the Vuelta a España, and threw in some big haymakers of his own for good measure.
The Belgian rider never looked under trouble and answered Mas’ surges with some stingers, showing the Spaniard that he needs to do much more if he is to win his first Vuelta.
The battle saw the duo inadvertently reel in breakaway rider Robert Gesink (Jumbo-Visma), who was brought back inside the final 500 meters and could only watch as Evenepoel launched a stage-winning sprint.
He put two seconds into Mas and Gesink by the finish line, with Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) best of the rest in fourth. The Australian led in an eight man chase group 13 seconds back, with Thymen Arensman (Team DSM), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Ben O’Connor (Ag2r Citroën), Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), Miguel Ángel Lopez (Astana Qazaqstan Team) and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) all finishing in the same time.
Evenepoel’s time gap at the finish plus his bonus saw his lead over Mas increase to 2:07, with Ayuso now 5:14 back and well out of the hunt for red. López improves one place to forth, overtaking Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers). The Spaniard had a big crash early on during the stage and while he was able to continue, he was clearly not at his best as a result of the fall. He was only 17th on the stage, losing 1:19 to Evenepoel, and will be disappointed to drop to fifth.
The other places in the top ten remain unchanged, with Almeida, Arensman, O’Connor, Urán and Hindley staying where they were on Thursday morning, albeit several seconds further back from Evenepoel and Mas.
Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) wasn’t hurt in the crash which took down Rodríguez and others and holds is 200 point lead over Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious). Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) stays third.
That same pileup did however change things in the king of the mountains contest, with longtime leader and double stage winner Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck) crashing out with a wrist problem plus other injuries.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) takes over in that contest and collected 15 additional points during the stage. He is on 45 points, 20 more than Mas and 22 in front of Arensman.
Evenepoel continues as best young rider ahead of Ayuso and Rodríguez. UAE Team Emirates continues as best team, with Ineos Grenadiers second and Bahrain-Victorious overtaking Movistar Team for third.