Vuelta a Espana 2019
The three-man break had a nine-minute lead going onto the decisive climb and managed to hold on despite the fireworks from the race favourites behind.
Astana’s Lopez made the telling move with 3km remaining, attacking from an elite group which had formed around the world champion Alejandro Valverde.
Lopez rode to fourth place 47 seconds down on the shock winner Madrazo, with Spanish veteran Valverde coming home alongside Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic at 59 seconds.
With overnight race leader Nico Roche (Team Sunweb) digging deep but distanced on the final climb, Lopez moved back onto the summit with a 14-second lead over Jumbo-Visma’s Roglic.
Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, who came eighth on the stage but couldn’t keep up with teammate Valverde’s surges, is third at 23 seconds, five seconds clear of the man in rainbow stripes.
After three days in red, Roche dropped to fifth place on GC, at 59 seconds, on the first of eight summit finishes on a typically mountainous edition of the Vuelta.
As well as securing the biggest victory of his career – coming from nowhere after repeatedly being dropped on the final climb – the yoyoing Madrazo picked up maximum KoM points over the three climbs to extend his lead in the polka dot jersey classification.
With Dutch teammate Bol also in the break, the Burgos-BH duo were able to play cat-and-mouse with their opponent Herrada, wearing the Spaniard down with a succession of attacks.
Entering the final kilometre, it looked like Bol was the Plan A. But an inspired Madrazo found a seventh wind, clawing his way back and riding clear with a few hundred metres remaining.
Madrazo was a picture of disbelief as he crossed the line for the biggest win of his career, with Bol celebrating wildly and pointing to the Burgos-BH logos as he came home 10 seconds down for second place.
A disconsolate Herrada – outnumbered and outfoxed – took third at 22 seconds before Lopez heralded the arrival of the big GC favourites to move back into the red jersey he wore following Astana’s opening TTT win on Saturday.
A fierce battle for the break happened at the start of the stage with the tenacious Madrazo eventually putting some daylight between himself and the peloton after 10km.
Madrazo, the most combative rider of the race so far with over 290km of breakaway kilometres in his leg going into Wednesday’s stage, was soon joined by his Dutch teammate Bol and compatriot Jose Herrada of Cofidis.
With little interest in the trio from the pack, the break established a maximum lead of 11 minutes over the rolling roads of the landlocked Aragon region in northeastern Spain.
Madrazo crested the summit of the Cat.2 Puerto de Alcublas and Cat.3 Alto Fuente de Rubielos in pole position to extend his lead in the KoM standings and ensure at least another day in the blue polka dots.
Behind, the Sunweb team of red jersey Roche seemed content to let the trio ride all the way to the finish – perhaps in a bid to take the spark out of the finale and protect the Irishman’s slender two-second lead in the general classification.
A scenic route took the race through the Barranco de la Hoz gorge alongside the river Mijares, with a handful or riders perhaps guilty of being distracted by their surroundings when falling off a lip on the side of the road at a pinch-point.
But the gap, despite dropping to around nine minutes, soon stretched out to well over 10 minutes again as the trio entered the final 50km with the hard work of Burgos-BH – a permanent fixture in breaks since Sunday’s first road stage – paying off.
Madrazo, exhausted by a third day from four in the break, was distanced on an uphill rise after Herrada upped the tempo, but managed to ride back once the road levelled. It wouldn’t be the last time.
Jumbo-Visma and Movistar both had short-lived stints on the front, but with the gap stretching above 11 minutes by the time Bol won the intermediate sprint at Manzanera, it looked like there was a collective acceptance that the break would go the distance.
A needless crash in the peloton then further slowed the chase, Bahrain Merida making a hash of things following a touch of wheels between Mark Padun and Phil Bauhaus with 32km remaining.
Sunweb then came to the front to control the peloton and keep their man Roche out of trouble in the lead up to the final climb.
Despite their strong position ahead of the Alto de Javalambre, the Burgos-BH team car did its best to derail the team’s chances after clipping the back wheel of Madrazo with a front bumper, sending the polka dot jersey careering across the road and almost taking out compatriot Herrada.
Somehow both Spaniards managed to stay upright as Bol looked on in astonishment as his sheepish directeur sportif apologised for the gaffe.
Madrazo was soon dropped for the first of many times, but the man in polka dots kept fighting back and rejoining Bol and Herrada on the front of the race. In fact, each time he returned, Madrazo made a point of riding clear – instantly turning the tables on Herrada and heaping on the pressure.
It looked like it was a tactic which had a relatively short shelf life – and yet there Madrazo was, on the steepest 16% section of the climb, still on the front of the race.
When Herrada increased the tempo, it looked like curtains for Madrazo. But Bol never gave up in his teammate, who slowly clawed himself back into contention while the Dutchman expertly sandbagged his opponent going into the final kilometre. The rest was history.
In the battle for red, Roglic enjoyed some expert pace-setting from his Jumbo-Visma teammate Sepp Kuss who rode his heart out – closing down Valverde’s attack and ensuring his leader was on the front foot when the battle truly commenced.
It was Lopez who made the decisive move while Roglic stuck with Valverde, the veteran Spaniard in no mood to ease up and help pace Movistar teammate Quintana, the Stage 2 winner, back into the fold.
While fellow Colombians Uran and Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) struggled on the double-digit ramps of the climb, Lopez, the best placed young rider, laid down a marker to ensure he would swap white for red after the first major test of the race.
Coming up: Stage 6 – Mora de Rubielos to Ares del Maestrat
Ideal breakaway terrain sees the riders tackle 198.9 rolling kilometres via four categorised climbs en route to the summit finish on the Puerto de Ares. With a stage win and enough polka dot points in the can, Angel Madrazo should treat himself to a day off on what looks to be the kind of parcours that will suit the Belgian Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal.