Wout Poels wins stage 20 as Kuss poised to win historic Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a Espana 2023

Stage 20

Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) claimed victory on stage 20 of the Vuelta a España from a reduced-group sprint, narrowly beating Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) to the line with a well-timed bike throw in Guadarrama.

Poels jumped first in the sprint and found separation from the other four remaining escapees of the day’s breakaway before the final corner. Despite Evenepoel’s great power, even he couldn’t chase down the flying Dutchman before the line with Pelayo Sánchez (Burgos-BH) in third. Lennert Van Eetvelt (Lotto Dstny) and Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) rounded out the top five after a brutal day of racing on a hilly parcours.

Poels and Van Eetvelt proved the strongest on the final climb but weren’t able to build enough of an advantage to completely get away and the remnants of the break came back together before the finale.

Behind, Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) would all but confirm his first-ever Grand Tour win and roll through the line arm-in-arm with teammates and fellow podium sitters Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič with only tomorrow’s flat stage into Madrid remaining.

“It [the breakaway] was perfectly controlled by the guys from the beginning. Robert [Gesink] and Dylan [van Baarle] were pulling 90% of the day in the stage,” said Kuss after the stage, grateful for his teammate’s support.

“It was a long, hard day and they were out there all day, so they were amazing.”

Kuss was even in disbelief at the finish, with two of the finest GC riders and superstars of the sport working to help him confirm his hold of the red jersey on the penultimate stage.

“Primož did a lot of work for me there on the last climb and on the flat with Jonas,” Kuss said. “It was something I never imagined.”

Jonas Vingegaard rides behind his teammate Sepp Kuss.

The American also reflected on the moment he crossed the line with Roglič and Vingegaard, still unable to fathom quite what he had done.

“It was a super special moment, to be able to relax that much in the last kilometre of a mountain stage with your two teammates is just really cool,” Kuss said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet.”

The Dutch team are also close to completing their objective of winning all three Grand Tours in the same season, with three different riders no less, through this performance alongside the aforementioned complete domination of all three podium spots in the 2023 Vuelta a España.

The action kicked off right from the flag on stage 20 with a 31-rider break including Evenepoel and Poels eventually establishing itself after 20km of hard racing on the final hilly stage of this year’s Vuelta with the Jumbo-Visma led peloton allowing them to gain an 11-minute advantage and fight for the stage victory.

There was GC action in the peloton with the Spanish trio of Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) and Enric Mas (Movistar) exchanging blows on the same climb where Poels attacked, but no differences were made and they would all cross the line on the same time.

After all the drama that came when Vingegaard and Roglič gained time on their teammate and loyal super-domestique earlier in the race, they arrived at the line together, all smiles, with the duo also pointing at the American over the line in adoration of his achievement.

The final possible day for GC action at the Vuelta a España saw attacks right from the flag with the uphill start acting as the perfect arena for fight for the break to begin

Antonio Tiberi (Bahrain Victorious) and Van Eetvelt were among the first to slip off the front with the next few waves of moves all being brought back together by a peloton full of teams all interested in the day’s break.

The breakaway on the road on stage 20.

Evenepoel showed his hand early as expected, bridging gaps by himself and eventually getting into the break of the day with three of his teammates by his side, Mattia Cattaneo, James Knox and Louis Vervaeke.

The break that formed was 31 riders deep once it had been established: with  Wilco Kelderman (Jumbo-Visma), Marc Soler, Finn Fisher-Black (both UAE Team Emirates), Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Poels, Lennard Kämna, Ben Zwiehoff (both Bora-Hansgrohe), Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ), Romain Bardet (Team dsm-firmenich), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), Iván García Cortina, Einer Rubio (both Movistar), Andreas Kron, Sylvain Moniquet, (both Lotto-Dstny), Edward Planckaert, Jimmy Janssens (both Alpecin-Deceuninck), Dorian Godon, Andrea Vendrame, Nicolas Prodhomme (all AG2R Citroën Team), Rui Costa (Intermarché – Circus – Wanty), Matteo Sobrero (Jayco-AlUla), Élie Gesbert (Team Arkéa Samsic), Fernando Barceló (Caja Rural – Seguros RGA), Joel Nicolau (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Sánchez joining the six mentioned above.

Race leader Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) and co let the move get away with no one threatening on GC making into the break, allowing them to settle into cruise control with over 180km remaining in what could’ve been a very nervous stage with a parcours perfect to try a GC raid.

The gap would extend past the 11-minute mark at its widest with Jumbo-Visma uninterested in chasing, especially with Wilco Kelderman present in the 31-rider group.

Bora-Hansgrohe launched the first attack out of the breakaway through Ben Zwiehoff 71km from the finish on the seventh climb of the day, forcing Thomas to lead a small group of the stronger escapees in the chase and ruining the group’s cohesion even with the German quickly reeled in.

Evenepoel put his Soudal-QuickStep riders to work in response, setting a hard pace to discourage more moves from being launched. This wouldn’t work however and with the cooperation broken down, more riders started to jump on the Alto de Santa María de la Alameda with three categorised climbs left to complete.

Racing at the head of the race calmed with Soudal-QuickStep managing to gain control of the large break, which with 30km remaining had reduced to only 22 riders, with the race deciding move looking likely to come on the final climb.

The peloton passing through the scenic landscape from Manzanares El Real to Guadarrama.

Evenepoel sat in Cattaneo’s wheel as they hit the foot of the Alto San Lorenzo de El Escorial before hitting the cobbled section of the climb, but it wasn’t the Belgian who would attack first and Poels was actually the rider to explode out of the group.

The former World Champion was forced to respond as they hit the steepest section and only Van Eetvelt could hold onto Poels’ wheel initially on the punishing inclines with the rest of the escapees suffering behind.

Sánchez began to try to bridge the gap with Soler for company and Evenepoel trying to salvage something back down the climb. Soler made the junction and with the sight of Evenepoel closing in on the lead, Poels re-attacked.

Sánchez would leave Evenepoel to chase on by himself as they started the descent, but the Belgian was making ground in every corner and with 11km to ride, it was a group of five at the head of the race.

Back in front Evenepoel had been reabsorbed and it was clear the stage was going to come down to a sprint, Poels jumped first with a few hundred metres and one corner to round, forcing Evenepoel into a huge response.

The Belgian kicked and maintained his sprint all the way to the line, reaching Poels who had made separation, but he couldn’t quite come round him and the Dutchman’s bike throw was enough to take his second stage Grand Tour stage win of the season.

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