Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) manoeuvred perfectly to win stage 15 of La Vuelta 23 in Lekunberri at the end of an extremely intense day of racing on Navarra roads. At 36 years old, the Portuguese veteran made the break of the day after a huge battle animated by Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step). Everyone looked at the Belgian star in the front group, until Costa and Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) set off on the final ascent. Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) joined them and almost took the cake. But Costa bid his time to take his fourth Grand Tour win, ten years after his last success in the Tour de France. Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) moves into the second rest day with La Roja on his shoulders. But many ascents await the riders in the third and final week towards Madrid.
After two gruelling days in the Pyrenees, the peloton of La Vuelta 23 face a hilly and tricky stage in Navarra, from Pamplona to Lekunberri. Lots of riders identify this day as a major opportunity for the breakaway and a huge battle ensues.
Evenepoel, Soler, Vingegaard…
On the day after his victory in Larra-Belagua, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) is extremely active again. But, as Romain Grégoire put it at the start, “130 riders are motivated”. Even the GC contenders move on the first ascent of the day, the 19.3km long climb up Puerto de Lizarraga (summit at km 79.8).
The last winner in Lekunberri, Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates), attacks and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) follows his move. Some 35 riders get back together at km 63, including the GC contenders. Counter-attackers immediately set off and breakaway forms on the downhill.
The battle goes on
Evenepoel is at the front, with Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious), Elissonde (Lidl-Trek), Molard (Groupama-FDJ), Denz, Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Janssens (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Kron (Lotto Dstny), Caicedo (EF Education-EasyPost), Bouchard, Vendrame (AG2R Citroën), Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Rubio (Movistar Team), Hamilton (DSM-firmenich) and Cristian Rodriguez (Arkéa-Samsic). Jumbo-Visma and Alpecin-Deceuninck try to control the gap under 3 minutes.
The breakaway explodes on the first ascent up the Puerto de Zuarrarrate (7.3km at 4.8%). Evenepoel leads the way to the summit (38km to go) with Buitrago, Rubio, Kämna, Costa, Kron, Rodriguez, Hamilton and Janssens. The peloton trail by 3’30’’.
Costa masters a thrilling final
Janssens anticipates the intermediate sprint to make sure he takes 20 points (and Evenepoel doesn’t). He leads the way to the bottom of the final climb of the day. But Buitrago and Costa quickly get back to the Belgian and drop him. Evenepoel drives the chase, with the help of Kämna, who sets off and bridges the gap on his own just before the summit.
The three of them battle on the downhill to Lekunberri. Kämna opens a gap with 4km to go… But he crashes in a turn one kilometre further! Costa and Buitrago look at each other. Kämna gets back for the last kilometre and opens up the sprint. But Costa passes him right on the line.