There are ways to beat Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) in breakaways and Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) showed it on stage 20 of La Vuelta 23. The Dutch climber narrowly edged the Belgian after a gruelling day of racing in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Already a conqueror of the Angliru (2011), Poels takes his second stage win in the Spanish Grand Tour, two months after he raised his arms in the Tour de France as well. The GC contenders battled on the final climb of La Vuelta 23, the Alto de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, but Sep Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) controlled his rivals to all but seal the overall victory on the eve of the final stage in Madrid. He is set to be the first winner of a Grand Tour from the USA since Chris Horner claimed La Vuelta 13.
The last big battle! On the eve of a fast finish in Madrid, the peloton of La Vuelta 23 face more than 4,000m of elevation in the Sierra de Guadarrama, with ten categorised climbs packed in 207.8km of racing to try and turn the race upside down.
An impressive breakaway
Attackers are inspired from the start and a big battle ensues on the first ascent of the day, Collado del Portazgo (summit at km 12.8). Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) leads the way to the summit ahead of Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) and 29 more attackers, including former La Vuelta stage winners like Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious), Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), Andreas Kron (Lotto Dstny), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), Rui Costa (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) and Romain Bardet (DSM-Firmenich).
Dylan van Baarle and Robert Gesink (Jumbo-Visma) set the pace in the bunch, as they have for most of La Vuelta 23. The attackers work well together and the gap is up to 6 minutes as they enter the last 100 kilometres.
Evenepoel’s teammates control
The breakaway riders start attacking each other on the second ascent of the Alto de Santa Maria, with a bit more than 70 kilometres to go. But with three teammates at the front (Cattaneo, Knox and Vervaeke), Evenepoel controls the situation towards the last two ascents of the day, inside the last 35 kilometres. Meanwhile, the gap to the bunch increases to over 10 minutes.
On the final and steepest ascent of the day, the Alto de San Lorenzo de El Escorial (4.6km at 6.6%), Wout Poels puts the hammer down. The Dutch rider leads the way to the summit, followed by Evenepoel, Marc Soler, Lennert Van Eetvelt (Lotto Dstny) and Pelayo Sanchez (Burgos-BH).
Poels and Kuss celebrate
After a speedy downhill, the five of them work together on the flat. Poels surprises his rivals as he launches the sprint from far away. Evenepoel almost gets back to him but the Dutch climber resists the Belgian star on the line.
In the GC group, Enric Mas (Movistar) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) attack. Primoz Roglic controls for Jumbo-Visma. The Slovenian star, a 3-time winner of La Vuelta, crosses the line alongside Jonas Vingegaard and Sepp Kuss as the trio already celebrates their accomplishments in La Vuelta 23 on the eve of the final stage in Madrid.