Remco Evenepoel dominated the breakaway of La Vuelta Stage 18, achieving his 50th pro victory at age 23, while Jumbo-Visma worked for their leader Sepp Kuss, who survived the high pace on the final climb made by Bahrain-Victorious, keeping his leader’s jersey.
After a Jumbo-Visma civil war on Angliru, it was a relatively calm day on Stage 18, with the breakaway going early and obtaining a huge gap over the peloton as Jumbo-Visma was happy to give away the bonus seconds and stage win. With two Cruz de Linares (8.2 km, 8.6%) ascents at the end of the course, it was going to be a day for climbers.
Remco Evenepoel was the big favourite from the breakaway with Max Poole, Damiano Caruso, Egan Bernal, Andreas Kron, Julien Bernard and others trying to challenge the Belgian champion. Despite being alone in the group with no teammates it was a perfect day for Evenepoel as the first half of the Linares ascent was over 10% gradient, which was suited for a high w/kg climber. Evenepoel had strong legs, did a lot of pacing in the middle of the stage and rode away from everyone on the first of the two Linares ascents, dropping Poole as the last rider.
Evenepoel did 6.53 ᵉW/Kg for 24:40 min on the first ascent and 6.17 ᵉW/Kg for 25:55 on the second time up Linares when he already had the stage win secured. No one came close to challenging him, as Evenepoel beat second-place finisher Damiano Caruso by 4 minutes and 44 seconds, for his 50th pro victory and 3rd stage victory in the 2023 Vuelta. There is still a single mountain day left on Stage 20 but it does not have the hard climbs of Stage 18.
In the peloton, it was a calm day compared to Angliru. Bahrain-Victorious again were pacing as they still had a strong climbing team even with Caruso in the breakaway. The peloton did the first Linares ascent in 25:05 min with 6.22 ᵉW/Kg. A decent pace but not too hard, slower than a practically solo Remco Evenepoel.
It was a long stage with a higher kilojoule count than the Angliru and Tourmalet explosive stages. Steff Cras spent before the final climb 4,024 kilojoules for 4:32h, which is 13.22 kj/kg/h. Not a high intensity but it was more of a difficult endurance test than most of La Vuelta's climbing stages.
After Poels and Tiberi had done their job, Landa tried to attack and move to the fourth place in the GC ahead of Juan Ayuso but it was not enough. Vingegaard acted as a domestique and brought back Landa and paced the rest of the climb with Kuss and Roglič in his wheel. Landa and Ayuso tried later to attack again as the pace was not super high but were brought back.
In the end, it was not a straightforward day for many of the other GC contenders, with Cian Ujitdebroeks, Aleksandr Vlasov and Joao Almeida losing almost a minute to the main GC group. Kuss, Mas, Ayuso and Roglič finished together, with Landa and Vingegaard losing three and nine seconds respectively in the final metres.
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Despite Jumbo-Visma being calm, it was a very hard final ascent of La Cruz de Linares. Jonas Vingegaard did the final climb in 24:09 min, pushing 6.60 ᵉW/Kg. Kuss, Roglič, Mas and Ayuso did 6.54 ᵉW/Kg. Kuss proved that he is not fading at all, surviving such a hard climb, and going one step closer to his first Grand Tour victory.