The 2018 Vuelta a Espana produced its usual mix of excitement, surprises and the emergence of a new crop of sensational young riders. We expect to see a lot more of these guys over the next few years, but in the meantime, let’s take a look back at the highlights and characters who made this year’s race.
As unpredictable as ever
The Vuelta is a very different race to the other two Grand Tours of the year. Coming late in the season – when legs are tired, main objectives not yet achieved, and some contracts unconfirmed – the racing is often more dynamic with riders given reign to race instinctively. The Vuelta provides a perfect platform for younger and less familiar names to come to the fore, competing against experienced favourites who missed out on the Giro and Tour. Meanwhile, the field is often stacked with riders who lurk in the background, using the race to hone their form for the upcoming World Championships.
This year was no different. After three weeks of racing it was Britain’s Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) in red, with Spain’s much-vaunted successor to Alberto Contador, Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors), and young Colombian, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), who stood either side of him on the podium. During the three-week race, Elia Viviani continued the remarkable run of results for his Quick-Step Floors team, taking three sprint victories including the iconic final stage into Madrid.
New superstars emerge
After his devastating tumble from the race lead at the Giro d’Italia less than four months ago, the naturally aggressive Simon Yates was supported by a strong young team in his inspiring quest for redemption. However, it was Enric Mas, the 23-year-old Mallorcan of all-conquering mega-team Quick-Step Floors, who was possibly even more of a revelation. On the mist-shrouded summit of Monte Oiz, the finish of stage 17, the brilliant white grin of Mas broke through ahead of the GC group, with some of the best climbers in the world behind him. Three days later he went even better, winning the brutal Andorran stage to claim his first, and surely not his last, Vuelta stage win.
To do this at any time is impressive, but after 2½ weeks of gruelling racing in his first ever Grand Tour was simply remarkable. Keep any eye on him - he is likely to be the future of Spanish cycling.
Drama, breakaways and heart-warming stories
The Vuelta promises drama and it rarely disappoints. Granted, we’d much rather a TV helicopter hadn’t caused a crash, nor that a race official had been KO’d yards from a finish line, but drama nonetheless. There was even a win for one of the wildcard teams thanks to Oscar Rodriguez of Euskadi-Murias who came from nowhere to pinch the stage 13 win.
We got some heart-warming human drama too. Canadian Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale) took an almost slow-motion win on the crazy-steep, mist-shrouded Monte Oiz, a second 2018 Vuelta victory for the American team after Simon Clarke’s stage 5. Both riders won upon the outfit’s Cannondale SuperSix lightweight frames which were equipped with Mavic Cosmic carbon wheels wrapped and the world’s favourite Vittoria tyres.
EF Education First-Drapac are a team whose heart and character outweighs their literal success, so it was a delight to cycling fans and followers everywhere to see the boys in pink and green raising their arms not once, but twice. The sheer joy was elevated all the more with Michael Woods’ dedication of his win to his recently stillborn son Hunter: “I really wanted to win for him and win for my wife.”
Elia Viviani fulfilling his potential
2018 has been something of a breakthrough season for the Italian sprinter. Too often stifled at the general classification-focussed Team Sky, his move to Quick-Step this season – and swapping over to Specialized equipment – has worked perfectly with three stage wins at the Vuelta (out of a possible five) capping his most successful year to date.