The Vuelta a España saved it’s toughest day until the penultimate stage, as the day’s hors category Angliru forced a final general classification shake up before Madrid. An incredible effort from Wilco Kelderman saw him battle the stage’s demanding gradients, limiting his losses to finish inside the top five overall.
With two category one and one hors category climbs to contend with before the summit finish atop Angliru, Team Sunweb lined up for the final mountain stage of this year’s Vuelta prepared for a tough day in the saddle. From the go the attacks came in their masses, with Team Sunweb’s Søren Kragh Andersen involved in a group of around 20 riders that went clear. The group were given little freedom with their gap rarely stretching over the one minute mark. Keen to stay up there, Søren pushed on in the breakaway and soon found himself chasing a solo leader at the front of the race. In the peloton behind, the selection amongst GC favourites was well underway on the Alto del Cordal and the group was reducing by the kilometre. When a favourite in the overall attacked from the group, Søren dropped back to the GC group to assist Team Sunweb with the chase.
The gap fluctuated between 45 seconds to one minute 20, and with the rider a threat to Wilco’s placing in the GC he put in a huge ride to hang on to the group of favourites. As the gradients of Angliru intensified Wilco was distanced from the group, but determined to limit losses he continued to pace his way up the climb. Finishing the day in 8th place, Wilco all but finishes the Vuelta a España in 5th place after an incredible three weeks of racing.
“I have mixed feelings about today,” said Wilco after stage 20. “It was a man on man fight on the final climb and the others were just a bit stronger. I could follow for a long time but in the end I just had to let go. I’m super satisfied and happy with the result. Before the Vuelta I definitely would have settled for 5th place. The guys did a great job today and gave me the confidence that I needed to keep going.”
Team Sunweb coach Marc Reef said: “Today the goal was to have a rider in the break to support Wilco later on in the stage. Søren managed to get in the break and went forward when it split up. Johannes stayed with Wilco in the first part of the race. Then we had Chad, Chris and Søren who had dropped back from the break to help control the gap to the GC attack. It came down to a huge battle between the top 5 overall at the end and Wilco lost contact in the last kilometre. Overall it was an incredible ride from everyone today, each rider gave all they could give until they could give no more and we can’t ask for much more than that.”