Lotto Soudal’s Jelle Wallays defied the odds to come out on top in stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana in Lleida today, having led the race throughout.
The Belgian completed the 186.1km race in 3:57:03, beating UAE Team Emirates’ Sven Erik Bystrom and Bora-Hansgrohe’s Peter Sagan in the final dash for the line.
There was, however, no change on the general-classification standings as Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates retained his race lead, 25 seconds clear of Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde.
A three-rider breakaway – Wallays, Bystrom and Jetse Bol – made an escape just 3km into the race.
Several kilometres later, as the peloton tapped off the gas, the breakaway extended their lead to 2:50.
Approximately 60km into the race, expected to be the fastest stage of the Vuelta, the gap dropped to two minutes, but it grew again to two-and-a-half minutes with 106km left.
However, the trio’s lead dwindled again to just under two minutes as Bora-Hansgrohe joined the head of affairs in the peloton.
With just over 40km remaining the average speed was clocked at 45.2km/h as the peloton began stringing out.
The break rode a consistent pace at the front, having held a 2:20 lead in Almacellas with 28km left. Quick-Step Floors were controlling the pace at the head of the peloton.
With less than 8km to go Bol was beginning to run out of steam and could no longer keep up with his fellow escapees.
On a flat stage of this nature the duo’s lead looked precarious as it dropped to 35 seconds with 4km left.
With just over a kilometre to go their lead stood at 16 seconds as the peloton attempted to use a drag to catch them.
With 500m remaining, the peloton were on the leading pair’s heels, as Sagan exploded ahead.
However, the world champion was unable to overhaul Wallays and Bystrom.
“I think everyone was expecting a mass sprint, but I had a crash after the first rest day and I had something in my mind to do something in a stage and this was that stage,” Wallays said afterwards.
“I was well informed by my sport director that if I heard in the last 1.5km that we had [a gap of] 30 to 35 seconds, then I knew I needed to do something.
“I just focused on the line and I went with 200m to go [to take the win],” he added.