Britain’s Hugh Carthy is on the verge of an unexpected third place at the Vuelta a Espana with Primoz Roglic set to win the red jersey.
Barring incident on Sunday’s largely processional final stage to Madrid, Carthy will stand on the podium behind Roglic and Richard Carapaz.
Carthy’s podium comes a fortnight after Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart won the Giro d’Italia for Ineos Grenadiers.
Saturday’s gruelling mountainous stage was won by Groupama-FDJ’s David Gaudu.
Jumbo-Visma’s Roglic will likely defend the Vuelta title from last season when he won his first three-week Grand Tour – finishing 24 seconds ahead of Ineos Grenadiers’ Carapaz and 47 seconds in front of Carthy of EF Pro Cycling.
Roglic’s achievement is impressive after conceding victory in this year’s Tour de France to compatriot Tadej Pogacar on the penultimate time trial – losing two minutes after being the overwhelming favourite – in one of the sport’s most dramatic finishes.
And once again it was a nail-biting finish on the summit of the Alto de la Covatilla as Carapaz attacked in the final seven kilometres and Roglic couldn’t hold on, with Carthy even riding away from the struggling 31-year-old.
Ireland’s Dan Martin is set to take fourth for Israel Stat Up Nation, 2mins 43secs down after being in contention for much of the 18-stage race.
Saturday’s 178.2km summit finish stage from Sequeros, to the west of Madrid, was won by Gaudu after he powered away from Astana’s Ion Izagirre as the last survivors from a large breakaway of riders, which also included Britain’s Mark Donovan, who finished fifth for Sunweb.
“I was trying to test Roglic and Carapaz,” said a breathless Carthy after crossing the line. “In the end it wasn’t enough. I gave it my best – the whole team did for three weeks. I can’t complain.
“It was a real team effort. I’m happy with that and my progression, and I’m proud of myself for showing my ability.”
How did Carthy become a Brit to watch?
In a coronavirus-interrupted season which saw many of Britain’s top riders struggle after years of success in the sport, Carthy’s podium is a surprising and welcome result which elevates the Preston-born rider’s status in the peloton.
Before this race, Carthy had a best result of first overall on a lower-ranking stage race in Spain four years ago, and a stage win on last year’s Tour of Switzerland.
Carthy held on to his more decorated leaders with ease on Saturday’s stage 17 before demonstrating his strength to hold on to, and then pass, a fading Roglic, who will be concerned by his inability to see out race wins without jitters in the final metres, often when his strong support riders have faded.
In this case, powerful team-mate Sepp Kuss could not hold the pace as the leaders reached the hardest part of the climb and had to signal to his leader Roglic to battle the final 10km alone.
However, Carthy’s star turn came on stage 12 when he won on the infamous Alto de Angliru climb – barking with pride and anger as he powered over the line.
The Lancastrian’s achievement is all the more valuable given he did it as part of a team which has fewer support riders able to hang on in the mountain stages, and with a budget far lower than that of Roglic and Carapaz’s big-spending teams.
How did Ineos get on?
Ineos Grenadiers will take some pride from the performance of lead rider Carapaz, who was deemed to have better form than four-time Tour and two-time Vuelta winner Chris Froome, who instead was part of an eight-man team including Carapaz, 27.
The Ecuadorian former Giro d’Italia winner led five days of this race mostly across northern Spain, but was generally offered slightly less support in the higher mountains than rival Roglic as Ineos’ domestiques fell back.
His strong ride in the final few kilometres of this stage added more drama to a race which had already seen controversy when race commissaires changed a time ruling on stage 10 penalising Ineos by three seconds.
That led to Carapaz losing the leader’s jersey and Froome staging a protest before the following day’s stage, in which he convinced the peloton to delay riding, although it did not affect the outcome of the general classification.
Sunday’s stage into Madrid reflects that of the Tour de France’s final stage entry to Paris – in which the sprinters will compete to win in central Madrid.
The overall leader will not be challenged and must avoid an injury which would prevent him from completing the course.
In the women’s version of the Vuelta – the Ceratizit Challenge by La Vuelta – Germany’s Lisa Brennauer of Ceratizit-WNT Pro Cycling won the individual time trial on day two, with Britain’s Alice Barnes of Canyon-Sram in eighth.
The Netherlands’ Lorena Wiebes of Sunweb won the opening stage on Friday.
Stage 17 result
1. David Gaudu (Fra/Groupama-FDJ) 4hrs 54mins 32secs
2. Gino Mader (Swi/NTT) +28
3. Ion Izagirre (Spa/Astana) +1min 5secs
4. David de la Cruz (Spa/UAE-Team Emirates) same time
5. Mark Donovan (GB/Sunweb) +1min 53secs
6. Michael Storer (Aus/Sunweb) same time
7. Guillaume Martin (Fra/Cofidis) +2min 23secs
8. Richard Carapaz (Ecu/Ineos Grenadiers) +2min 35secs
9. Hugh Carthy (GB/EF Pro Cycling) +2min 50secs
10. Primoz Roglic (Slo/Jumbo-Visma) +2mins 56secs
General classification after stage 17
1. Primoz Roglic (Slo/Jumbo-Visma) 69hrs 17mins 59secs
2. Richard Carapaz (Ecu/Ineos Grenadiers) +24secs
3. Hugh Carthy (GB/EF Pro Cycling) +47secs
4. Dan Martin (Ire/Israel Start-Up Nation) +2min 43secs
5. Enric Mas (Spa/Movistar) +3mins 36secs
6. Wout Poels (Ned/Bahrain-McLaren) +7mins 16secs
7. David de la Cruz (Spa/UAE) +7mins 35secs
8. David Gaudu (Fra/Groupama-FDJ) +7mins 45secs
9. Felix Grossschartner (Ger/Bora-Hansgrohe) +8mins 15secs
10. Alejandro Valverde (Spa/Movistar) +9mins 34secs