Schultz battles the breakaway on the penultimate stage of La Vuelta

Sat 7 Nov 2020

Herald Sun Tour stage winner Nick Schultz made it into the break of the day and battled his way to a top-30 finish on a punishing final mountain stage of La Vuelta a España.

The Australian and teammate Dion Smith were part of the large breakaway group that headed up the road on the penultimate stage as the day boiled down to a fight on the final climb to the finish.

Final Mountains
The usual fight commenced as the flag dropped to start the stage, with riders desperate to make it up the road on the final day of racing before tomorrow's sprint stage in Madrid. After several attacks came and went, a group of 34 riders eventually escaped, with Schultz and Smith represented in the move for Mitchelton-SCOTT.

However, the peloton never gave the escapees much of an advantage and at the summit of the first climb the gap stood at 3’50”. Five riders then pushed on out of the leading group with 100km remaining, but were soon shutdown over the next ascent, while Basque climber Mikel Nieve had to be paced back on after suffering a puncture.

The breakaway was down to 22 riders by the time they reached the penultimate climb of the day, a category two test, and the gap over the reduced bunch was now below two minutes. Smith was amongst those riders distanced at the head of the race, leaving Schultz as the lone Mitchelton-SCOTT man in the breakaway.

One Last Climb
The break then broke down further on the approach to the final ascent to the finish as three riders edged away on an uncategorised cobbled ramp. The trio opened up a gap of 40 seconds at the foot of the Alto de La Covatilla, with the stage winner now set to come from one of the breakaway members as the peloton trailed by almost four minutes.

As riders reacted and attempted to bridge across to the leading three on the lower slopes, Schultz found himself distanced. The 26-year-old continued to grind his was up the punishing climb and was eventually swept up by the general classification contenders as they battled for the overall title as the summit approached.

David Gaudu (Groupama – FDJ) held off the GC riders to take a solo win as Schultz crossed the line in 26th place five minutes later. Meanhile, Nieve fought his way up the climb to maintain his 13th place in the overall standings heading into the final day of action tomorrow.

Nick Schultz:
"I’m pretty pleased, the last two days I‘ve been nursing a bit of a problem with my achilles tendon, so I was a bit worried at the start today that maybe that would cause issues. But the best way to go about it was just to get stuck into the race, so I didn’t think about it and that’s what I did.

"I ended up in that big group away with Dion and it was just super hard all day because there were some guys well placed on GC there and they had some teammates, so they were just riding it super hard. We were riding all the climbs really hard, all the descents as well.

"By the time I got to the last climb I was already at my maximum capacity and I just sort of rode my own pace up there. But it was a nice way to finish the hard stages of the race, being at the pointy end and being in the race, so overall, it’s been a good race and a good tour."

Julian Dean (Sports Director):
"We definetly set out today with the objective to try and get Nieve into the top-10, he’s always had a good record of being good in the last days of Grand Tours, he was good on the last stage of the Vuelta last year.

"But he missed that early break, so that was a bit off bummer. It was a tough day, the guys gave it everything they and we still had Dion and Nick in that break. We had some bad luck as well with Mikel puncturing at a bad time and having to chase back on, which I think cost a little bit in the end."

La Vuelta a España - Stage 17 Results:
1. David Gaudu (Groupama - FDJ) 4:54:32
2. Gino Mader (NTT Pro Cycling) +0:28
3. Ion Izagirre (Astana Pro Team) +01:05
26. Nick Schultz (Mitchelton-SCOTT) +05:13

La Vuelta – General Classification after Stage 17:
1. Primoz Roglic (Team Jumbo-Visma) 69:17:59
3. Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) +0:24
3. Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) +0:47
13. Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-SCOTT) +14:47

Photos Courtesy of Bettini Photo.