Mats Pedersen surged from his sprint rivals to win the 19th stage on Friday, taking his third win of the past seven Vuelta a Espana stages, while race leader Remco Ebenepol was comfortable in the pack finished in
Trek-riding Danish Pedersen took on Fred Wright and Belgian Gianni Vermeerche for a 138.3km stage that begins and ends at Talavera de la Reina in central Spain.
With two stages to go, Quick-Step’s Belgian Ebenepol was 2:07 ahead of Spain’s Enric Mass and 5:14 ahead of third-placed Juan Ayuso.
The stage ended with a sprint after the pack reeled in a strong breakaway.
“It was very difficult to control the peloton. The team did an impressive job,” said Pedersen. “Without them, we wouldn’t have had a chance to win today, so we have to thank them.”
Evenepoel said he made a deal with the winner to ensure the pack would be completed together.
“This was the perfect race,” said Ebenepol. “I promised Mads to take control of the breakaway with him, so we did our job.”
On Tuesday, when his closest rival Primoz Roglic suffered a race-ending crash, Evenepoel was horrified when he also got a puncture.
However, the Belgian was less than 3km from the finish line and was given the same time as the main bunch.
He had those events in mind on Friday, saying, “We were aiming to get to the final 3km in case we had a flat tire or something wrong with the bike. Tomorrow is the final. It was a day and to be safe, our biggest fear today was to crash or be unlucky.
“Then the last 1.3km was straight, so I slowed down a bit and was able to keep up with the wheels.”
Saturday’s 20th and penultimate stage is a 181km run through the Guadarrama Mountains north of Madrid from Morarzarzal to Puerto de Navacerrada. This includes his five climbs that give Evenepoel’s rivals one last chance to attack.
– ‘Seriously bad day’ –
“I think tomorrow is going to be a really crazy day,” said Richard Carapaz of Ineos, leader in mountain classification.
Sunday’s final stage is a short flat ride to Madrid.
Meanwhile, three-time defending Vuelta champion Roglic on Friday blamed Wright for the crash.
Barely 100m from the line on Tuesday, Roglic sprinted for victory and bonus points before making contact with Wright, losing control at high speed and crashing into the tarmac, injured and forced to abandon.
“This was not okay,” Roglic said in an interview posted on his Jumbo-Visma team website.
“The way it crashed is unacceptable,” Roglic said.
“The crash was not caused by bad roads or lack of safety, it was caused by the actions of the rider.There are no eyes on the back, otherwise I would have gone wide.The light is from behind Came and took the handlebars off my hands before I knew it.
Roglic said he felt “a little better” on Friday morning.
He didn’t say if he plans to race again this season.
“I can walk a little better. So far I’m happy.”
In honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, riders paused for one minute at the starting line and the UK-based Ineos team donned black armbands.