Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep) came within a scant two kilometres of clinching a spectacular lone breakaway win on stage 16 of the Vuelta a España on Friday, in a move that would, had he won, have been a near-carbon copy of his solo success in last year’s race.
In 2019 when Cavagna won in Spain by five seconds from Ireland’s Sam Bennett – then with Bora-Hansgrohe – it was in the third-last stage of the Vuelta, too, and came, too, after a 25-kilometre solo breakaway.
This time around, having overcome a difficult second and first category climb at the head of an ever-shrinking breakaway, when the gap had dropped to single digits, Cavagna shed his last companion, Mitchelton-Scott’s Rob Power – also, at 22, riding a notable debut Grand Tour – on the last, draggy, unclassified ascent of the day.
And then, with 16 kilometres to race, it was game on for the lone Frenchman, spurred on by a tailwind and a twisting fast descent with the bunch in hot pursuit at speeds touching 70kph in places and with a margin that never rose about 19 seconds.
Finally, as Mitchelton-Scott and Movistar combined, the gap began to inch downwards, with Cavagna was caught out by a sudden rise in the road over a bridge that knocked out the final shred of energy in his legs. But even if it was ultimately a Spanish railway bridge too far for the Frenchman, he still earned widespread praise for his gutsy attempt to defy the peloton.
“I like to do this kind of effort alone because it’s my kind of stage,” Cavagna told reporters afterwards.
“When I win it’s never a sprint so I try to win alone and today I tried it but I don’t make it because the bunch is pulling full gas behind me. I heard 20 seconds, 18 seconds and I couldn’t turn my legs any faster, but I’m happy.”
He agreed that the tailwind had been a sound ally in his mission to snaffle his team’s 100th Grand Tour stage win. “That was perfect for me because I like to turn my legs fast,” he said.
“I tried because I saw that the bunch was 15 seconds behind and I thought ‘oh it’s finished’ but in my head, I said to myself, ‘maybe if I keep going a little, they’ll look at each other.’ I tried it and in the end, it was two kilometres too far.”
Cavagna earned praise, too, from Stannard, who called him “a spectacular rider, super-strong.”
“I felt great as well but he attacked and I just couldn’t follow,” Stannard said in a recording released by the team. “My legs had a bit of fatigue from yesterday [stage 16], being in the break probably had its effect.”
“But if there’s one rider that could have done that and got to the finish, it’s Remi.”