LLEIDA, Spain – Jelle Wallays won the Spanish Vuelta’s flat 18th stage on Thursday, while Simon Yates held on to the overall lead ahead of two decisive days in the Pyrenees.
Wallays produced a long breakaway attack before edging out Sven Erik Bystrom and world champion Peter Sagan to win the 116-mile leg from Ejea de los Caballeros to Lleida in just under four hours.
The Belgian rider said the victory made up for not being selected by his Lotto Soudal team for the Tour de France in July.
“I worked very hard to be selected for the Tour de France,” the 29-year-old Wallays said. “I didn’t go there and then I worked for a stage win at La Vuelta and I got it. It’s fantastic.”
Durango’s Sepp Kuss celebrated his 24th birthday in Spain as he continued his Grand Tour debut. The Team LottoNL-Jumbo rider, who won the Tour of Utah in August, finished Thursday’s stage in 157th and was 5:13 behind the time of Wallays. Kuss is now 66th in the standings, as he has served as a support rider for his teammates along the 21-day race. Earlier in the week, Kuss was named to the USA Cycling roster for the upcoming world championships to be held Sept. 22-30 in Innsbruck-Triol, Austria. Durango’s Quinn Simmons also will represent the U.S. in the junior men’s road race.
Yates, who rides for Mitchelton-Scott, kept the red jersey at the Vuelta for a fifth consecutive day and eighth day in total.
He leads former Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde by 25 seconds, with Enric Mas third at 1:22. Miguel Angel Lopez is fourth at 1:36, Steven Kruijswijk is fifth at 1:48 while Nairo Quintana is sixth at 2:11.
Yates called the uneventful stage, which came a day after he lost time to Valverde in a grueling mountain test, “the easiest so far.”
He also said he would feel at home when the race has its last two key stages on the slopes of the tiny nation of Andorra in the Pyrenees.
“I’ve been living in Andorra for most of my professional career, since 2015,” said the British rider. “I know the climbs very well. I think the two coming stages are going to be very difficult. I’m just trying to do my own race, I think I can win.”
Friday’s 95.7-mile stage starting in Lleida is flat until an uphill finish. That will be followed by Saturday’s short, but demanding, ride over six categorized climbs.
The Grand Tour will finish on Sunday with its traditional arrival into Madrid where riders honor the custom of not challenging the leader.
The Durango Herald contributed to this report.