Luis Leon Sanchez wins the Vuelta a Murcia 2018 after holding onto an extended breakaway made on the Collado Bermejo, with Movistar rider, fellow Murcian, and five time race-winner Alejandro Valverde. The duo broke from a leading group containing three Quickstep riders (Philippe Gilbert, Bob Jungels and Peter Serry) along with Mitchelton-Scott Rider Matteo Trentin, after a long day packed full of climbing and harsh winds, which left many of the peloton struggling- there were at least 43 abandons before the first climb.
The race began with a neutralised start of seven kilometres through the streets of Murcia, where the peloton was well protected. This protection continued throughout the initial kilometres of the race proper as the route lead them through mostly urban areas. It wasn’t a great start for the 2015 edition winner, Rein Taaramae of Direct Energie, who experienced a mechanical fault in the early stages of the race, although this is said not to have affected his race performance.
The Euskadi Murias team were the first to show themselves at around the 10km mark as the peloton left the safety of Murcia, where the temperature was a balmy 10 degrees centigrade, and rode into the wind for the first time of the day. As the riders left the sheltered streets, the Basque team launched several attacks but everything was brought back together by kilometre 15.
Shortly afterwards, a breakaway of no less than 40 riders was established, including some big names from the competing WorldTour teams: Imanol Erviti, Eduardo Sepulveda (Movistar), Oscar Gatto, Michael Valgren (Astana), Cesare Benedetti, Felix Grossschartner, Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-hansgrohe), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Philippe Gilbert, Bob Jungels, Pieter Serry (Quick Step Floors), Matteo Fabbro, Simon Spilak, Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin), Alex Hourniaux, Paul Ourselin, Simon Sellier (Direct Energie), Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Nicolay Cherkasov, Evegueni Shalunov (Gazprom-RusVelo), Sergio Samitier, Hector Saez (Euskadi-Murias), Jon Ander Insausti (Fundacion Euskadi), Aaron Verwilst, Dries Van Gestel (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Pablo Torres, Jesus Ezquerra, Jorge Cubero (Burgos-BH), Ryan Anderson, Emerson Oronte (Rally Cycling), Dries De Bondt, Stijn Steels (Verandas Willems Crelan), Robbert De Greef, Etienne van Empel (Roompot-Nederlandse Loterijj), Michal Schlegel Jan Tratnik (CCC Srpandi-Polkowice), Juan Amezqueta, Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural), Michael van Staeyen (Cofidis) and Oscar Caballero (Dare Gaviota).
The wind eventually took its toll on the leading group and split it in two. Dries Debondt, Pablo Torres Muiño and Stijn Steels took the points for the first sprint of the day around the 50km before any challenging gradients were encountered.
It was only when the climbing began that the leaders presented themselves. Astana put in several big turns on the front to pull things back together while Valverde rode almost invisibly for the duration. Quickstep controlled the race well and sent Philippe Gilbert up the rode on the approach to the Bermejo but he couldn’t hold on for the win. Matteo Trentin of Mitchelton-Scott also showed himself to be in good form, working well together with the Quickstep group. Although Trentin was dropped at a moment in the climb, he recovered and managed to come back quickly.
Three special mentions. One for Katusha rider Mads Würtz Schmidt, who showed himself in breakaway groups throughout the day but ultimately ended up off the back of the bunch. A second for Bora-Hansgrohe, who also showed themselves to be strong in the latter part of the race with riders Grossschartner, Konrad and Pöstlberger but didn’t seem to be able to put themselves into a winning position. And finally for Vanspeybrouck of Team Wanty-Groupe Gobert who also played a part in the days breakaways, holding his own with the WorldTour pace.
The combined attack from the Murcians came as a surprise as Quickstep looked set to dominate the finale. However, Valverde and Leon Sanchez had clearly saved energy by riding in the bunch and staying out of the wind. That is not to say that Quickstep didn’t put up a good fight. Philippe Gilbert single handedly chased the Movistar/Astana duo for the remainder of the race and achieved a well-deserved third step on the podium.
1 Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana)
2 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
3 Philippe Gilbert (Quick Step Floors)
4 Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott)
5 Pieter Serry (Quick Step Floors)
6 Jakob Fuglsang (Astana)
7 Bob Jungels (Quick Step Floors)