Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal) and Sven Erik Bystrøm UAE Team Emirates timed their game with the charging peloton down to the microsecond. They fooled the sprinters and left them empty handed.
The duo crossed the line in Lleida after 180.5 kilometers in the saddle with about forty riders finishing on the exact same time. Key difference: Wallays and Bystrøm never let them get closer than their rear wheel. It was too late for guys like PeterSagan (Bora-Hansgrophe) and Elia Viviani (Quickstep Floors) to steal the stage win.
This was cat and mouse where the mouse turned out to be tough as nails and had an IQ of 180. They messed with all those director sportifs in their team cars making calculations about when they’d catch the two escapees. Never happened.
Fans were treated to an edge of chair experience that went on for at least 30 kilometers, as the gap came slowly down. With 20K to go, they still had a buffer of 1:20 but it was anyone’s call if they’d succeed for not. That margin dropped to just a minute under the 10K banner.
The bet is usually on the peloton but Wallays had a different idea. “Everyone expected a mass sprint, but I know if I’m good I can surprise many riders, and today I did it.”
A slight uphill finish made Walleys and Bystrøm empty the tank and now the sprinters teams had ramped it up, closing to within 20 seconds with 3k still to go. To make matters worse, three-time world champion Peter Sagan rocketed out of the peloton and almost, nearly, caught them.
Walleys had forced Bystrøm to the front. knowing the Norwegian was the stronger sprinter. That took nerves of steel as Walleys looked back to see Sagan and the rest of the sprinters going fun gas, eating up the final few hundred meters.
“It was a little uphill. I was well informed by my sport director – if I hear in the last 1.5km we had 30, 35 seconds, then I know I need to do something,” Wallays said. “I stayed on the wheel because he was the strongest sprinter. I waited, I waited, I waited. I only just focused on the line, and I went with 200m to go.”
That timing was as brilliant and lucky as you can get and still pull out a stage victory. Just another high-voltage day in the Helta Skelta Vuelta.