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Vuelta a Espana

Jan Hirt & Odd Eiking flirt with the top 10

The sporting direction, assumed by Valerio Piva and Jean-Marc Rossignon, warned that the riders of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux were keen to bounce back the day after the crash and DNF of leader Louis Meintjes. In order to do it, they had to exploit a difficult route, as stage 20 of this Vuelta  featured many climbs, including 5 listed in the second half. At the end of the 200 kilometers towards Castro de Herville, a new summit finish would welcome the riders of the Vuelta for the seventh and last time.

Czech climber Jan Hirt, designated to make the breakaway, matched the intentions by sniffing the right move about 30 kilometers after the start in Sanxenxo (Galicia). This leading group of 16 riders saw their lead grow to 11 minutes at the halfway point. Hirt and his breakaway companions were then entitled to believe in their chance to fight for the stage victory.

However a sudden change of pace in the peloton by Team INEOS melted the gap in half in the first two climbs. 70 kilometers from the finish, the breakaway split into several groups, feeling the breath of the peloton getting closer and closer. Jan Hirt found himself in pursuit, never giving up, he tried to come back behind the sole leader Gibbons (UAE).

Although caught by the red jersey peloton at the foot of the last climb, Hirt fought to the line and clinched 11th place on the stage after more than 5 hours of racing. Arrived in 22nd position, Odd Christian Eiking occupies eleventh place in the general classification one day before the end of this 76th Vuelta.

16 seconds separate the Norwegian from the top 10 while an individual time trial of 33.8 kilometers, which will lead the riders to Santiago de Compostela from Padrón, will have to define the final classification this Sunday.

Jan Hirt displayed his great form so far on the climbs on this Vuelta. He was therefore the man designated to defend our chances up front today. The red jersey group had decided otherwise, they battled against each other and brought the breakaway back. I am nevertheless happy with the fighting spirit displayed by our riders, whether it is Jan, Odd Eiking who never gave up after being dropped, or Simone Petilli who crashed in a descent. Tomorrow, everything will be over after the time trial. Grosschartner's time trial references are well known, so I think it will be difficult for Odd to take 16 seconds back from him. Whatever happens, whether it's 10th or 11th place, this is an unexpected situation for Odd. We must be happy whatever the outcome.


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