• Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana have been competing not just with their rivals but with each other. (Getty)Source: Getty
The Vuelta a España appears a done deal with Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) leading the race but there's still lots of fun and intrigue to be had following the Movistar Cup over the final three stages.
Cycling Central

13 Sep 2019 - 8:53 AM  UPDATED 13 Sep 2019 - 8:59 AM

Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana are both on the virtual podium with a sprint stage, mountain stage and Madrid procession to come.

The former now back in second place overall while the latter slipped back to third after Stage 18. The gap between the two? Just 41 seconds.

“Everyone knows López [Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez] would go on the attack, and so our task near the end was defending ourselves from it if we weren’t able to drop Roglic," Valverde said after the stage.

"His moves were sharp ones. López is always a combative one, a big talent you can’t lose sight of, yet when he tried it in Morcuera we saw he didn’t open that big of a gap, and chose not to go after him, just trying to let him waste energy as we kept riders at the front, with Nelson [Oliveira], and into the GC group, with Marc [Soler].

"As he went away again in Cotos, I had Nairo behind me into a separate group, and thus couldn’t take a turn to go after [Sergio] Higuita.

"My legs? Well, just like everyone's. Better at one stage, worse at the next one. Roglic remains so strong, yet we’re still there. We’ve got two tough days ahead yet, and we can keep gaining or losing time. We just can’t do anything other than keeping pushing.”

Roglic rock solid as Higuita earns first Vuelta stage victory
Sergio Higuita earned his first professional victory by winning stage 18 in the Vuelta a España on Thursday as Primoz Roglic closed in on the title by increasing his overall advantage to two minutes and 50 seconds.

Team tension at Movistar has been the subject of much speculation and questions about just who is the true team leader has been repeatedly dismissed - but they remain.

The current back-and-forth between the two tells you that a frisson of competitive energy does exist, particularly with self-described "grandpa" Valverde, who shows zero signs of slowing down. With him, there are no gifts.

Over the past few seasons, Movistar has insisted in taking a multi-pronged approach to Grand Tours, sometimes even with three protected riders, in stark contrast to Sky/Ineos and even Jumbo-Visma who usually focus on a single roll of the dice.

Sometimes Movistar's approach succeeds but mostly it only serves to split the team tactically, particularly at the Tour de France. So with Quintana on the move to Arkea-Samsic in 2020, it will be the last opportunity for fans to enjoy the internecine warfare between the two.

Quintana will likely be relieved when it's all over.

Quintana and Movistar deliver on an 'anti-Nairo' Vuelta stage
Stage 17 of the Vuelta was a tactical affair with the wind, high speed and Deceuninck-Quick Step blowing the peloton apart to the ultimate advantage of Nairo Quintana.