The 2019 Grand Tour cycling season came to an end recently with the Vuelta a España. 3290.7 km travelled over 21 stages ended in a new winner. Back in 2011, Primož Roglič switched to road cycling from ski jumping. Signed to LottoNL–Jumbo (now Jumbo–Visma), this was the Slovenian’s 5ᵗʰ Grand Tour, having won stages at the Tour de France (2017 & 2018) and Giro d’Italia (2016 & 2019). He looked good value for victory at the 2019 Giro, but fell away in the last week with limited support from his team, but rode a strong race over the past few weeks to become the latest Grand Tour Champion.
General Classification (GC – Red Jersey):
- Primož Roglič (SLO) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 83 hours, 7 minutes, 14 seconds
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar Team + 2 minute, 33 seconds
- Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates + 2 minute, 55 seconds
Points Classification (Green Jersey)
- Primož Roglič (SLO) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 155 points
- Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates – 136 points
- Sam Bennett (IRL) – Bora–Hansgrohe – 134 points
Mountains Classification (KOM – Polka Dot Jersey)
- Geoffrey Bouchard (FRA) – AG2R La Mondiale – 76 points
- Ángel Madrazo (ESP) – Burgos BH – 44 points
- Sergio Samitier (ESP) – Euskadi–Murias – 42 points
Young Rider Classification (White Jersey)
- Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates – 83 hours, 10 minutes, 9 seconds
- Miguel Ángel López – Astana + 1 minute, 53 seconds
- James Knox (GBR) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step + 20 minutes
- Movistar Team – 248 hours, 26 minutes, 24 seconds
- Astana + 51 minutes, 38 seconds
- Team Jumbo–Visma + 2 hours, 3 minutes, 42 seconds
Moments of note
Stage 1: The race started with a Team Time Trial. Favourites for the stage Jumbo–Visma were looking good value for the victory until crossing a patch of wet road caused by an inflatable paddling pool that had burst. Time Trial bikes are built for speed rather than control in poor conditions and the water led to pretty much the entire team going down at the next corner. Astana went on to win the stage, beating Deceuninck–Quick-Step (who had to avoid the remains of the Jumbo–Visma crash) by just 2 seconds. Thankfully, while it impeded the start of Roglič’s race, there were no significant injuries to hamper them in the coming stages. UAE Team Emirates also wiped out due to the water on the road and I feel that the injuries Fernando Gaviria suffered caused him issues in the following stages and led to him struggling to impact the race.
Stage 5: Stage 5 saw 3 men take the breakway to the finish line in the form of Burgos BH’s Ángel Madrazo & Jetse Bol and Cofidis’ José Herrada. Having already been almost knocked off his bike by his own team car earlier in the stage, Madrazo fell away on the final climb but came out of nowhere in the final kilometre to catch up and pass the other 2, winning the stage by 10 seconds, Bol taking second for a Burgos BH 1-2.
Stage 9: Marc Soler was looking good value for the stage win but was called back by the Movistar bosses to help Nairo Quintana go for the win. Pogačar followed Quintana as they went away from the rest of their GC rivals, but pushed on as the pair reached Soler. Quintana was unable to keep pace even with Soler’s help and was forced to settle for 2ⁿᵈ on the stage (though he still took the red jersey) as Pogačar took the win by 23 seconds.
Stage 10: The Individual Time Trial was always looking like the stage that would give Primož Roglič the red jersey and that proved the case as the Slovenian beat CCC’s Patrick Bevin’s time by 25 seconds. Pogačar was hampered by a bike change partway through but still managed the next best time of the main GC competitors, finishing 1’29” behind his compatriot. Valverde kept himself in the fight by finishing 1’38” behind Roglič, but López and Quintana struggled (as usual in the discipline), finishing 2’00” and 3’06” behind Roglič respectively.
Stage 13: Nairo Quintana tried to earn time back on GC but was pulled back by his rivals 4km out from the end. Pogačar used the moment of catching Quintana to attack the group and Roglič was the only one to go with him. The Slovenians rode away together and Pogačar as allowed to take a 2nd stage victory, the pair finishing 27 seconds ahead of their rivals, while López lost a further 34 seconds, leading to Pogačar rising to 3ʳᵈ on GC.
Stage 17: Primož Roglič’s race almost fell apart as crosswinds saw the peloton split in 2 almost immediately, with Nairo Quintana in the lead group with a few teammates and all bar one of the Deceuninck–Quick-Step team, while the rest of his GC rivals were in the second group. Luckily for Roglič, his time at the top was saved as Valverde and his teammates in the 2ⁿᵈ group pushed on (potentially an attack to drop all their rivals’ domestiques), stopping the lead group from opening up an unassailable lead. Astana then pulled the group home in the final kilometres, seeing Quintana’s group cross just over 5 minutes ahead of the pack, keeping Roglič in red. At the front of the race, Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s great Vuelta continued as Zdeněk Štybar attacked 2km out from the end, forcing Bora–Hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett to jump too early and resulting in Philippe Gilbert taking the stage victory.
Stage 19: James Knox’s crash that brought down half the peloton including the entire Jumbo–Visma team and bringing and end to road captain Tony Martin’s race. Whether you believe this was a planned move as Movistar said or not, Movistar picked this moment to attack and up the pace, leading to Roglič having to ride hard on his own to catch up to the Astana train attempting to get López back onto the lead group. The unwritten rule is that you don’t attack the lead jersey when they are stuck in a crash or taking a toilet break, and there were certainly a number of riders unhappy with Movistar pushing on. Eventually though, they sat up and the group came back together. Personally, while I agree that it is harsh to attack while the leader answers the call of nature, a crash is generally a racing incident, so it will be interesting to see if there is any change in protocol in future seasons. Interestingly, commissaires allowed the riders hampered by the crash to draft the team cars to get back onto the lead group, despite this being against the rules. I don’t understand why this was allowed following a racing incident and wonder if it was a reaction by them to Movistar’s attack.
Stage 20: In the last stage of racing for the General Classification, Tadej Pogačar attacks his rivals approximately 39km out. Knowing 2ⁿᵈ place on GC is at risk, Valverde is forced to put in an attack of his own, followed by Roglič and Rafał Majka. Pogačar won the stage by 1’32” (his third stage victory in the race) to propel himself back up to a podium place on GC and win the white jersey, while Valverde’s attack meant that he managed to hold onto 2ⁿᵈ by 22 seconds.
Stage 21: The final stage was a procession for GC ending with a final sprint in Madrid. Along with the classic celebratory drinks and photos during the ride, the major highlight from the first phase of the stage was Burgos-BH’s Jésus Ezquerra proposing to his girlfriend, who was riding in the team car. With the cameras on her braodcasting to the world, thankfully she said yes! In the final dash for the line, Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Max Richeze barged an opponent out of the way to make room for sprinter Fabio Jakobsen to just hold off Sam Bennett and take the final stage victory. While Richeze was relegated to the back of the field, he was there purely as a domestique for Jakobsen, who was put in a better position to win by his actions. I can’t help but feel that incidents like this require a punishment towards the team rather than the individual as the teams are built to sacrifice themselves for just 1 or 2 members of the team.