As cycling looks to move on from the COVID-19 lockdowns that halted the season, they reached the end of the season’s World Tour calendar with the latest Vuelta a España in history. Moved from August and September to October and November (meaning it overlapped with the delayed Giro d’Italia) and cut from 21 to 18 stages – along with other route adjustments – due to COVID restrictions closing entry to some countries. And after 2,892.6km of riding, Primož Roglič stood atop the podium in the coveted maillot rojo for the second year in a row.
- Primož Roglič (Slovenia) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 72h 46′ 12″
- Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) – Ineos Grenadiers + 00′ 24″
- Hugh Carthy (Great Britain) – EF Pro Cycling + 01′ 15″
- Primož Roglič (Slovenia) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 204 points
- Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) – Ineos Grenadiers – 133 points
- Dan Martin (Ireland) – Israel Start-Up Nation – 111 points
- Guillaume Martin (France) – Cofidis – 99 points
- Tim Wellens (Belgium) – Lotto–Soudal – 34 points
- Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) – Ineos Grenadiers – 30 points
Young Rider Classification:
- Enric Mas (Spain) – Movistar Team – 72h 49′ 48″
- David Gaudu (France) – Groupama–FDJ + 4′ 09″
- Aleksandr Vlasov (Russia) – Astana + 6′ 00″
- Movistar Team – 218h 37′ 21″
- Team Jumbo–Visma + 10′ 23″
- Astana + 40′ 09″
It’s probably no surprise that a 3-week race has a number of highs and lows as it progresses. Today I will be looking 4 highs and 2 lows that stuck with me as I watched the race.
High – Jumping right in
We’re going to jump right into the highs just as the Vuelta did this year with a hilly opening stage. The first 3 stages of the race were intended to take place in the Netherlands, but these 3 stages were cut when the race was rearranged, meaning that the usual slow start to the GC race disappeared, with Primož Roglič winning the opening stage to take the green jersey – which he held for the entire race – and the red jersey, which swapped between him and Carapaz over the next 3 weeks.
While I have nothing against a prologue or some sprint stages to kick off the race, they aren’t always the most exciting stages until the final kilometres, while throwing us straight into the GC race made for an entertaining start that never really let up until the race was over.
I’m a big fan of a Time Trial to kick off the race as it opens up the GC immediately, but I’d certainly be up for more hilly stages with a handful of categorised climbs on day 1.
High – From tears to the summit
One of the images that stuck with me from the opening week of the Tour de France was that of Groupama–FDJ’s David Gaudu, who came down in a crash on the opening stage and appeared close to tears as he struggled on stage 2 to ride on despite his injuries and do what he could for his leader Thibaut Pinot.
With Pinot abandoning after just 2 stages of this race, Gaudu as given the chance to prove his quality, and that is exactly what he did, with some great rides to win Stage 11 and the Alto de la Covatilla on Stage 17, on the way to finishing 8ᵗʰ overall in the GC, just 7′ 45″ behind Roglič.
At 24 years old and with Pinot’s chances of Tour de France success now looking highly unlikely, don’t be shocked to see the youngster given the chance of leading the team at the 2021 Tour.
Low – Classless
It feels like every time I write a look back at one of these Grand Tours, there’s some black spot against the race organisers and the UCI. Thankfully this time it isn’t a safety issue, but one that certainly left a sour note on the race. Thankfully this time it doesn’t relate to any safety issues, but unfortunately it was an organisational faux pas that affected the race for the red jersey.
To give some background first of all, usually on a stage there needs to be a clear gap of 1 second at the finish line between 1 rider and the net in order for a time gap to be counted – this is why massive groups of riders can cross the line and be given the same finishing time. To improve rider safety during bunch sprints, stages deemed to be flat stages (and therefore more likely to end in a bunch sprint) have this 1-second rule expanded to a 3-second rule.
Unfortunately things went wrong on Stage 10, which had been designated a flat stage with the 3-second rule, but was changed after the race to the 1-second rule, resulting in time splits among the GC riders that saw the red jersey switch from Carapaz to Roglič. This led to a protest at the start of Stage 11, with Chris Froome leading the GC teams in a protest at the result of the stage – though in the end they were forced to ride with no success. Stage 14 was also changed in classification, but this one ahead of the stage beginning.
Froome was right though, as he pointed out that the change in the red jersey meant that the onus was now on Jumbo–Visma rather than Ineos Grenadiers to control the race. Not only that, but race strategies will be planned well in advance and last-minute changes in the classification of a stage could impact the strategies of teams.
Personally, I don’t think that the race would have panned out much differently had Stage 10’s classification not been changed, but it is still not a good look when the race commissaires are overruling the classification sf a stage that had previously been agreed. In my opinion, every stage should have been checked and the classification confirmed ahead of the route being announced, similarly any later changes to the route.
High – French flashbacks
The 2020 Tour de France will probably not be one that Primož Roglič forgets in a hurry, as he seemed destined to win the GC, only for an uphill Time Trial on the penultimate day to see him lose the race lead to compatriot Tadej Pogačar. Well the final week of the Vuelta may have gone some way to banishing any demons he had.
This race’s Time Trial was on Stage 13 – another uphill Time Trial, which the Slovenian went into 13 seconds behind Richard Carapaz. There was no collapse from Roglič this time though, as he rode the 33.7km in 46′ 39″ to win the stage by 1 second from Will Barta to take the lead in the GC by 39 seconds. Roglič would go on to hold the red jersey to the end of the race.
It wasn’t plain sailing though, as Jumbo–Visma arguably made the wrong call on the penultimate day by riding aggressively on Stage 17 to put pressure on the peloton. This led to Roglič and his lieutenant Sepp Kuss being isolated earlier than usual, and they struggled to cope when Carapaz attacked in the final kilometres. Kuss was dropped immediately and while Roglič held on as long as he could, he was eventually dropped and it became a race against the clock, with the Slovenian able to keep the gap low enough to just hold onto the leader’s jersey.
Low – No consistency
The Vuelta isn’t often a race for the sprinters, with the GC riders usually taking many of the top spots in the Points Classification. Well, Sam Bennett certainly gave his all to have success in the Points Classification, but his hopes were effectively ended when he was deemed to have been too aggressive on Stage 9, shoulder barging into Emīls Liepiņš to hold his position in the build-up to the sprint. Bennett won the bunch sprint, but was relegated to the back of the peloton, fined and deducted points in the classification.
While it seems harsh, I can understand the decision given the push to improve safety, especially after incidents like the crash in the Tour of Poland between Dylan Groenewegen and Fabio Jakobsen, unfortunately it didn’t feel like every incident was being treated the same.
Rui Costa was relegated for changing his line in the sprint to win Stage 16, in which he had initially finished 3ʳᵈ, and yet Pascal Ackermann of Bora–Hansgrohe – who had been promoted to the winner of Stage 9 following Bennett’s relegation – appeared to use his elbow and deviate off his line on the way to finishing 2ⁿᵈ on Stage 15 and was not punished a all.
I am 100% behind becoming stricter on what is allowable for the purpose of rider safety, but it needs to be made clear to the riders and the fans what is permissible and what is illegal, otherwise we’re going to continue seeing incidents like this where consistency appears to be lacking.
High – Rule Britannia!
Britain may have only produced 1 of the 3 grand Tour winners this year, but make no mistake, British cycling is as strong as ever, and arguably still on the up.
Chris Froome made a return to Grand Tour racing in his last race with Ineos Grenadiers before moving to Israel Start-Up Nation. Still recovering from injuries sustained last year, this race was never about Froome challenging for the GC, but instead just getting back in condition, and there were signs that he was doing well as he put in a strong ride on Stage 12 to help set up an attack on the Angliru (Carapaz would take the race lead on this stage), while he was able to make it to the end of the race and receive a trophy for the 2011 race, of which he was eventually announced as winner following Juan José Cobo being stripped of the title for doping offences.
While Froome and Geraint Thomas may be on the downward slopes of their respective careers, only a fool would ever rule them out of challenging for another Grand Tour title, while Ineos Grenadiers will also have Adam Yates and 2020 Giro winner Tao Geoghegan Hart challenging alongside Carapaz and Egan Bernal. Simon Yates will be looking to add to his 2018 Vuelta title with Mitchelton–Scott, and there is now clearly another British threat on the scene in the form of EF Pro Cycling’s Hugh Carthy.
Much like Geoghegan Hart at the Giro, Carthy came to the Vuelta as a domestique, but found himself taking on the leadership role after both Daniel Martínez and Michael Woods crashed on the opening stage. He may have been given the leadership, but he had to earn the support, and clearly did as the race went on, with Woods setting him up to attack the leaders group on Stage 8. Carthy put in a fantastic 3-week ride that included one of his best ever Time Trials and victory on the slopes of the Angliru on his way to finishing on the podium. Give him the support of a team from Stage 1 and this is yet another Brit who will be looking to make himself a regular on the Grand Tour podiums.