Highs and Lows from the 2020 Vuelta a España

Highs and Lows from the 2020 Vuelta a España

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.


cycling vuelta 2020 classification jerseys

General Classification:

  1. Primož Roglič (Slovenia) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 72h 46′ 12″
  2. Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) – Ineos Grenadiers   + 00′ 24″
  3. Hugh Carthy (Great Britain) – EF Pro Cycling   + 01′ 15″

Points Classification:

  1. Primož Roglič (Slovenia) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 204 points
  2. Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) – Ineos Grenadiers – 133 points
  3. Dan Martin (Ireland) – Israel Start-Up Nation – 111 points

Mountains Classification:

  1. Guillaume Martin (France) – Cofidis – 99 points
  2. Tim Wellens (Belgium) – Lotto–Soudal – 34 points
  3. Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) – Ineos Grenadiers – 30 points

Young Rider Classification:

  1. Enric Mas (Spain) – Movistar Team – 72h 49′ 48″
  2. David Gaudu (France) – Groupama–FDJ   + 4′ 09″
  3. Aleksandr Vlasov (Russia) – Astana + 6′ 00″

Teams Classification:

  1. Movistar Team – 218h 37′ 21″
  2. Team Jumbo–Visma + 10′ 23″
  3. Astana  + 40′ 09″

cycling vuelta 2020 roglic carapaz carthy podium


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.

cycling vuelta 2020 roglic carapaz carthy kuss mas

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.

feat cycling vuelta 2020 Jumbo-Visma lead peloton

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.

feat cycling vuelta 2020 peloton mist

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.

feat cycling vuelta 2020 Jumbo-Visma

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.

cycling vuelta 2020 roglic Jumbo-Visma

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.

cycling vuelta 2020 froome trophy

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.

cycling vuelta 2020 roglic carapaz 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.

A Tour Like No Other

A Tour Like No Other

After a 2-month delay and fears throughout of an enforced early finish, the 2020 edition of the Tour de France has come and gone. 176 riders started the race and 146 successfully completed the 3484.2km route around France. the 21 stages were won by 15 different riders, while the coveted maillot jaune was held by 5 different riders.

The winners

cycling tour de france 2020 pogacar bennett

So it’s safe to say that I got my prediction wrong here, with only 1 of my top 3 even making the podium. Following stints in yellow for Alexander Kristoff, Julian Alaphilippe and Adam Yates, it was no shock to see Primož Roglič take the yellow jersey on Stage 9. Tadej Pogačar had lost 1′ 21″ in the crosswinds of Stage 7, and while he made up some time on Roglič with a couple of stage victories, he could not crack his countryman and looked destined to finish 2ⁿᵈ in the GC until a crazy uphill time trial on Stage 20 saw him turn a 57 second deficit into a 59 second lead with just the procession into Paris remaining to win the yellow jersey competition (and white jersey for young rider) in his first Tour de France, with Roglič finishing 2ⁿᵈ and Richie Porte finally making a Tour de France Podium after years of bad luck.

In the green jersey competition, Alexander Kristoff won the opening stage and held the green jersey for the first couple of days until Peter Sagan took the lead in the Points Classification on Stage 3. The Slovak had won the green jersey every year since 2012 (save 2017, when he was thrown out the race for causing Mark Cavendish to crash), but found himself in a fight with Irishman Sam Bennett, who had left Bora–Hansgrohe for Deceuninck–Quick-Step because Sagan got priority over him. Stage 11 effectively ended Sagan’s hopes of retaining the green jersey, as in a 4-way sprint between him, Bennett, Caleb Ewan and Wout van Aert, he used excessive force on the Jumbo–Visma rider, resulting in his 2ⁿᵈ-place finish being discounted as he was relegated to the back of the peloton and docked points. While he continued to fight, Bennett proved too strong and secured the green jersey, before ending his first Tour de France with the added highlight of winning the famous sprint on the Champs-Élysées.

Benoît Cosnefroy of AG2R La Mondiale held the polka dot jersey for the Mountains classification for much of the race, until the GC fight saw Pogačar take the jersey on Stage 17. Richard Carapaz’s attacks in the final week saw him take the jersey on Stage 18, but Pogačar’s success on the uphill time trial saw him secure his 3ʳᵈ classification of the Tour. Movistar won the Teams Classification for the 5ᵗʰ time in 6 years, while Marc Hirschi of Team Sunweb was rewarded with the Combativity Award following a number of breaks that saw him pushing for stage victories.

cycling tour de france 2020 podium roglic pogacar porte

General Classification:

  1. Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) – UAE Team Emirates – 87h 20′ 05″
  2. Primož Roglič (Slovenia) – Team Jumbo–Visma   + 00′ 59″
  3. Richie Porte (Australia) – Trek–Segafredo   + 03′ 30″

Points Classification:

  1. Sam Bennett (Ireland) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step – 380 points
  2. Peter Sagan (Slovakia) – Bora–Hansgrohe – 284 points
  3. Matteo Trentin (CCC Pro Team) – CCC Pro Team – 260 points

Mountains Classification:

  1. Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) – UAE Team Emirates – 82 points
  2. Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) – Ineos Grenadiers – 74 points
  3. Primož Roglič (Slovenia) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 67 points

Young Rider Classification:

  1. Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) – UAE Team Emirates – 87h 20′ 05″
  2. Enric Mas (Spain) – Movistar Team   + 06′ 07″
  3. Valentin Madouas (France) – Groupama–FDJ  + 1h 42′ 43″

Teams Classification:

  1. Movistar Team – 262h 14′ 58″
  2. Team Jumbo–Visma  + 18′ 31″
  3. Team Bahrain–McLaren  + 57′ 10″

Top Teams of the Tour

While Ineos Grenadiers grew into the race (except Egan Bernal) and Bora–Hansgrohe did a great job to energise some stages to help Peter Sagan in his chase for the green jersey, but there were 3 teams that really stood out to me on the Tour.

Team Jumbo–Visma came with arguably the strongest line-up of any team with former Grand Tour winners Primož Roglič & Tom Dumoulin, while George Bennett and Robert Gesink both have top 10 GC finishes in previous Grand Tours, Sepp Kuss is currently one of the form climbers since the resumption of races and Wout van Aert is arguably the best all-round rider in pro cycling at the moment, with an engine that never gives up and the ability to help power the peloton along all day then still fight it out with specialised sprinters. While individuals had the occasional off day, the team barely put a foot wrong, ruling the front of the peloton in a way that appeared even more dominant than what we are used to from watching Team Sky/Ineos over the last 5 years, and it was only on the time trial – where nobody could help Roglič – that the Slovenian cracked to lose what had just hours earlier looked to be a certain Grand Tour victory. The team came away with 3 stage victories (including 2 sprints for van Aert) and had a handful of other top 3 finishes.

cycling tour de france 2020 jumbo visma

Some of Bora–Hansgrohe’s moves may have caused issues for Deceuninck–Quick-Step, but Sam Bennett’s team did what they had to in order to wrest the green jersey away from Peter Sagan. While id didn’t ever feel like they were controlling the front of the peloton in the final 5 with dominant trains like in previous years, the entire team worked hard to look after Sam Bennett through the mountains and positioning him in the right places to attack the bunch sprint. What helped Bennett’s green jersey campaign so much was his lead-out man Michael Mørkøv. The Dane did so well to consistently get in the right position to lead Bennett out rather than force him onto the wheel of another sprinter, but even after he released Bennett he would keep riding as hard as he could like a 2ⁿᵈ sprinter, getting amongst Bennett’s rivals at both the end of the race and intermediate sprints and limiting the points available to those looking to compete against Bennett.

cycling tour de france 2020 deceuninck-quickstep

But to me, the team of the Tour – and the one that probably gained the support of many neutral fans – was Team Sunweb. While sprinter Cees Bol had a limited impact, Sunweb used clever tactics to great success. Marc Hirshci had some great success getting up the road, only to agonisingly lose in 2 sprints against GC opposition, before finally winning from a break in the middle of Stage 12. Even after this, he continued to fight and was unfortunate to crash on a descent in Stage 18 that ruled him out of competing for the stage win, but still finished in 3ʳᵈ on the stage. His success in the breaks saw him finish 4ᵗʰ in the Mountains Classifiaction. But it wasn’t just Hirschi who was the benefit of Sunweb’s tactics, as Søren Kragh Andersen was able to get away late on Stages 14 and 19 to provide the team 2 more stage wins. They may not have been in the hunt for the Points Classification or GC, but they certainly made the Tour a more enjoyable affair and in Hirschi and Andersen gave neutrals someone to cheer for as they did everything they could to convert their attacks into stage wins.

cycling tour de france 2020 sunweb

Silver linings to an Ineos cloud

Whether they are going by Team Sky, Team Ineos or now Ineos Grenadiers, one thing will never change: they are coming to a Grand Tour looking to win the GC. Unfortunately, none of their 3 prospective leaders (Egan Bernal, Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas) were at their best and the ne closest to being ready (Bernal) found himself struggling to stick with Roglič and abandoned after Stage 16, having fallen out of GC contention.

While this brought an end to the chances of a 6ᵗʰ consecutive Tour de France GC victory, there were certainly silver linings for the team. Despite being injured in multiple falls during a rain-drenched opening stage, Pavel Sivakov completed the race and made the top 10 in the Young Rider Classification and remains a hope for the future. Meanwhile without a leader to protect, Richard Carapaz showed his quality in the late mountain stages to put himself in with a shot of winning the Mountains Classification, while he could have had a stage win had he not allowed ever-reliable Michał Kwiatkowski to cross the line first on Stage 18 for his first ever stage victory at the Tour.

cycling tour de france 2020 ineos carapaz kwiatkowski

And for those who think this is the end of the success for Ineos Grenadiers, think again! Froome may be leaving at the end of the season, but they still have 3 proven Grand Tour winners in Bernal, Thomas and Carapaz and a strong team with some younger riders like Sivakov who will only get better, while they are bringing in some great talent in Andrey Amador, Rohan Dennis and Adam Yates, as well as some young Brits.

The good, the bad and the ugly

As is always the case, the Tour gave us some beautiful moments. From riders being overcome with emotion after winning stages to Julian Alaphilippe dedicating his stage win to his father, who had died on the day that the Tour was initially meant to start. Add in the usual beautiful scenery, some fun from some of the team’s Twitter accounts, Matteo Trentin channelling Michael Fish on Stage 1, Wout van Aert doing everything and a much-deserved stage win for Michał Kwiatkowski, and there is plenty to look back on fondly.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as the race was, it’s safe to say that there were some moments that really harmed my enjoyment.

First off was the support (or should I say lack of support) for Black Lives Matter. We have seen support from so many sports, for example in the Premier League (football), Premiership (rugby) and also Formula 1, which made the lack of support during the Tour even more conspicuous in its absence. If anything, this was highlighted even more by only 1 black rider (Kévin Reza of B&B Hotels–Vital Concept) in the peloton. It was great to see ITV run a feature highlighting black cyclists, but is that really enough? And then when we finally got an act of support for BLM on the final day, it was arguably worse than nothing at all, as all we had was pro-BLM messages or anti-racism messages written on masks that were removed before the race even started. Cycling needs to prove it doesn’t have a race problem, and step 1 is showing more suitable support for Black Lives Matter.

cycling tour de france 2020 BLM no to racism

Second was a horrible incident involving Romain Bardet. The AG2R La Mondiale rider went down heavy in a crash during Stage 13, but was helped back onto his bike and completed the stage, before abandoning with a suspected concussion that was revealed to be a “small haemorrhage”. The UCI regulations say the following regarding concussion: “All those in the presence of a rider and in particular all doctors and paramedical assistants shall be watchful for riders showing symptoms of concussion… Any rider with a suspected concussion should be immediately removed from the competition or training and urgently assessed medically.” Footage clearly showed Bardet fall down as he was helped to his feet immediately after the crash – more than enough of a warning sign for concussion – and yet he was heled straight back onto his bike to continue the race and nobody made any attempt to stop him for an assessment following this. I completely understand that as a GC rider, having to go through a medical assessment will make it impossible to catch up with the peloton and most likely bring an end to your GC hopes, but the health and safety of the riders should be paramount and come before the race. Hopefully it won’t take something more serious to see an increased focus on checking riders.

And finally, but sticking with the idea that the health and safety of the riders should be paramount, I come to the “fans” who think that it is OK to break protocols during a pandemic and get right in the face of riders without a mask on. As well as potentially creating a risk of interfering with the rider’s race, it is putting the in so much danger of falling ill and potentially spreading it amongst the team and potentially even the peloton. Even in a normal race I hate seeing crowds filling the road; with the ongoing pandemic, it leaves me so angry and nervous!

 

Well that’s the Tour over for another year, but the good news is that we still have 2 more Grand Tours coming up in the next few weeks, while next year’s Tour should be back at the usual dates so we won’t have to wait quite as long as usual for it.

Thanks for reading. Until next time!