Vuelta a España Rant #3: The last Grand Tour of the season is behind us and the excitement was high in Spain even if we all guessed who might win overall. Ed Hood has been keeping his trained eye on the proceedings of the final week. Ed’s last rant from la Vuelta a España 2021.
The Vuelta’21 winners
Well, did you enjoy the rest day? A long lay, relaxed breakfast, an easy hour on the bike in the sun with maybe a coffee and cake stop? You needed that break from the pressure; some folks don’t realise the stresses involved, sitting there motionless for hours on the sofa, listening to Eurosport’s Carlton droning on, stone walling your better half when they try to get you to move off that sofa and go to the shops, all the while trying to resist those bottles of San Miguel in the fridge. It’s not easy. . .
Time to put your feet up
I got that one wrong. I thought the break would ‘stick,’ I mean who was going to be naïve enough to take Jakobsen to the line? ‘Plenty’ was the answer to that one – Groupama and Bike Exchange to name but two teams who put their backs into a high speed finale to drag back a tenacious little cluster of escape artists with Belgian Stan Dewulf the last man standing for AG2R.
The green giant
The Deceuninck Dutchman made it a hat trick and now leads the points classification by a yawning margin of 127 points from Matteo Trentin. The only realistic threat to him now is if Roglič is rampant in the devilish ascents which follow over the next four stages. But it was no armchair ride, UAE still on a high from Majka’s stage win went all in to drop the Dutchman on an unclassified, late in the day ‘bump’ so as their man Trentin would have a clear run at the line.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step wanted Jakobsen first over that line
But Deceuninck wanted that 54th win of the year real bad and dragged the man in ‘verde’ back up there, where in a technical run in he made it look easy. The man in second place is one to watch for the future though, 23 years-old Belgian, Jordi Meeus is a graduate of the excellent SEG Racing Academy, he was Belgian u23 champion in 2020 and BORA recognise he’s one for the future with a contract until 2024.
Jordi Meeus – Man for the future
And if you’re a sprinter, the ‘days of wine and roses’ are at an end and it’s now a dour struggle to the end with nothing but jousts with gravity and the stopwatch to look forward to before beautiful Santiago de Compostela on Sunday. Stage 17 and Covadonga – wish I was there. . .
Stage 16 on-board cameras
Were you tempted?
Bernal at 9/2: his day was today and. . .
Carapaz at 9/1: he’s on his sofa.
Carthy at 10/1: see Carapaz above.
Bernal – Nice try
Now you can see why Harold Melvin said; ‘the bookies getcha for every cent you got.’ And you can see why Roglic was at 11/10, those ‘turf accountants’ – to give the bookmakers their ‘Sunday name’ – don’t take chances. But Bernal’s move with 60K to go can command nothing but respect, none of that cool, calculating stuff, ‘waiting until the last ascent stuff’ – he went on the penultimate climb with a dicey, sodden descent and one of the most feared climbs in Iberian cycling still to come. CHAPEAU!
Stage and red for Primoz
It didn’t come off but it made for compelling viewing and enhanced the Colombian’s stature as a ‘proper’ professional. Roglič? It was inevitable that sooner or later he’d make a move like this and reclaim the red jersey. I was looking at him as he was interviewed before the stage; his cheek bones look poised to escape through his skin – one of the signs of a lean, mean, man on form. Red at the start of the day, Eiking spent seven days in that lovely garment but there are few fairy tales in professional cycling and it was always going to be the case that when ‘The Bigs’ got serious he would slip down the classification. But ‘CHAPEAU’ to the Viking for an entertaining and inspiring week. We can’t classify the Wanty man as a ‘loser’ and whilst second at the start of the day, Guillaume Martin didn’t have the day he might have dreamed of, he’s still in the top on GC 10; but on this day when Roglic on time and Bernal on ‘rep’ were the winners, who were the losers?
Eiking suited red
Landa, LL Sanchez and Kenny Ellisonde were all DNF on this day of hard, hard climbs, gnarly roads, dangerous descents rain, low cloud and pain. The days of Landa featuring in race previews as a ‘favourite’, are surely now over? And I’ve had a reprimand from my buddy, Andre, aka ‘Suisse Tex’ who’s ‘deep in the heart of Texas’. He’s telling me that I should be talking about his compatriot, Gino Mäder [Bahrain Victorious].
Mader is the man who you may remember Roglic pinched the stage off within metres of the line in Paris-Nice but since then the young man from ‘Heidi Land’ – as Tex calls his place of birth – has won stages in the Giro and home Tour de Suisse. He is indeed riding very strongly in support of his GC ‘Capo’, Jack Haig and is doing his own GC standing no harm; eighth on Covadonga despite a huge workload and up two places on GC into the top 10 – one to watch for the future.
Could Roglič take the green jersey in the mountains?
Remember yesterday we were speaking about Jakobsen’s big lead on points? Yesterday’s epic from Roglič means that he’s now second on points to the Dutchman, 145 to 250 – with just about enough stages to suit the Slovenian to make it red and green. As a Deceuninck fan, I hope not. Stage 18? They say that Altu d’El Gamoniteiru is tougher than the Angliru. . .
Stage 17 emotions
‘Goat track’ – ‘a narrow path or track, especially on a hillside or mountain, such as is made by goats.’ My mentor – and man who looks at all things cycling not through rose tinted glasses but rather lenses of Arctic Ocean steel grey – Vik, hates these ascents; ‘it’s professional ‘ROAD RACING’ not races to nowhere!’ He has a point and the organisers – particularly in the Vuelta revel in evermore savage ascents, perhaps the maddest one Martin and I have been on was the ‘Bola del Mundo’ near Madrid, back in 2012, US Rider Christian Vandevelde reckoned they simply dribbled concrete out the back of a truck as they drove it up the mountain and maybe he was right? But the fans and the TV commentators love these monstrous jousts with gravity and it gets folks like me tapping the keys. And like old Phineas T. Barnum, the 19th century American showman and circus owner said; ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’.
A bit more than a goat track
Anyway, what of the winner, all 1.64 metres and 59 kilograms of him? He’s 27 years-old now and after six years at Astana – where he never quite scaled the heights expected of him, albeit there have been big wins in the likes of Catalonia and Switzerland and podiums in the Giro and Vuelta – he joined Movistar. If Deceuninck are the epitome of ‘all for one and one for all’ team work, the Spanish team are strangers to that concept with them it’s, ‘all for me and tough potatoes on my team mates’. It’s hard to see Mas and Superman going for a post-Vuelta beer in Santiago de Compostela on Sunday evening.
Mas and López – Frosty?
And as my editor, Alastair observed another team where the chat around the dinner table would be subdued is DSM where 24 years-old Aussie double stage winner, Michael Storer leap frogged Roman Bardet to grab the mountains jersey by five points. Whilst Bardet stays with the Dutch team for 2022, Storer is off to Groupama-FDJ and won’t be too concerned about the ‘evil eye’ over the salad bowl. It’ll be interesting if over the next two stages with mountains points on offer we’re treated to a DSM v. DSM duel; and naturally Movistar will be racing each other – it’s their way. The second and third spots on the podium and the mountains jersey are still to be squabbled over then, but Roglič looks rock solid in red.
Bardet and Storer – On speaking terms?
But what of green? Bert Van Lerberghe, Florian Senechal, Zdenek Stybar and Josef Čzerny shepherded Fabio Jakobsen home 40 minutes and 54 seconds behind Lopez; with a 45:01 time cut it wasn’t too tight. Jakobsen remains on 250 points with Roglic on 162; Deceuninck will be hoping for big breaks on stages 19 and 20 to pinch those precious points. And whilst it was good to see my buddy, Andre’s Suisse boy, Gino Mäder move up to eighth on GC, it was sad to see Lotto’s Englishman Matt Holmes miss the time cut by around four minutes – ‘the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away’. Stage 19 will see desperate men doing desperate things to make the inevitable breakaway – there are A LOT of teams with bare cupboards in this race.
Stage 18 highlights
Spain 0 : Denmark 3
In fact, it’s been a pretty cosmo tournament so far with Slovenia, Belgium, Estonia, Australia, The Netherlands, France, Italy, Poland and Colombia all making the score sheet. And it’s not just in their home Tour where the home wins have dried up; no Grand Tour stage has been win by a Spanish rider this season. Whilst Spain are ranked fourth in the world rankings, they don’t win a lot of races – 34 this year but that includes the likes of young Juan Ayuso’s stage and GC wins in the Baby Giro. And it’s also skewed by the fact that old war horses, Francisco Mancebo and Oscar Sevilla are still out there culling points in the UCi ‘Continental’ tours.
Don’t retire yet Alejandro, Spain needs you
Meanwhile, Deceuninck – Quick-Step have won 54 UCi races with most at the top UCi levels. In 2012 Spanish riders won 122 races but since then the trend has been steadily downwards. The slow but inevitable decline in the remarkable Alejandro Valverde’s win rate is a factor as is the fact that winners like LL Sanchez, as with Valverde, are in the twilight of their careers. With a podium in the Vuelta during his time with Quick-Step back in 2018, Enric Mas was the ‘great white hope’ of Spanish cycling.
López was watching Mas back in 2018
Movistar snapped him up and since then his palmarès have been ‘solid’ rather than ‘spectacular’, albeit another Vuelta podium is pretty secure now. The future? Let’s hope Mas blooms late, whilst much is down to talented 18 years-old Juan Ayuso – UAE think so, he’s signed until 2025. And perhaps the Movistar board should consider – as Lotto Soudal have – what we call in Scotland, a ‘redd oot’ a ‘clear out’ of their management staff?
No.3 for Cort
Meanwhile those Danes march on, Cort’s third stage win – wow! Again, it was a team effort, his Cordoba win thanks to a massive lead out from Jens Keukeleire and this one thanks to a Herculean effort from co-escapee Lawson Craddock in the final kilometres to hold off a feral peloton. And waiting in the wings is the man I’ve mentioned a time or two in my ramblings, Andreas Kron – sixth on this stage for his third top 10 finish of the race; and that’s on the back of stage wins in Catalunya and Switzerland this year. He’s one to watch.
Andreas Kron – Watch this man
I took my usual look at the bargain basement of the stage and stone last but comfortably inside the time cut was points leader, Fabio Jakobsen – but provided he can survive the roller coaster parcours of Stage 20 then the green jersey is his. Sad to see Louis Meintjes drop out with crash injuries, he’s been inspired by the ‘Wanty vibe’ and riding better than he has for a while. Also DNF were Sasha Modolo and Sergio Henao; that Father Time dude, he doesn’t mess around with palmarès becoming ever thinner for both riders.
Stage 19 last kilometre
The podium, ‘cast in stone’, right?’ Noooo! In true Movistar fashion they went from Mas and Lopez on the podium to just Mas up there with Roglič. ‘What happened to López, then?’ I hear you ask?
López on the way home
Superman is back in the hotel, having found a phone box to change into his civvies and is now dodging his team mates and team staff back at the hotel who want to talk to him about all that prize money he’s just chucked away. I couldn’t help but think that he definitely WOULD have finished the stage had the late Peter Post been driving the team car. Movistar Board – listen, Vik, Dave and I are free and ‘on’ for the challenge; it’s well past the time for a change of management. And ‘Suisse Tex’, my buddy from Texas got it right, his young compatriot Mader is quality – he moves up to best young rider, slipping the jersey from Bernal’s slim shoulders – CHAPEAU! And respect to Bernal, a very honest and human champion riding the dreaded, ‘one race too many’ in 2021.
Big win for Champoussin
Winners: Champoussin, AG2R, – especially with Champoussin’s team mate Benoit Cosnefroy adding the Tour du Jura to last week’s Bretagne Clsssic on this day – Roglic, Mas, Haig, Yates, Mader, Bahrain, DSM and Storer.
Losers: Lopez, Movistar, Bernal, Bardet and Vlasov who has gone from being mentioned in the previews to DNS – like I keep saying; ‘it’s a cruel sport.’
But what of 23 years-old winner, Clement Champoussin?
A great day for AG2R Citroën
When the commentators tell you it’s his first win it can be misleading; he’s a quality rider, this win was his third top five placing of this Vuelta. His palmarès as a junior were nothing starling but he flowered at u23 level in 2018 with strong rides in races like the Ronde de l’Isard, Kreiz Breizh and Tour de l’Avenir, closing that season with third in the ‘Piccolo’ Lombardia. The trend continued in 2019 and he stepped up to second in Lombardia. Last season was unspectacular but the World Tour with AG2R would shock the system of any young rider – but he did manage a top 10 on GC in the Tour of Luxembourg and he finished the Vuelta. This early season he was second in the tough Faune-Ardeche Classic in France and fourth in the hotly contested Italian semi-classic Trofeo Laigueglia. Romandie, Route d’Occitanie and Tour de l’Ain all saw him produce solid results prior to today’s stage win which ‘saved’ the Vuelta for the French squad. The closing time test is unlikely to see movement within the top 10 albeit De La Cruz may hop over Martin – just don’t fall off, Primoz. . .
Stage 20 – Wow!
The way of Saint James, also known as the, ‘Camino de Santiago’ is 825 kilometres long, marked by the sign of the sea shell, thousands of pilgrims make the journey each year in search of enlightenment and inner peace.
Primoz Roglič’s pilgrimage to beautiful Santiago was a little longer, 3,417 kilometres; he found inner peace outside the cathedral – where the relics of Saint James are said to reside – with his fourth stage win of the race and third overall title, whilst we were enlightened. The man is indeed a Grand Champion – strong, resilient, fast, versatile, relaxed and his sense of humour is showing now that his English is improving. CHAPEAU!
The profile for this final joust with Father Time didn’t look too challenging on paper but it was in fact a tough afternoon’s work for men with three weeks of hard racing in their legs. Long, long drags saw even Roglič starting to ‘chug’ those big gears – 58 tooth chainrings aren’t for wimps – as the race wore on and in an age when 50 kph (+) time trials are the norm, this race was won at 46 kph.
14 second for Cort to the win
Magnus Cort suffered the same fate as Alex Aranbaru did in the Stage One time trial in Burgos; a long, long wait in the ‘hot seat’ before the man from Slovenia pricked the balloon. And what of the new ‘chrono kid’ on the block, third placed 21 years-old Thymen Arensman [DSM & The Netherlands]? A product of the ‘star making’ SEG Academy he’s been third in the u23 Paris-Roubaix, second on GC in the Tour de l’Avenir. This result is his best among the pros albeit he was just outside the top 10 in the tough Tour of Romandie and took best young rider there. A man on the ‘up’.
Another man with a bright future – Gino Mäder
And on the subject of ‘coming men,’ Gino Mäder [Bahrain & Switzerland] – fifth on GC, best young rider and all whilst ‘in service’ to team mate Jack Haig who took an excellent third place in this race.
David de la Cruz – Top 10 finisher
As I alluded to yesterday there were few changes on GC except for David De La Cruz’s [UAE & Spain] solid time trial ride which saw him jump two places on GC to seventh overall at the expense of Sep Kuss and Guillaume Martin who both slipped a place to eighth and ninth respectively. The yawning gap in levels is made clear when one observes that whilst ninth in a Grand Tour sounds like a decent result, Martin was more than 20 minutes down on Roglič. Despite Roglič’s domination, it was no procession and we enjoyed great racing for three weeks – no complaints from me.
What is there to left say but, ‘Dobra! Primoz!’
Stage 21 highlights
How long ‘til the Giro?
Vuelta a España Final Overall Result:
1. Primoz Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma in 83:55:29
2. Enric Mas Nicolau (Spa) Movistar at 4:42
3. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain Victorious at 7:40
4. Adam Yates (GB) INEOS Grenadiers at 9:06
5. Gino Mäder (Swi) Bahrain Victorious at 11:33
6. Egan Bernal Gomez (Col) INEOS Grenadiers at 13:27
7. David de la Cruz (Spa) UAE Team Emirates at 18:33
8. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma at 18:55
9. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis at 20:27
10. Felix Großschartner (Aut) BORA-hansgrohe at 22:22
11. Odd Christian Eiking (Nor) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux at 25:14
12. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma at 26:42
13. Juan Pedro Lopez Perez (Spa) Trek-Segafredo at 31:21
14. Geoffrey Bouchard (Fra) AG2R Citroën at 49:09
15. Rémy Rochas (Fra) Cofidis at 52:32
16. Clément Champoussin (Fra) AG2R Citroën at 57:29
17. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain Victorious at 1:05:31
18. Sam Oomen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma at 1:09:25
19. Oscar Cabedo Carda (Spa) Burgos-BH at 1:12:43
20. Steff Cras (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 1:22:06
21. Rafal Majka (Pol) UAE Team Emirates at 1:22:14
22. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 1:22:38
23. Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain Victorious at 1:34:52
24. Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Burgos-BH at 1:37:26
25. Romain Bardet (Fra) DSM at 1:37:27.