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VUELTA’21 BREAKDOWN #2: Red Roglič In Control

Ten Takeaways from Nine Stages

VUELTA BREAKDOWN: After nine stages Primoz Roglič is still in the red jersey and looking quite comfortable and in control. There are question about his Jumbo-Visma team, but also the competition. Spencer Martin gives us his ‘Ten Takeaways’ from the Vuelta so far.

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Storming Caruso

Yesterday’s ninth stage of La Vuelta España served up the first real mountain stage of the race, and the sun-bleached landscape of Southern Spain served up perhaps the best grand tour mountain stage of the year, and did its best to separate the pretenders from the contenders. Damiano Caruso won the stage atop the brutal Alto de Velefique climb with an absurd long-range attack, while Primoz Roglič, who was closing in extremely fast behind, took second place on the stage to extend his overall lead, with Enric Mas coming over the line just a single second behind in third place to cement himself as the most viable contender to disrupt Roglic’s title defense.

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What was the Ineos plan?

Despite their Ineos team taking control of the stage early on, Egan Bernal and Adam Yates couldn’t match the pace of Mas and Roglič on the final climb and slipped further afield of the race lead. As the race heads into its first rest day, it is clear that Movistar, not Ineos, will be the dominant GC team of the race, but only time will tell if their numbers at the top of the GC leaderboard can truly trouble Roglič, who has failed to put a foot wrong so far and even appears to be practicing more restraint than in years past, likely in an effort to avoid the third-week troubles that have plagued him at times.

Selected GC Stage Results w/Time Bonuses:
Roglič +0
Mas +3
Haig +45
López +45
Yates +45
Ciccone +1’11
Bernal +1’11
Vlasov +2’49

Overall Top Ten After Stage 9:
Primož Roglič +0
Enric Mas +28
Miguel Ángel López +1’21
Jack Haig +1’42
Egan Bernal +1’52
Adam Yates +2’07
Giulio Ciccone +2’39
Sepp Kuss +2’40
Felix Großschartner +3’25
David de la Cruz +3’55

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71 kilometers solo for Caruso

Ten Takeaways:
1)
Damiano Caruso gets a truly amazing stage win after riding solo over the final 70-kilometers. This is similar to stage 20 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia when he attacked a long way from the finish to clinch a stage win and second place overall.

  • What is most impressive about this win is that he only had a 1’20 gap on the peloton when he went solo with 71km-to-go, but was able to build his lead up to over five minutes by the base of the final 13km-long climb.
  • And he needed nearly every bit of that buffer since the GC attacks caused the gap to meltdown inside the final few kilometers.
  • I doubt he will care, but he is now 15th in the GC and technically ahead of his team’s pre-race GC leader, Mikel Landa, by six seconds.

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Yates’ attacks come to nothing

2) Heading into the first rest day, Ineos is sitting 5th (Bernal), 6th (Yates), and 21st (Carapaz) in the GC. This certainly isn’t what they had in mind when they came into this race with what they thought were three legitimate GC contenders.

  • Despite this relatively weak GC position compared to teams like Jumbo and Movistar, they rode today, just like at the Tour de France, as though they were defending the lead, and oddly, acted as the defacto race leaders, which gave Jumbo-Visma, who was struggling today, the day off on a stage where they should have been tested.
  • Also, while Adam Yates’ attacks looked impressive, they accomplished nothing other than putting his teammate Egan Bernal under pressure.
  • While Yates might look like the team’s best option at the moment, even after today’s gains, he is trailing Bernal due to the time he lost on stage 2.
  • Something to remember is that Yates has had major regressions in the third week of every grand tour he has raced since getting 4th at the 2016 Tour de France.
  • This means the team simply can’t afford to have Yates racing for himself at the expense of Bernal with nearly two full weeks left to race.

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If Valverde hadn’t crashed would Carapaz done something on stage 7?

3) Richard Carapaz was supposed to be Ineos’ secret weapon, but so far, he has appeared completely fried by his recent Tour de France podium finish and Olympic gold medal ride. He has been dropped on every uphill finish and doesn’t serve as a legitimate threat for a long-range attack, mainly because those behind won’t have confidence in his ability to stay clear on a summit finish.

  • Even worse is that while his GC hopes have faded, he hasn’t stepped up to help his teammates set pace early on climbs.
  • He is riding incredibly selflessly, but if we look back at his career, he has never been a rider who works for others. He views himself as a leader, and as Olympic champion, this isn’t unfounded, but right now, this attitude is hurting the team and they need to change this approach ASAP.

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Bernal not looking 100%

4) All of this speaks to a lack of flexibility and an inability to alter battle plans. Similar issues have plagued legacy world military power in foreign conflicts for generations, but the behemoth is rarely able to adjust until it is too late.

  • They have raced in exactly the same fashion at every race so far this season. And it has worked every time they haven’t had to race against one of the two Slovenian superstars, but when facing off against Roglič and/or Pogačar, they simply cannot adjust their strategy, and since they don’t have a single rider on their team as strong as either Slovenian, their pre-set strategy implodes.
  • And if they want to back Adam Yates, they shouldn’t have paced when he was off the back on stage 2, which cost him around 30-seconds.

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Jumbo-Visma – Infallible?

5) It ended up not mattering, but Jumbo-Visma did not look infallible today, and looked vulnerable at times.

  • We will never know since Ineos bailed them out, but it could have been difficult for them to control the race from 70km out after Caruso, an outside GC threat, attacked.

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Sepp Kuss – Confusing

6) Speaking of which, I was slightly confused by Sepp Kuss’ tactics when Adam Yates attacked. Instead of staying with Roglič and setting a steady, but high, pace on the front to slowly reel him back, he joined Yates’ attack, which eventually put him over the limit, while his own teammates, Roglič and Kruijswijk, were setting pace behind.

  • And if that group goes out to three minutes, it isn’t exactly great for Jumbo, since López would still be ahead of him and Yates is a much better time trialist.
  • In summation, Jumbo would have been much better off with him pacing behind.

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López rode well for Mas

7) But, a hugely important point is that none of this might not matter, since Roglič looked so freakishly strong when jumped across the gap to Yates that it is hard to imagine anyone truly testing him in the mountains.

  • He looked like he was riding twice the speed of the Yates group as he bridged the gap in the saddle while they struggled out of the saddle.
  • But as I said in the race notes, while impressive, I’m not actually sure this was a great move, since, at 8km from the finish, it was likely too far to actually counter-attack and solo to the finish line.
  • It is worth pointing out that when Mas attacked with 4km-to-go, he did look slightly more labored.
  • However, while I’ve heard some criticism of Roglič for not attacking Mas and trying to put more time into him, this might not have actually made much sense. By sitting on Mas, he was playing it much more conservatively and saving more energy than he has early on in past grand tours, which could, in theory, help him in the third week, where he has historically struggled.
  • This means that while conserving energy or at least holding back from a thermonuclear attack, he was putting time into critical rivals like Yates, López, and Bernal.
  • At the end of the day, he put close to a minute into Yates, over a minute into Bernal, and continued to slowly chip time away from Mas, all while taking it somewhat easy.
  • This is significant since even when he has struggled in the past at the Vuelta, he has limited his losses to around 30-seconds. So, today could have essentially nullified any time gains riders like López, Bernal, and/or Yates might take later in the race.
  • This makes it difficult to frame the current situation as anything but a positive as he heads into the first rest day.

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Mas held Rogič on stage 9

8) While Roglič was the GC winner of the day, Movistar moved back into 2nd and 3rd overall, rode in near-perfect synchrony all day, all while Enric Mas and Miguel Angel López displayed the best form I’ve ever seen from them.

  • I was shocked to see Mas going pedal stroke for pedal stroke with Roglič. He has tended to fade later in grand tours throughout his career, but at 26-years-old, he has appeared to have taken a massive step forward.
  • Heading into the first rest day only 28-seconds behind Roglič is a massive victory for him, and at this point, Roglič and Jumbo have to view him as their biggest rival at this race.

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Landa dropped again

9) Mikel Landa was dropped quite early on the final climb and almost certainly fell out of podium contention.

  • While he won the recent Vuelta a Burgos, he was dropped by Hugh Carthy on the final day, and we also saw cracks in his form leading into this race at the Clásica de San Sebastián and today it was clear that he simply isn’t fully recovered from his crash at the Giro d’Italia.
  • His Bahrain team’s public stance has been that they are here for Landa’s GC campaign, but internally, this simply cannot be true. Jack Haig and Damiano Caruso are both currently higher in the GC than Landa and as Caruso showed today, they have a team full of world-class stage hunters.

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Jack Haig looking good

10) Astana’s Aleksandr Vlasov was also dropped, lost close to three minutes to Roglič, and fell out of the top ten overall.

  • He is almost a mirage of a contender since at times he appears to be one of the sport’s next great stars, but if we look closer, he has been dropped on every mountain summit finish so far this season.

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Roglič still in red


# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

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