It’s been a quiet week, but a furious one on the Vuelta a Espana. While the overall GC battle has seen only small differences, the pace of the stages has been high and temperatures were often excruciating hitting the high 30s and more.
The teams have always known that this Vuelta was going to be at its hardest in the third week with multiple mountain stages and summit finishes, and so the second week looked set to be something less strenuous as the main contenders saved their efforts.
It has been a strong week for the breakaway with 24-year-old Michael Storer (DSM) starting off the week with an incredible win on Tuesday’s Stage 10. He beat the likes of “King” Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) and Lilian Calmejane (AG2R Citroen) to the summit of the hill and descending down to the finish line at Rincon de la Victoria. It was also the same day that we saw Roglic attack his overall contenders on the Puerto de Almachar before showing that even he can make mistakes as his bike slipped out from beneath him on the dusty roads. He was quickly back up on his bike but lost the 20 second gap he’d built on the likes of Enric Mas (Movistar), but still managed to put time into Egan Bernal and Adam Yates of Ineos Grenadiers.
Meanwhile, Odd Christian Eiking of Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert, finished in a group just 22 seconds down on Storer and took the Red Jersey. Roglic would be happy to lend the jersey to the Norwegian and take the pressure away from himself and his team.
Stage 11 saw another hard day for everyone as Magnus Cort (EF-Education Nippo) head up the road alone on the Puerto de Locubin but tragically it would not be his day. The Dane was caught by the chasing bunch, lead by Roglic and trailed closely by Mas, as they reached the “wall” climb at Valdepenas de Jaen. With gradients over 20 per cent, Cort was seen zig-zagging his way up, trying to reduce the gradients, when Roglic stormed for the line on the drops of his Cervelo to take his second stage win of this Vuelta. Mas was the only rider able that looked even close to Roglic and maybe the only man that might be able to stop Roglic’s storm for red.
After an impressive display the day before, few would have believed Cort could go on to win a sprint finish on Stage 12, but that’s exactly what he did. After recovering from his efforts on Stage 11, Cort stayed in the peloton on the roads between Jaen and Cordoba while they reeled in the breakaway which included Jay Vine (Alepcin-Fenix) and Romain Bardet (DSM). The sprint finish had been lined up by Team Bike Exchange for Michael Matthews and Team Emirates for Matteo Trentin, but it was Cort that would take the sprint.
An almost completely flat Stage 13 promised to be a bunch sprint but it ended up being a strange one as the Deceuninck-quick step lead out train managed to drop their sprinter, Fabio Jakobsen on the approach to the line. The man in the Green Jersey stopped following, almost seeming to have had a puncture, but went on the radio immediately to announce he had been dropped and that team mate Florian Senechal should compete the sprint instead. It transpired that Jakobsen just didn’t have the legs, but Senechal did and took the win.
On Saturday we returned to the mountains for a weekend which would act as a prologue for the final brutal week. Stage 14 finished on the summit of Pico Villuercas and one rider was on dominant form. Bardet had been like a shark in the water all day. His GC hopes were ruined by a crash earlier in the race and so he has been targeting the king of the mountains jersey. He looked the strongest throughout the Stage dancing off away from his competitors for mountains points and in the end he timed his attack perfectly to catch Nicolas Prodhomme (AG2R Citroen), overtake him and go on solo to win the stage in great style.
The revelation of the day was Vine who fell when taking a bottle from his own team car, somehow getting caught up and landing hard on the tarmac. It didn’t look like he would even be able to get back on the bike but he was soon back in the breakaway and not only that pushed on to try and close down Bardet alongside Jesus Herrada (Cofidis). He would finish third behind Bardet and Herrara but won a lot of fans after an incredible fight back from a bad crash.
Proof of just how hard the racing was came when Richard Carapaz (Indeos Grenadiers) had to abandon on Stage 14. After winning the Tour de Suisse, coming third in the Tour de France and winning an Olympic gold medal in the road race, the Ecuadorian will take time to recover and re-asses his goals for the rest of the season.
Sunday saw another day in the mountains before the rest day and if anyone was going to make a statement before we kick off in the high mountains from Wednesday. Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates) took a dominant win 1 minute 27 seconds down on Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma).
Behind, it was Yates of Ineos Grenadiers who showed he had good form going into the rest day by attacking and retrieving 15 seconds over Roglic. He still sits almost three minutes down on Roglic, but if he feels good in the third week, he could still be in the race for at least a podium.
The Movistar duo of Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez are also looking good going into the third week and far from throwing in the towel. The fight for red will reach its peak in the third week and it will be the last chance for the pretenders to the crown to try to uncover any weaknesses the two-time Vuelta champion may have. Stage 17 and 18 on Wednesday and Thursday will be particularly key and will surely see the battle boil over.
General Classification top 10 after Stage 15:
1. Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert)
2. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) + 0.54
3. Primoz Roglic (Jumvo-Visma) + 1.36
4. Enric Mas (Movistar) + 2.11
5. Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar) + 3.04
6. Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) + 3.35
7. Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) + 4.21
8. Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) + 4.34
9. Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) + 4.59
10. Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) + 5.31
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