Roglič makes daring attack - but at what cost?
A bold attack from a true champion, or a naive mistake recklessly putting his hold on the race in peril? That’s the debate at the end of stage ten of the Vuelta a España, after the race burst into life after a surprise attack from Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) which ended with him crashing on the descent.
It’s easy to criticise the Slovenian for his actions. While in such a strong position at the top of the general classification, there is no apparent need for him to take risks, with the onus being on his rivals to do so instead.
The attack itself on the climb 20km from the finish seemed to be a good move. He caught his rivals unaware, and managed to open a gap of about fifteen seconds by the top of the top. But the way he pushed on so aggressively on the descent was much more questionable, and it was here he fell off, remounting in time to rejoin the chasing trio of Miguel Ángel López, Enric Mas (both Movistar) and Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious).
Still, we spend so much time criticising riders for not attacking and being too cautious, that surely we should be grateful when a top rider like Roglič chooses to throw caution to the wind? “No risk, no glory,” were Roglič’s words at the finish when asked to explain this thinking, and the relaxed manner in which he said them suggests he is not perturbed by his fall.
Now that the dust has settled, the stage was still actually a net positive — he gained over half a minute from the Ineos Grenadiers duo of Egan Bernal and Adam Yates, and also passed the red jersey on to a rider not perceived to be a threat, Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), relieving his team from the necessity of defending it. But if it does transpire that Roglič hurt himself in that fall, he may yet pay the price for his boldness.
Storer doubles up with second stage victory
Stage 10 was expected to be a day for the breakaway, and inevitably there was a huge battle to get into the breakaway, with 31 riders eventually going clear after a very fast first hour.
To get the better of 30 riders takes some doing, so congratulations to Michael Storer (DSM), who once again showed his climbing talent and racing nous to take a second stage win at this Vuelta a España following his triumph last week atop Balcón de Alicante.
The way he climbed to win that stage indicated that he would again be one of the top climbers on the climactic hill, crested 15km to go, and the Australian timed his effort perfectly by waiting for its steeper slopes towards the summit to make his move.
With some riders having already burnt matches attacking earlier, and others simply not as quick uphill as him, no-one was able to get on to Storer’s wheel, and by the top his lead was over half a minute.
Whereas his earlier stage win came at the top of a climb, this one required him to descend well too, and he kept pressing on to increase his lead, not exactly looking fluid on the descent, but still going very fast.
By holding on for victory, the 24-year-old showcased proved he can descend as well as climb, and further confirms that he’s a star in the making.
Have Roglič and co underestimated Eiking by granting him the red jersey?
Allowing riders who are presumed not to be threats on GC to get into the break and gain enough time to take the overall lead is a common tactic used by GC teams not wanting to use up energy defending the leader’s jersey, but is not without risk. Famously, at the 2006 Tour de France, Oscar Pereiro was allowed to gain a whopping 30 minutes on one stage, and as a consequence ended up winning the overall race.
Is there any chance that Jumbo-Visma and the other GC teams have made a similar mistake by allowing Odd Christian Eiking to take the red jersey today? Although not a household name, the 26-year-old Norwegian has quietly ridden a very good Vuelta, and had ridden himself to nineteenth overall prior to today’s stage. And although he has no pedigree as a GC rider at Grand Tours, he has been in very good form of late, finishing second at the Arctic Race of Norway.
Not only was he allowed to take the jersey, he’s also been granted quite a buffer zone, with a non-significant margin of 2-17 over Roglič, 2-45 over Enric Mas, and over three minutes over everyone else.
And what about Guillame Martin (Cofidis)? He might have been left disappointed by his failure to drop Eiking on the climb and thus not take the red jersey himself, but now finds himself second on GC — and unlike Eiking, he has plenty of experience riding for GC at the Grand Tours, and should therefore by more difficult to extract from that position.
It would take something crazy and very unexpected for either of them to genuinely have a chance of winning the red jersey, but a high GC finish inside the top ten is certainly now a possibility.
Ineos Grenadiers struggle again
This was another very bad day for Ineos Grenadiers, suggesting that their troubles on Alto de Velefique on Sunday was not just an off-day
Egan Bernal was first to try to react when Roglič attacked on the climb, but soon faded away, and was dropped when Miguel Ángel López, Enric Mas and Jack Haig organised the chase.
Adam Yates was further behind, and although the two eventually came together to try to help each other out and limit their losses, they arrived at the line 37 seconds in arrears of the group of favourites.
As a consequence, Bernal falls from fifth to seventh on GC, now two-and-a-half minutes adrift from Roglič, while Yates drops from sixth to ninth, an extra fifteen seconds down.
The team might have anticipated the first half of this opening week as being a chance to regroup, and possibly for Bernal and Yates to recover and build themselves back into top form ahead of the final week. Instead they’ve suffered losses almost as heavy as on Sunday, and have been placed even further on the back foot.
The time losses weren’t huge, but the way their leading duo were dropped not only by the Movistar riders and Haig, but also more minor GC men like Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), Felix Grossschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Alexander Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), was very disheartening.
It may be that Ineos give up hope for the red jersey, and instead target either as high a placing as they can manage, or stage wins.
Final climb proves too hard for the sprinters
The big 31-man group that formed the day’s break featured several of the top sprinter-cum-puncheurs in the race, suggesting that they believed they could make it to the top of the day’s only climb still in contention for the stage win.
Alex Aranburu (Astana-Premier Tech), Andrea Bagioli (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) and Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo) were the most eye-catching names, all having featured in sprints earlier during this Vuelta.
Cort’s EF Education-Nippo team had lots of faith in his ability, using their two other riders in the break to set a pace up the climb to try and keep the attackers within range.
But the steeper slopes towards the top of the climb proved much too hard for these heavier fast-finishers, and the gaps between them and the lighter climbers grew bigger and bigger, until it became clear that even the 15km left to ride between the top of the climb and the finish line would not be enough road for them to catch back up.
Still, there should be more chances for these kinds of riders to get into breakaways later this week. Expect the riders who committed today to keep trying.
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