Cort’s amazing Vuelta continues
What a Vuelta a España Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo) is having. The Dane had already made his race a success by winning stage six, but has since shown a huge appetite for more, getting into the break on two successive days yesterday and the day before, and very nearly hanging on for victory yesterday.
Stage 12 certainly looked like it suited him on paper, but given the huge effort he made in the break the previous day he wasn’t being talked about as a top favourite for the win. Neither did his EF Education-Nippo team ride as if he was one, sitting back and letting first UAE Team Emirates and later BikeExchange do the work at the front of the peloton.
But Cort was still present in the reduced peloton after the climbs, and positioned himself towards the front as the finishing straight approached and the break was caught. At the very moment the last surviving escapee, Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix), was caught in the last kilometre, Cort’s team-mate Jens Keukeleire suddenly accelerated to move to the front of the peloton with Cort on his wheel.
It was a perfectly timed move that put Cort in the perfect place for the sprint, and an astute tactical ploy from his team after UAE Team Emirates and BikeExchange had burnt all their matches earlier. But it still required Cort to finish it off, and for him to have the legs to hold off a charging Andrea Bagioli (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) after going so deep just 24 hours ago was an extraordinary feat.
Matthews falls short again
Once again, Team BikeExchange’s considerable efforts to deliver Michael Matthews a stage win ended in frustration.
Unlike stage 11, when they fully committed by leading the peloton for much of the stage, the Australian team weren’t visible at all at the front of the peloton for most of this stage, suggesting that they had less confidence in Matthews’ form after he failed to deliver yesterday. When he was dropped on the final climb, it appeared that he did indeed not have the legs.
However, it soon transpired that the team had merely changed tactics, and still harboured hopes of winning with Matthews. He managed to rejoin the peloton before the top of the climb, and on the descent regrouped with multiple team-mates (all well-rested having left it to other teams to do the pace-setting earlier) and suddenly, with about 10km to go, they were at the front of the peloton with a long train of riders.
That was enough firepower to bring back the four riders who had escaped out of the bunch on the climb, despite them having built a significant lead of over thirty seconds. But despite their strength-in-numbers, they were still caught out by EF Education-Nippo in the finale, with Matthews being left with too much ground to make up in the sprint.
He held on for third-place, his sixth top ten-placing of the Vuelta so far, and his joint-highest. But with an increasing number of mountain stages to come, he’s running out of time to take that longed-for win.
UAE Team Emirates do too much too soon
The amount of work UAE Team Emirates got through meant that anything other than a stage win was going to feel like a disappointment.
The team took it upon themselves to make sure that the day’s seven-man breakaway would not succeed, by putting several of their riders at the front of the peloton early in the day. The hope that they could engineer a reduced bunch sprint for their man Matteo Trentin to win, while also dropping as many of his rival sprinters as possible
This was only part of the job, however. The presence of a tough climb inside the final 20km meant they also had to control any attacks made on that climb, and indeed, despite a strong pace set by Rafał Majka, a dangerous four-man group managed to get clear.
UAE Team Emirates still had numbers, but their plan began to unravel on the descent, when Trentin found himself off the front of the peloton seemingly by accident. He thought about pushing on when Ion Izagirre (Astana-Premier Tech) bridged up to him, but realised the deficit remained too large for just the two of them to close, and so they sat up and waited for the peloton.
By this time BikeExchange were organised and setting the pace instead of UAE Team Emirates, which turned out to be enough to bring back the escapees and therefore keep Trentin in contention for the stage win. But the work done earlier meant he was lacking in support come the finish, and he only managed to sprint for fourth-place.
It was a good effort, and admirably bold tactics from UAE Team Emirates as they attempt to gain success at this Grand Tour without their star rider Tadej Pogačar. But if they are to win a stage, they might have to be cannier.
Roglič crashes again
For the second time in just three days, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) went down in a crash.
Unlike his fall a couple of days ago, this one can’t be said to be self-inflicted, as it occurred right up at the front of the peloton, when an apparent touch of wheels ahead of him caused a ripple effect that neither he nor several other riders could avoid. But it was still a dramatic moment, and required a committed chase by several of his Jumbo-Visma riders who had stopped alongside him in order to rejoin the peloton.
Once again it appeared Roglič was unhurt, but you do have to start to wonder whether these multiple falls will take its toll. It’s worth remembering that, after his crash at the Tour de France, he had appeared on the recovery in the time trial, before deteriorating and ultimately having to abandon — might a similarly delayed response also strike him here?
It’s rare for a winner of a Grand Tour to crash as much as Roglič has already at this Vuelta, and even minor sores he might have suffered could take their toll later in the race. Roglič may look unbeatable right now, but another crash today could be a cause for concern.
Jay Vine impresses in star-studded attack
Prior to BikeExchange’s excellent chase, it looked as though the stage victory would be taken by one of the quartet of attackers who went clear on the final climb.
That group contained a striking amount of Grand Tour experience. Veteran Sergio Henao (Qhubeka-Next Hash) was there, looking for his first Grand Tour stage win on what is his fourteenth appearance; two-time Tour de France podium finisher Romain Bardet (DSM) continued his hunt for a stage win at this Vuelta; and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) joined them, looking to gain time having fallen a bit on GC.
The odd one out was Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix), who, riding his first year as a pro, is making his Grand Tour debut. The Australian has had an unorthodox route to the peloton, but has been justifiably hyped, having followed up winning the Zwift Academy by impressing at the Vuelta a Burgos, and made a great showing for himself today by rubbing shoulders with such established pros.
In fact, Vine turned out to be the strongest of the four, attacking the others just as the peloton were about to make the catch, and surviving out alone for a little while into the final kilometre. He might not have won the stage, but this was perhaps the biggest demonstration of his talent so far.
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