Five talking points from stage 15 of the Vuelta a España 2021
Majka takes his first win in four years
Majka spectacularly ends four-year drought
There is no questioning that Rafał Majka, one of cycling’s finest climbing talents in the past decade even if he has lacked consistency and hasn’t won in four years, saw the parcours of stage 15 of this year’s Vuelta and was filled with giddy anticipation.
This was a stage made for him, and he delivered on his ambition in a manner that even he no doubt didn’t think was possible.
The day’s break took 60km to form, but when it did Majka wasted no time in ensuring it would be he who was the day’s main protagonist.
He was the first atop the first of four categorised climbs, and then on the slopes of the second, he attacked and went clear, 83km from the line.
The Pole wasn’t daunted by the challenge of staying out front alone with two big climbs still to come, building an advantage of around 90 seconds, a lead that stubbornly didn’t move.
Come the final climb of Puerto San Juan de Nava, the victory for the UAE-Team Emirates rider was already assured. He eventually finished 1-27 ahead of Kruijswijk to cap a truly dominant and impressive day to record his first win since winning stage 14 of the 2017 Vuelta.
He ended his drought in stunning fashion and, as an additional bonus, the 31-year-old racked up 28 points in the KOM classification and now sits 22 points shy of the jersey wearer Romain Bardet.
Kruijswijk misses out on ending his own lengthy barren spell
Steven Kruijswijk boasts a palmarès that any cyclist would be proud of, but he is also infamously the sort of general classification rider who thrives on being steady and not spectacular.
After finishing third at the 2019 Tour de France, Julian Alaphilippe – who was so close to winning that very race – quipped that he would much rather have won two stages and finished fifth than riding onto the podium in the manner of Kruijswijk.
What Alaphilippe was essentially saying was that Kruijswijk was a boring rider, so it was enjoyable to see the Dutchman in attacking mode on stage 15 of this year’s Vuelta, eventually finishing second to Majka, his best result since May 2016 when he was leading the Giro d’Italia.
The Jumbo-Visma man heartbreakingly lost the Giro lead that year, and no-one can fluke their way into the leadership of a Grand Tour, but given that he hasn’t won a stage of a race in 10 years, there would have been many a fan willing him on Sunday to claim just a third professional victory, his only other being the GC at the 2014 Arctic Race of Norway.
Majka was too strong for Kruijswijk, but hopefully he will infiltrate the break more going forward and can finally end one of cycling’s longest-running droughts.
Eiking maintains his lead going into the third week
Odd Christian Eiking will go into the second rest day still comfortably out front and starting to dream that the most unlikeliest of victories could actually happen.
Since being rocketed from 19th overall into first place on stage 10, the Norwegian has barely lost any time, his advantage to Guillaume Martin in second reducing from 58 seconds to 54, and Primož Roglič, the man he inherited the lead from, going from 2-17 back to 1-36.
The truth is, even if the Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux was towards the back of the group of favourites when the racing got intense in the latter stages of stage 15, he remained in close enough contact with his GC rivals and ultimately didn’t concede any time. It all suggests that he could indeed be wearing red next Sunday evening.
His team did not expect to be defending the overall lead, but they are doing a credible job of controlling the peloton during the hot afternoons in Spain, and every stage like today that doesn’t see huge GC changes works in their favour.
Eiking is showing he is capable of holding out for what would be a gloriously unexpected but terrifically deserved victory.
The curious case of Adam Yates - again
Yesterday, after stage 14, we wrote this about Adam Yates:
“Much like his twin brother Simon at the Giro d’Italia, Adam Yates is having a curious Grand Tour: some moments he looks like he’s the best climber in the field, and then other days he can’t keep up with the riders he’s trying to beat. Stage 14 was another one of the latter for the Briton, shipping 12 seconds to Roglič and co.”
In keeping with the race the Ineos Grenadiers man is having, Sunday was fittingly the former for Yates, who this time gained time on his GC rivals, attacking on the final climb and clawing back 15 seconds.
He is 4-34 adrift of Eiking, 2-58 shy of Roglič, and desperately needs to hope that he finds career-best form in the final six days of action in his pursuit of emulating what Simon did in 2018 in winning the Vuelta.
We all know Yates is one of the race’s most aggressive, punchy, exciting climbers, but his up-and-down form is a constant source of not just irritation but annoyance.
What Adam Yates will turn up in the final week? Frustratingly for him and his team, it’s impossible to know.
Other GC contenders ride home as one
Jack Haig, sixth overall, had suggested at the day’s start that Primož Roglič looked tired in the finale of stage 14, but even if the Australian’s instincts were correct, aside from Yates’ small attack, nothing came to pass among the group of favourites.
It meant that, rather disappointedly given the mountainous profile of the day’s racing, there were limited attacks, with Yates and Enric Mas the only two to really put in a sustained dig.
Giulio Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo led the 14-strong group home, immediately ahead of Odd Christian Eiking, with Roglič, Mas, Haig, Egan Bernal and Miguel Ángel López all present, too.
As already mentioned, that suits Eiking perfectly fine, and puts all the pressure of the GC riders to do something in the three remaining summit finishes and final day 33.8km time trial.
The worry is that even if Eiking’s lead is somewhat of a fairy-tale, the rest of the GC battle looks in danger of petering out. Let’s hope for final week fireworks.
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Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.
Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.
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