Five talking points from stage 16 of the Vuelta a España 2021
Jakobsen continues to dominate, Démare goes missing, and there's crashes again - here's the stage 16 talking points
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Jakobsen triples up
Fabio Jakobsen confirmed his status as the best sprinter of the race with his third sprint stage win.
He had been equal with Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) on two stage wins, but the Belgian’s withdrawal last week paved the way for Jakobsen to pick up an even bigger haul.
Jakobsen lost out on his first chance to win a third stage four days ago, when he was dropped from the Deceuninck-Quick-Step train during the lead-out, an incident that led him to frustratingly criticise his team-mates for not being more attentive.
The team’s lead-out today wasn’t perfect either, with the final lead-out man going to the front early, and with Jakobsen a few wheels down for him. But thankfully for the Dutchman, the Alpecin-Fenix rider Alexander Krieger didn’t seem to realise that his sprinter Sacha Modolo wasn’t on his wheel, and therefore instead gave Jakobsen the lead-out he needed to win the sprint.
Despite the imperfection, Jakobsen was full of praise for his team-mates in the post-race interview, suggesting that there’s no more tension between him and the team.
Jakobsen strengthens grip on the green jersey
The newly revised points system for the green jersey introduced for this year’s edition, which weighed more in the sprinters' favour over the GC riders, has had the desired effect, as the Vuelta’s best sprinter Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) also now has a big lead in the points classification.
>>> Vuelta a España 2021 standings: The latest results from the final Grand Tour of the season
No sprinter has won the Vuelta points classification since John Degenkolb in 2014, with the winners board filled with riders such as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), who inadvertently won as a by-product of chasing GC.
Something had to change to make the classification a competitive contest once again, and the new points system has seen the sprinters rise to the fore. As well as Jakobsen, the rest of the top five is made up of sprinters, with Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates) moving up to be Jakobsen’s nearest rival by finishing fourth today — albeit a huge 127 points behind.
Now, with no more sprints expected during the final week, Jakobsen’s one remaining task if he’s to win the jersey is to finish the race. That won't be easy, given the severity of the climbs to come tomorrow and on Thursday, and a fast pace might see him at risk of finishing outside of the time limit. There might not be any sprints left, and he might have a huge lead in the classification, but there could still be some excitement in this race for the green jersey — exactly as the organiser would have hoped.
UAE Team Emirates try and fail to disrupt the race
A sleepy sprinters’ stage burst into life 60km from the finish, when UAE Team Emirates upped the pace at the front of the peloton.
The parcours was in reality far tougher than the roadbook suggested, with many rises in the finales that were uncategorised, and UAE Team Emirates seemed aware of this as they laid the hammer down on these undulating roads.
The ploy had initial success, when Fabio Jakobsen was part of a large number of riders caught on the wrong side of a split.
Dropping riders like Jakobsen who would likely have the beating of their sprinter, Matteo Trentin, at the finish was exactly what UAE Team Emirates would have wanted to happen, and so they pressed on. But Jakobsen had enough riders with him to guide him back into the peloton after a 12km chase, and UAE Team Emirates eventually ran out of steam, and left it to other teams to take control in the finale.
Trentin still managed third in the sprint, behind Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe), and, inevitably, Jakobsen. It was still a decent result, and his second-best of the whole Vuelta, but he’ll rue what might have been had Jakobsen not made it back into the peloton.
Démare goes missing again
Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) has been one of the big disappointments of this Vuelta. Going into the race as one of the top favourites for the sprints, he hasn’t managed to get involved in any of the bunch finishes, with the exception of one second-place finish behind Jakobsen at Molina de Aragon during the first week.
His Groupama-FDJ team have nevertheless not lost faith, and were once again prominent at the front of the peloton in the final kilometres of today’s stage. But as has happened previously, Démare went missing in the finale, and ultimately finished well down in 16th place.
It’s been a significant fall from grace for a rider who last year won more races than anyone else, and looked unbeatable just under a year ago at the Giro d’Italia.
Whatever problems he was suffering during his similarly under par showing at the Tour de France appears to still be affecting him, and he’ll very likely go home winless from a second successive Grand Tour appearance — his longest baron run at Grand Tours since 2016.
After a career-best 2020, it’s a shame to see the Frenchman so off the pace in what had looked like being the peak years of his career. Here’s hoping he can find his form again soon.
Ciccone crashes out of GC contention again
Even at this late stage of the race, when much of the tension from the first week of the race has dissipated and the establishment of a fixed GC hierarchy has calmed the peloton down, crashes can still have a significant impact on the race.
That unfortunate fate was Giulio Ciccone’s (Trek-Segafredo) undoing today, who went down in a crash within the very first kilometres of the stage, forcing him to abandon the race along with Groupama-FDJ’ Rudy Molard and Israel Start-Up Nation’s Sep Vanmarcke (who were both involved in the same crash).
This is the second time this season that the Italian has had to pull out of a Grand Tour while placed high on GC. He was 10th at the Giro d’Italia before crashing out on stage 17, and now has once again come a cropper during the final week while seemingly en route for what would have been a first ever Grand Tour top 10 finish.
Might these crashes put Ciccone off from riding for GC in the future? The Italian had been more of a stage-hunter and attacker previously, but surprised everyone at the Giro by staying high up in the standings during the first two weeks.
The problems he’s suffered in the final week highlight just how little it takes for a GC campaign to come to nothing, and for a rider as instinctively aggressive as him, it would not be surprising to see him revert back to his old approach next season.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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