Roglič signs off in style
Looking at the start list before the final time trial of the Vuelta a España it was difficult to imagine anyone even getting close to the Olympic time trial champion Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) on the 33.8km course in Galicia.
There was never a chance Roglič would ride conservatively in the final individual effort just to ensure he safely made it to the finish, and it was clear he was out for a fourth stage win as he powered away from the start ramp.
Despite a valiant effort from Magnus Cort (EF Nippo), there was no one who could stop Roglič (again), except maybe for himself as narrowly avoided a late disaster when he took the wrong turn off a roundabout (see below).
Such was his dominance that there was even enough road to just catch his two-minute man Enric Mas (Movistar) before the finish, which encapsulated the narrative of this year's race perfectly.
Even when he wasn't in red in this race Roglič was always in control, and his ruthless command of the Vuelta was displayed one more time on the final stage with a stunning victory.
Cort provides a challenge
Magnus Cort deservedly picked up the combativity award for this Vuelta, with his three stage wins and consistent presence in sprints and breakaways one of the most impressive performances of this year's edition.
But the Dane wanted one more shot at glory before the race was out, firing himself into a long stint in the hot seat with a strong performance in the time trial.
It thankfully provided something to stop the stage result becoming a formality, and the win was in the balance as Roglič rode the course.
In the end wasn't to be for Cort, who could only watch as the race leader came home 14 seconds faster. Cort was, outside of Roglič, the best all-round rider in this Vuelta and the time trial performance on the final day was a fine way to certify that.
Yates goes for broke
There were very few potential movements in the top-10 on GC, and, for the most part, many riders seemed comfortable finishing where they were and getting through the final time trial.
With just a minute separating them though, there was an outside chance that fourth place Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) could make a late grab for third overall by displacing Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious).
Yates started fast, clearly intent on keeping the race going to the very end. The British rider went 28 seconds up early on as Haig rode a more consistent pace, but Yates would have to continue getting faster if he was to beat his Australian rival.
That looked an unlikely prospect and as Yates passed into the latter part of the course he was losing time quickly to Haig rather than making any gains. Haig, riding a controlled time trial, was looking assured for his third place and he confirmed it by beating Yates by 27 seconds at the finish.
It was a valiant effort from Yates in his first Grand Tour for Ineos, but the British team will miss out on the podium in a three-week race for the first time this year.
For Haig it's an astonishing turnaround to make the podium having just a couple of months ago crashed out of the Tour de France, suffering a broken collarbone.
Mas secures second for chaotic Movistar
The Movistar of this year's Vuelta seemed to have moved on from some of the inconsistent, and often bizarre, tactical performances of Grand Tours of recent years by the Spanish squad.
With Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López still working well in tandem in the third week and occupying both second and third overall respectively, their race was made all the better after López's stage 18 victory.
But the shock abandonment of López on the race's penultimate stage was more like the Movistar we've come to know, and the surge in negative attention because of it must surely have placed undue pressure on Mas heading into what should be a straightforward final time trial.
With a 2-10 buffer on third place Jack Haig, Mas merely needed to get through the time trial with a consistent performance. He delivered, even placing himself inside the top-10 on the stage and 48 seconds ahead of Haig.
While getting caught by Roglič before the line was an unfortunate way to sign off the Vuelta for Mas, his second place overall (the second time he's finished in the position after 2018) has at least given Movistar something to smile about on a weekend they'd probably rather forget.
Wrong way Primož!
'No, No, No, No!' 😂The other way, Roglic! ⬅️#LaVuelta21 pic.twitter.com/A5tnhyaHBESeptember 5, 2021
If Primož Roglič was looking for another final day disaster, he almost found one. The Slovenian was head down powering his way around a roundabout midway through the course when he started drifting towards a roped-off road.
He was luckily able to realise his error in time, and played it nice and cool as he didn't even need to take his arms off the skis of his time trial bike to get back on course.
It's unlikely even if he had taken the wrong road it would have affected his overall lead, but it certainly would have put his stage win in jeopardy with just 14 seconds in the end separating him and second place Magnus Cort.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1