Brilliant Caruso wins again in his golden year
Damiano Caruso continues to be the antidote to the trend of youngsters winning bike races.
Three months after shocking everyone by finishing second at the Giro d’Italia and crowning his place on the podium with a win in the race’s penultimate stage, the Italian arrived at the Vuelta a España intent on showing that he can replicate that performance.
The Bahrain-Victorious rider worked his way into stage nine’s breakaway and then attacked solo ahead of the final long, winding climb in Spain’s semi-arid desert, the Tabernas.
He had a sizeable advantage of around six minutes at the foot of the Alto de Velefique climb, and though that time gap decreased bit by bit, he was able to maintain his lead and win comfortably by more than a minute and allow himself a lengthy on-the-bike celebration.
At 33, Caruso is enjoying his greatest ever year and will be an inspiration to many a domestique who longs for their own season of personal opportunities.
Roglič rides away from everyone but Mas
There were a few seconds when it looked like Primož Roglič - resplendent in the red leader’s jersey that he has owned since the 2019 edition of this race – had been found out. Had he cracked?
Adam Yates’ early attack, with more than 8km still to race, briefly distanced the Slovenian, and it appeared like he was going backwards as the Briton marched forward.
And then normality resumed: Roglič woke himself out of his very minor slumber, got out his saddle, wrestled his bike, and caught Yates. A small group of five emerged and by the end, Roglič was only joined by Enric Mas; all the other GC contenders had been unable to keep pace with the defending champion.
He now has a lead of 28 seconds to Mas, three seconds more than before the stage’s start, and in the first proper mountain test, it was obvious that the Jumbo-Visma leader is the race’s strongest.
As he found out at the Tour de France, crashes can scupper ambitions and plans, but if he can keep himself from hard luck in the ensuing two weeks, it’s very hard to fathom how he won’t win a third Vuelta title on the bounce.
Movistar do get it right sometimes
Mocking Movistar and their questionable tactics is a running event in every recent Grand Tour, but credit should be given to the Spanish outfit when they aren’t so funny to watch.
On stage nine, they were arguably the day’s biggest winners: Mas moved up to second and looked much better than many of his other rivals, while Miguel Ángel López did plenty of strong turns on the front of a select group of five in the latter kilometres and still managed to move up to third overall, now sitting 1-21 back from Roglič.
Mas looked assured when there was only himself and Roglič left, leading the race leader up the climb and only flagging in the final 100 metres when Roglič’s killer instinct to soak up bonus seconds saw him sprinting for the line and Mas was unable to respond.
Thanks to finishing second at the 2018 Vuelta, Mas has been Spain’s GC hope for the past few seasons, but his performances at the two most recent Tours de France have gone a little unnoticed, a fifth-place last year and a sixth-place this summer.
He has shown in the race’s opening week that he is capable of equalling or perhaps bettering his result from three years ago, while López is on track to finish on the podium, too – a result he hasn’t achieved since placing third at the 2018 Giro d’Italia and Vuelta.
Roglič leads going into the first rest day, but Movistar have been the best all-round team.
But a poor day for Ineos
The same, however, cannot be said of Ineos Grenadiers who didn’t enjoy a great day in Almeria.
Adam Yates was exciting, repeatedly attacking and on two occasions going clear, but the Briton appeared to have made his moves too early, eventually succumbing to the big efforts and coming home 29 seconds back from Roglič, a disappointing result after the promise of his bold moves. Still, though, he has jumped up to sixth overall, 2-07 adrift of red.
Yates won’t be of concern to Ineos – his willingness to attack Roglič from afar will earn him plaudits and would have been enthusiastically received by his team bosses – but his teammate Egan Bernal had his worst day out so far.
Bernal was dropped by the leading favourites mid-way up the climb and though he held on courageously to limit his loss to 65 seconds, the Colombian would have expected far more from himself in the race’s first major shake-up.
He is fifth overall, 1:52 back from Roglič and 15 seconds better than Yates who had lost time earlier in the week, but his hopes of winning the Giro-Vuelta double in the first year are looking quite slim based on this evidence.
More alarming was the collapse of Richard Carapaz. The Olympic champion hadn’t been at his best in the first eight stages, but on Sunday completely cracked on the punishing climb and finished 9:08 behind winner Caruso, meaning even a top-10 for him looks a distant possibility now.
Top-10 moves around as race takes shape
The Vuelta has been a slow-burner up to now, so it was refreshing to see a flurry of attacks and genuine excitement in the final throes of stage nine.
Racing up to an altitude of 1,800m, the race’s general classification had its first meaningful large re-jig, allowing observers to really assess who will populate the podium and top-10 in two weeks’ time.
Bahrain-Victorious’ Jack Haig was one of the day’s big winners, climbing well and moving himself up to fourth from seventh, while Giulio Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo now occupies seventh spot, an improvement on 11th.
Felix Großschartner, second before the stage thanks to his strong showing two days earlier, fell seven places to ninth, and David de la Cruz of UAE-Team Emirates entered the top-10. Just 2-04 seperates López in third and Großschartner in ninth, meaning the fight for the top-three. looks set to be tight and intense in the final fortnight.
As for the top spot, Roglič’s lead over Mas might only be a slender 28 seconds, but it already feels like the rest of the GC riders are fighting for a place alongside him on the podium.
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