DSM’s latest young star Michael Storer takes victory
Team DSM has been a conveyer built of young talent in recent years, with the likes of Marc Hirschi, Jai Hindley and Søren Kragh Andersen all making huge breakthroughs at elite level.
On stage seven of the Vuelta a España 2021 Michael Storer became their latest Grand Tour success story, following up his impressive ride to win the Tour de l’Ain last month to take stage victory from the breakaway.
The 24-year-old had to overcome some stern opposition, with elite climbers like Sepp Kuss, Jack Haig and Felix Großschartner all with him in the break, while Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) looked especially dangerous. But in a key moment, Sivakov dropped his chain when attempting to attack Storer on the penultimate climb of the day, and the efforts to catch back up appeared to take its toll on the final climb.
This comes as a much-needed Vuelta victory for DSM, of whom there have been rumours of internal turmoil, with rumours that young star Ilan Van Wilder wants to leave the team.
With Romain Bardet also bouncing back from his recent crash to get into the break and put himself in contention for the King of the Mountains jersey, things are looking more positive for the team now.
Valverde crashes out
A frightening crash brought a devastating end to Alejandro Valverde’s Vuelta, who fell into a ravine after hitting a pothole on a descent.
It looked as though it could have been much worse for the Spaniard, given how he narrowly avoided a head-on collision with the road barrier, but that didn’t prevent Valverde from being disconsolate at having to abandon. He tried to continue racing, but his collarbone was clearly causing him considerable pain, and he was seen in tears after eventually giving up the ghost.
The abandonment will be especially hard to take given the excellent form he’s been in this opening week. The 41-year-old was placed fourth overall, and had just lit up the race with a dangerous attack just minutes before crashing.
It’s also very rare to see Valverde crash like this. Since the crash that threatened to end his career at the 2017 Tour de France, he had successfully completed all seven of Grand Tour appearances; and prior to that, he had managed a remarkable run of 16 successive finishes, almost all of which were top-10s.
Valverde has talked a lot about retirement in recent years, inevitably given he’s now into forties. So might this be the last we see of him at this level? The fortitude he’s shown throughout his career means it’d be foolish to write him off too early, but his devastated reaction to abandoning reveals just how big a blow this is for Valverde. If so, it would be a sad end to what has been an extraordinary career.
Vulnerable Jumbo-Visma defends Roglič’s red jersey
Jumbo-Visma ended the day with their leader Primož Roglič still in the red jersey, but it was far from a resoundingly convincing display from the team.
For one thing, they might not even have wanted to even keep the jersey. While the threat posed by riders like Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates), Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious) meant they could not afford to let the break get too far up the road, it might have been ideal for Roglič to cede the jersey by a few seconds, to relieve the team from the pressure of defending the jersey. Instead, Roglič kept it by 8 seconds ahead of Großschartner, after an increase in pace by Ineos Grenadiers on the final climb closed the gap.
Neither did Jumbo-Visma control the race as authoritatively as we’re used to seeing them in stage races and Grand Tours. Roglič was left with just Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk early in the stage, after Sam Oomen and Robert Gesink were dropped, and although the latter two did manage to rejoin the peloton later, Roglič was left isolated earlier than he would have liked on the final climb, despite a decent showing from Kruijswijk.
This lack of support left Roglič vulnerable to attacks, and he was forced to mark a move by Migel Ángel López (Movistar) all by himself on a climb about 40km from the finish. He managed to neutralise that attack, and remained comfortably with the favourites at the finish, but Jumbo-Visma are showing weaknesses that other teams will seek to exploit.
A clearer GC hierarchy is forming
A clearer hierarchy appears to have been formed in the race for the red jersey, with the same riders who have been on top in the mountains so far once again finishing together ahead of other pre-race favourites.
Joining Roglič in the small group of favourites at the line was the Movistar duo of Miguel Ángel López and Enric Mas, and the Ineos Grenadiers duo of Adam Yates and Egan Bernal, after Yates had done a very impressive turn to drop ever other rider aside from Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and David de la Cruz (UAE Team Emirates).
The same favourites who struggled on yesterday’s steep finish at Cullera once again were dropped today: Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), whose Vuelta a Burgos-winning form seems to be deserting him, drops down to 12th overall, while Giulio Ciccone is also not quite at his Giro d’Italia levels, and falls to twelfth.
Alexander Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) managed to hang on to the group for longer, but was also eventually dropped, meaning he falls to ninth on GC, now over a minute down on Roglič. He’s looked very good in patches this week, but will need to find more consistency if he’s to challenge for the overall.
Hugh Carthy’s race is over altogether, however, after he abandoned what was another hard day. It seems likely he has some kind of injury or illness.
The GC looks a little odd at the moment, with Großschartner now second after gaining time from getting into the break, and Polanc and Haig also infiltrating the top ten. But it’s looking like Movistar with Mas and López and Ineos Grenadiers with Bernal and potentially Yates are the best-equipped to challenge Roglič’s red jersey.
Movistar still threatening but weakened
Valverde’s crash was not only horrible for the individual himself, but also potentially for the spectacle of the race, as he looked poised to form part of a deadly three-pronged Movistar attack.
Movistar regularly head into Grand Tours with multiple leaders, only for things to go wrong and for them to fail to cohere together. But the signs from this opening week were that they’d gotten their tactics right, with all three of their riders placing ominously second, third and fourth behind Roglic on GC.
The team weren’t going to delay making that numerical advantage count, either, and Valverde launched an attack with over 40km still to ride today, igniting the race into life.
But, after forming a dangerous group that also included Adam Yates and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), that attack came to an abrupt end when Valverde went down on the descent, taking out in an instance one of Movistar’s three-pronged attack.
Carlos Verona very nearly redeemed the team’s day out up front in the break, when he attacked for glory 4km from the finish. But he wasn’t strong enough to hold off Storer, who overtook him shortly after.
They’re very much still in GC contention, with Mas and López still placing third and fourth respectively on GC after finishing in the red jersey group, but this is a day Movistar will want to forget.
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