Pederson gets win number two
Mads Pedersen was the overwhelming favourite for stage 16. And he didn’t disappoint.
The Danish sprinter looked ideally suited to a fast, slightly uphill, finish that wasn’t too dissimilar from stage 13, where he bagged his first stage win of the race. He showed that he had the legs well ahead of the finish, when he was able to bridge across to Primož Roglič who’d kicked from the bunch with 2.5km to go.
They were joined by Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates), Danny van Poppel (BORA-Hansgrohe) and Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), who all finished behind Pedersen on the stage 13 sprint to Montilla. Of the group of ‘those most likely to’, only Bryan Coquard was missing as they approached 500m to the finish. Given that his Cofidis had helped pull all day, his absence was something of a surprise.
It was the 500m mark that sparked Pedersen’s sprint, resulting in a dramatic finale on an otherwise pedestrian day. He took to the front and never looked in trouble, winning ahead of Ackermann, van Poppel and Wright. Roglič meanwhile had to watch the sprint from the tarmac, after he clipped Wright as he prepared to make his dash for victory.
Roglič crashes but gains some time on Evenepoel
With just five stages left for him to claw back time on race leader Remco Evenepoel, Primož Roglič is undoubtedly looking to pick up seconds wherever he can. Today, he made a bold move with 2.5km to go, attacking on the climb as the bunch began to splinter. Known for his explosive kick, he quickly created a gap, with only four riders eventually able to follow.
With just a few hundred metres to the line, his gamble appeared set to pay off. But as he wound up his sprint from the back of the group, he appeared to clip Fred Wright, sending Roglič crashing hard to the floor. He managed to finish the race, helped across the finish by a teammate. But with blood covering his arm and leg, and with his sunglasses all askew, he cut a sorry, and somewhat dazed, figure.
However, with Evenepeol puncturing with 2.2km to the finish, he did manage to pick up eight seconds on the race leader. Whether it was worth it remains to be seen.
Even if the injuries are superficial, a crash, and a significant one at that, ahead of four stages featuring bags of climbing is hardly ideal. But Roglič is nothing if not resilient, as he’s proven before, most notably in winning the Vuelta after his Tour de France heartbreak in 2020.
A ‘day off’ for Remco and Quick-Step
With the weight of the entire Belgian nation on his young shoulders, Remco Evenepoel heads into the final week of the race with plenty to win - and lose. Today, however, he was granted a little respite from the racing, if not the pressure of wearing the red jersey.
The transition stage, controlled by the sprint teams, largely meant a ‘day off’ for the GC protagonists and their respective teams. For Quick-Step in particular it was unfamiliar territory. The Belgian squad would more often than not be riding for stage wins on such a parcours rather than riding to protect the race leader. For Remi Cavagna, a rider with enough punch to perhaps contest the lumpy finish, it meant a shift in focus.
“I think it would have been a great day for me. But today we are going to stay calm,” the French champion said ahead of the stage. “Normally, I always ride for a sprinter. And this time it's for Remco [Evenepoel], our leader for the overall. He is a champion and I think he can win this Vuelta. It is a great honour and a pleasure. Personally, I don't have my chance, but I accept it. I'm very happy to ride for Remco every day”.
The stage wasn't without it's drama for the leader though. Despite being well protected by his team for much of the day, he punctured with 2.2km remaining. The 3km rule came to his rescue however and he was able to limit his time losses to eight seconds.
For Remco, today, which marked his 11th in red, was surely the 'calm' ahead of the storm. Tomorrow’s hilly stage into Monasterio de Tentudía marks the start of four days which will decide the Vuelta before the finale in Madrid.
Mountainous terrain on stages 18 and 20 especially present plenty of opportunity for the likes of Primož Roglič and Enric Mas to challenge Evenepoel’s grip on the leader’s jersey. Coming this late in the race, cracking on either stage, could prove fatal for the Belgian rider. Today, for much of the race at least, he had plenty of time to ruminate on what may lay ahead.
Pedersen tightens his grip on green
Today wasn't just the day that Mads Pedersen got his second win of this year's Vuelta. It was also another day chalked off in his pursuit of the points classification.
Pedersen entered the day with a healthy lead in the fight for the green jersey. He added to his 284 point total when he claimed third in the only intermediate sprint of the day. His stage win gave him yet more points, extending his lead over Fred Wright to a whopping 220 points.
Despite this lead Pedersen is taking nothing for granted.
"As I said before, you can’t sit back and just enjoy, you have to get as many points as possible," he said "Everyday we keep fighting to get more and more points, and then hopefully I can still have it on Sunday in Madrid.”
Pedersen, and the remaining fast men, are now left with just one more chance for glory, with the final run into Madrid the only remaining flat stage left in this year's race. Given his current form there won't be too many betting against Pedersen making it three wins in the capital, and securing the green jersey while he does it.
Maté makes a break for the trees
With a largely flat stage ahead the odds of a breakaway being allowed to go early was high. The odds of Luis Angel Maté being in that break were perhaps higher still.
Ahead of this year’s Vuelta, the 38-year-old veteran had promised to plant a tree in Sierra Bermeja, a natural park in Andalucía, for every kilomtere he spent out front. With wildfires brought on by climate change a continuing problem in the region, Maté is keen to use his standing to raise awareness and to try to make a difference.
“I think it’s necessary to be aware that we are facing a crisis without precedents in our history and we, as cyclists, have a special responsibility,” he said before the start of the race. “We have the best vehicle to lead the change in society which is the bicycle. As I always say, we have the most beautiful stadium in the world. Bicycles will change the world.”
Maté was joined in the break by fellow Spanish rider Ander Okamika (Burgos-BH). The pair, who attacked from the flag, spent much of the day at the front of the race before being caught with 13.8km to go. It all should add up to 175 trees being planted.
Today marked the 222nd Vuelta stage for Maté, who spent much of his career riding for the French outfit Cofidis, before joining Euskaltel-Euskadi in 2021. He’ll not only be looking for further breakaway opportunities in the days ahead but to also finish the race. If he does so, he’ll preserve his 100% finishing record in this his 11th Vuelta.
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Luke Friend has worked as a writer, editor and copywriter for over twenty years. Across books, magazines and websites, he's covered a broad range of topics for a range of clients including Major League Baseball, the National Trust and the NHS. He has an MA in Professional Writing from Falmouth University and is a qualified bicycle mechanic. He fell in love with cycling at an early age, partly due to watching the Tour de France on TV. He's a passionate follower of bike racing to this day as well an avid road and gravel rider.
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