Dan Martin is back to his best
It’s been a long time, but today we can safely say that Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) is back to his very best.
A finish like stage three, which was uphill for the final 9km with the steepest slopes at the very top, is the kind that Martin has relished in the past, but hasn’t been able to nail recently, especially since his crash at Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this year.
His sprint at the finish was vintage Martin though, accelerating early and producing such speed that even fast finisher Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) could not match him.
In an emotional interview at the finish, he pointed out how this was his first race he had won since his twin girls were born over two years ago, making the achievement particularly special for him.
On this form, who’s to say that Martin won’t win more over the next couple of weeks — and potentially even challenge for the overall victory? Roglič is not an easy man to usurp, but Martin now lies just five seconds adrift on GC, and, with more uphill finishes to come, may fancy his chances of prising the red jersey from him.
Ineos Grenadiers assert themselves
Whereas on stage one it was Jumbo-Visma who controlled the peloton, and stage two saw Movistar dominate the final climb, today the familiar black train of Ineos Grenadiers formed on the final climb of Laguna Negra.
One by one, Dylan van Baarle, Chris Froome (now riding as a domestique) and Andrey Amador peeled off, before Iván Sosa set a pace that really did the damage with one final turn ending 1.5km from the summit.
Although their leader Richard Carapaz wasn’t quite able to finish it off with a stage win, he will still be very happy to have finished third, especially as he would not anyway have expected to defeat fast finishers like Dan Martin and Primož Roglič in a sprint.
Ahead of the longer, more difficult mountain top finishes to come, the signs are good for both Carapaz and Ineos Grenadiers’ hopes of winning the red jersey.
Unlucky Chaves loses time
Although Martin, Roglič and Carapaz finished as a trio ahead of the rest of the field, all the other GC contenders finished just a few seconds further down, with nobody suffering any serious time losses.
Nobody, that is, except for Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott), who came home in 24th-place, 1-06 down.
That time loss was not for want of strong legs. Instead, his hopes were derailed when a mechanical befell him at the worst possible time, just as the pace was ramping up on the final climb.
The Colombian’s problems were compounded when he was left having to ride the bike of his teammate’s that was too big for his slight stature, with his team car being too far down the road to immediately provide him a more suitable bike change.
His eventual time loss wasn’t fatal, and at eighth overall at 1-29 he still remains in a decent position on GC. But it will come as a blow after the opening two days had gone so smoothly for him.
Early strugglers bounce back
Alongside the established GC contenders were several less fancied names who hadn’t featured in the opening two stages.
Coming home in fourth place was Wout Poels (Bahrain-McLaren), who had spent the previous couple of final climbs dangling at the back of the peloton trying desperately to hold on. The Dutchman will have been frustrated by the time lost on those stages, given how this Vuelta was a rare chance for him to ride a Grand Tour as a protected leader, but today’s showing suggests his GC ambitions may not be over just yet — he’s now up to seventeenth at 3-13, and will continue to rise if he keeps riding like this.
Behind him in fifth today was Alexander Vlasov (Astana), the young Russian of whom much has been expected of. His resurgence today suggests that his problems so far at the Vuelta have been of the temporary kind — perhaps related to the illness that saw him abandon the Giro — and that he will after all make an impression in this race (albeit not as a GC contender — he’s already 5-42 down).
And finally, Ag2r La Mondiale’s young prodigy Clément Champoussin briefly threatened to win the stage when he launched an attack 1km from the summit. The 22-year-old was ultimately unsuccessful, and drifted to tenth at the finish, but the Grand Tour debutant certainly looks like one to watch for the rest of this race as a potential stage winner.
Thibaut Pinot season comes to a sorry end
Having already fallen well out of overall contention, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) this morning abandoned the Vuelta, having still not yet recovered from injuring his back on the opening stage of the Tour de France last month.
That brings an end to what has been a desperately disappointing season for the Frenchman, who, since first hurting his back, has been unable to build upon the promising form he showed in August to finish second at Critérium du Dauphiné.
It would be too easy to interpret the Frenchman’s continuing woes as a consequence of some kind of psychological weakness. His past extraverted displays of emotion might give the impression of someone easily emotionally overwhelmed, but the actual reasons for his recent Grand Tour abandonments have all been physical.
He came down with a lung infection at the 2018 Giro d’Italia, tore a muscle in his thigh at last year’s Tour, and this year has been persistently bothered by the pain in his back.
Such persistent problems would suggest that Pinot has a tendency towards ailments, and difficulty overcoming them. If he’s to fulfil his considerable potential before age starts to take its toll on his legs (he’ll turn 31 next year), he’ll need to find a way to deal with these physical vulnerabilities.