All change at the top as Richard Carapaz takes the lead
Stage six might not have featured any climbs as difficult as the Col du Tourmalet, as originally planned, but the finish at Formigal still caused a significant reshuffle at the top of the GC.
With both Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) struggling on the climb, Richard Carapaz (Inoes Grenadiers) becomes the new leader of the race, with an 18 second lead ahead of Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) in second.
Carapaz was one of the pre-race favourites, and has ridden an exemplary first week to put himself in pole position to win the overall. The Ecuadorian already has experience of winning a Grand Tour having triumphed at last year’s Giro d’Italia, and can rely on a strong Ineos Grenadiers that features Chris Froome, no less, as a domestique.
It’s still early days, but if we know one thing about Ineos Grenadiers, it’s that they’re a difficult team to take a leader’s jersey from.
Primož Roglič is dropped
Primož Roglič is such a cool character and consistent performer that it came as a real surprise to see him struggle today. Having looked his usual unflappable self throughout the opening week, and been so impressive on yesterday’s uphill finish, the Slovenian suddenly had no legs on the Formigal.
He ultimately dropped down the rankings to fourth overall, losing 50 seconds to Carthy, 43 seconds to Carapaz and 15 seconds to Dan Martin.
What went wrong? The rain might have played a factor on what was a truly miserable day weather-wise. Or perhaps he’s feeling the fatigue of racing so committedly for three weeks at the Tour de France — it was notable that another of the day’s big losers, Enric Mas, also completed the Tour de France.
He was also hampered by an uncharacteristic lack of support from Jumbo-Visma, with the usually ever so reliable Sepp Kuss nowhere to be seen on the final climb.
Or maybe this was just a one-off bad day for the Slovenian. He’s still only 30 seconds down on GC, so it’s certainly too early to discount him just yet. But the signs today were not promising.
Hugh Carthy is the strongest of the overall contenders
On the day that Tao Geoghan Hart took victory at the Giro d’Italia, another young British star is emerging at the Vuelta in the form of Hugh Carthy.
The 26-year-old has already impressed greatly this week, sticking with the favourites on all the uphill finishes so far, but this was his best ride yet. Not only did he stick with Carapaz and co, he even managed to launch his own attack near the top of the summit, and put time into all the other GC riders.
As a rider who has never before finished in the top-10 of a Grand Tour, he will, as the cliché goes, be taking things day by day. But one thing for sure is that he was the strongest rider today, and will enter the second week placed happily in second overall.
We don’t want to speak too soon, but who knows, maybe another British rider will be crowned a Grand Tour winner this year?
Izagirre brothers mastermind stage win
Amid all the drama unfolding in the peloton, it was easy to forget that a battle was taking place up the road for the stage victory, but the Izagirre brothers deserve much credit for teaming up to take the honours.
When Gorka attacked on the descent of the penultimate climb, it seemed like something of a fool’s errand, what with the Formigal still to come. However, in hindsight, it was a brilliant team move, forcing the other riders in the break to chase while his brother Ion sat on the wheels, waiting and preserving energy.
It was also a selfless move from Gorka, who has generally been overshadowed by his younger brother throughout their careers. He was happy to play the role of bait, and even managed to put a few turns in once caught by the rest of the breakaway, conscious no doubt that the peloton was threatening to close in on them.
After that it was down to Ion, who launched his attack 3km from the summit, holding on for victory 25 seconds ahead of Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling) in second place. The result means the Basque rider now has the full-set in Grand Tours, having won a stage at the 2012 Giro and 2016 Tour.
Jumbo-Visma collapse on the Formigal
What happened to Jumbo-Visma on the climb to Formigal?
A team that has been so dominant this season suddenly fell to pieces on the climb, with Roglič left isolated and having to limit his losses himself.
George Bennett was the last man left with him, and he was unable to set a pace quick enough to deter attacks, before he himself was dropped. Tom Dumoulin was nowhere to be seen, eventually arriving in a group that finished over 12 minutes down.
Most disappointing of all was the absence of Sepp Kuss, who finished way down in 71st at over 10 minutes. Before today, the American was sixth overall on GC, and looked set to play a vital role not only as Roglič’s main helper in the mountains, but also as a second card to play as a potential winner of the GC. That card is no longer in play now, however, with the 26-year-old losing too much time today.
It could be that all of these riders are suffering from fatigue. Roglič, Dumoulin, Bennett, and Kuss were not only all part of the Tour de France line-up, but had worked hard in the build-up to that race, meaning they’ve carried their form for several months now without a significant rest.
For all their strength, it may well be that the Vuelta will be a bridge too far for all of them, and Jumbo-Visma’s GC hopes could fizzle away.