Remco passes another test
With Primož Roglič no longer in the race, Remco Evenepoel’s job has certainly gotten easier. However, holding the lead during the final week of the grand tour can never be a comfortable position to assume, no matter how well padded the cushion.
The Belgian wonderkid entered today’s stage with a 2-01 gap over Enric Mas (Movistar). While the final climb - 10km at an average of 5% - didn’t perhaps offer the steep ramps required to make an opponents attack stick, he still needed to proceed with caution.
Protected by his Quick-Step team for the majority of the day, they allowed the break to grow, and in turn their star man to settle down for a relatively stress-free day. However, yesterday’s dramatic finish will surely have remained fresh in the memory. Evenepoel showed a clear head when he punctured with 2.2km. He again today displayed maturity as he made sure he was well positioned on the final climb, eventually allowing him and Mas to move clear and grab a couple of seconds on their nearest rival, Spain’s Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates).
Tomorrow’s stage to Alto de Piornal will surely present a far sterner test, with several opportunities for the likes of Mas and Ayuso to try to make inroads into the Belgian’s lead. But if today is a portent of things ahead, they’re likely to need to produce something special to rattle a leader who is starting to look assured - if not yet fully comfortable - in red.
Mas appears ready for the challenge
While Enric Mas wasn’t able to take time on Remco Evenepoel on today’s uphill finish, his willingness was again there for all to see.
The Movistar rider, who was dubbed as the next Contador when he first turned pro in 2016, has, unsurprisingly, failed to live up to these impossibly high expectations. However in this year’s race he has been more willing to attack, rather than simply following moves. The result sees him heading into the final stages just a couple of minutes off the lead and with his best shot at winning a grand tour since 2018, when he finished second to Simon Yates at that year’s Vuelta.
Like Evenepoel he was well-positioned as the main bunch entered the slopes of today's final climb and from here he was prepared to ride aggressively, not waiting for Remco to make the first move. It’s an approach he’ll surely have to take tomorrow, as well on stages 19 and 20. He if succeeds, or even if he just tries, those comparisons to Contador will no longer seem quite as misplaced.
Rigoberto Uran chalks one up for the veterans
It’s easy to see this year’s Vuelta as just another example of the changing of the guard. If Remco manages to win he’ll join Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard as the latest Grand Tour winner in their early or mid-20s, all with a future that appears to have no discernible ceiling. Cycling, it seems, no longer plays by the same rules. The hierarchy has been upended and it's now a sport, like many others, where if you're good enough you're old enough.
All of which made Rigoberto Uran's victory all the more compelling. The EF Education-EasyPost rider is 35 years old and has been riding in the pro ranks since 2006. Today he showed far younger men a clean pair of heels on his way to his 15th career win and his first stage at the Vuelta. Interestingly, the podium was rounded out by two more men in their 30s - Quentin Pacher (30) and Jesus Herrada (32). Proof that experience, along with good legs, is still a pretty decent recipe for success.
While any win is cause for celebration, Uran’s victory today will have been especially pleasing for his EF team who currently hover precariously above the danger zone in the UCI relegation battle.
Has Fred Wright finally run out of gas?
If the Duracell Bunny ever needs a stand-in, Britain’s Fred Wright should be a shoo-in for the job.
The Bahrain Victorious rider was again at the sharp end of today’s stage, getting himself into the day’s break less than 24-hours after contesting the sprint for yesterday’s stage. He was eventually dropped on the final climb as the riders began to take lumps out of each, with one attack following another. After producing a big effort to stay with the break, Wright it seemed had finally run out of gas.
If this was any other rider, it would be no surprise given the sustained efforts, but Wright has given the impression all season long of being a man with a tank that never seems to be near empty.
He eventually finished the stage in 48th, having already racked-up four top-5s in the race to date. While he’ll no doubt be bitterly disappointed that his search for his first pro win continues, it marks another hugely impressive grand tour appearance. And running out of juice may have its advantages, forcing him to wind down before preparing for the World Championships in Australia at the end of this month. It would be quite the spot to break his duck.
More riders abandon as the depleted peloton grows thinner
Given the nature of Primož Roglič’s crash yesterday - the hard fall after clipping Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) left the reigning champion on the deck and bloodied inside the final 100 metres - it was perhaps no surprise that he was listed as a DNS ahead of today’s stage. He was joined as a non-starter by Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) and Fillipo Conca (Lotto-Soudal).
The stage was barely underway and another abandonment was announced, with Rein Taaramäe’s exit leaving his Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert team with only three riders left, matching the low number of fellow Belgian outfit Lotto-Soudal.
It meant that 46 riders had now left the race. The depleted numbers have largely been due to positive Covid tests, including the likes of such high profile names as Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), Sam Bennett (BORA-Hangrohe), Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) and Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious). It’s been a sobering reminder that the virus remains a threat, especially for stage races where teams live and move around in close proximity to each other.
Entering the final four stages of the race, only Astana Qazaqstan Team, UAE Team Emirates and Euskaltel - Euskadi are left with a full complement of riders. Whether the greater numbers of UAE can make a difference in the GC race remains to be seen - teen sensation Juan Ayuso lost 2 seconds on both Evenepoel and Mas but remains in third place overall. However, his teammate João Almeida showed good form on the day's climb, finishing in 13th place, and appears to still have the legs to help Ayuso in the mountainous stages to come.
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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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