Vuelta a España 2021: Five things to look out for in week two

Is Roglič breakable, can Movistar continue to thrive, and what do Ineos need to do next? Keep an eye out for these moments

Will Roglič tire?

Primoz Roglic at the 2020 Vuelta a España

Primož Roglič

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) rode the opening week of the Vuelta a España in pretty much exactly the way we expected him to, winning the opening time trial and strengthening his hold on the race by regularly being the best of the GC riders on the summit finishes.

At the moment he looks unflappable, but the real tests for the Slovenian to win a third successive Vuelta title are still to come, when he will have to prove that he is capable of maintaining his current level deeper into the race, or if, as has happened in the past, he will begin to tire.

The first few days of the second week will be more a test for his Jumbo-Visma team rather than Roglič himself, as although there’s nothing in the terrain that should trouble the Slovenian, he will need his team-mates to control the race in order to prevent any ambushes on his red jersey. Thankfully for Roglič, key lieutenants Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk both looked much stronger on Sunday’s mountainous stage compared with earlier in the race, suggesting that they have ridden into requisite form to protect him.

It won’t be enough just to have a strong team on either of the weekend’s stages, however, with the category one finish of Pico Villuercas awaiting the riders on stage fourteen and four more climbs to be tackled on stage fifteen. Neither stage is as difficult as what’s to come in the final week, but they do provide Roglič’s rivals a chance to seriously test his legs at a point where they have in past Grand Tours began to become weaker. 

If he can get through those stages still without showing any signs of weakness, it’ll be difficult to see how anyone can prevent him from winning yet another red jersey. 

Movistar plot a path to the red jersey

Movistar suffered a blow on stage seven of the Vuelta

Movistar suffered a blow on stage seven of the Vuelta

(Image credit: Getty)

If Primož Roglič is to be put under any pressure this week, it’s likely to be from Team Movistar. Aside from Alejandro Valverde’s unfortunate abandonment, Movistar enjoyed a superb opening week of the Vuelta, and ended it with Enric Mas placed second on GC at 28 seconds and Miguel Ángel López in third at 1-21.

Mas managed to go toe-to-toe with Roglič on Alto de Velefique, and has only conceded ten seconds to the red jersey since the opening day time trial. 

Mas’ form alone is enough to give Movistar encouragement that they can challenge for the red jersey, but the form and position of López puts them in an even better position. The Colombian has done a brilliant job so far of putting their rivals under pressure with the occasional explosive attack, while also helping to set up Mas’ big attack on Alto de Velefique, yet has also managed to lose barely any time to Roglič himself, meaning he remains very much a threat to the red jersey.

If the pair can work well together, they could put Roglič and Jumbo-Visma under some serious pressure this week by attacking in tandem. Even the more modest hills of stages ten, eleven and twelve could be launchpads for the pair to try some moves, as even just forcing Jumbo-Visma to chase could be enough to soften them up for a counter-punch later. 

If Movistar are serious about winning red, and not settling for podium places, they could help make this a very exciting second week. 

Where do Ineos Grenadiers go from here?

Primož Roglič hands over his red jersey after stage three

(Image credit: Getty)

Ineos Grenadiers had big plans for the final stage of the opening week. They made a big statement early in the stage, confident that their super-domestiques like Pavel Sivakov and Richard Carapaz would have the firepower to isolate Primož Roglič, exposing him to attacks later in the stage.

But Jumbo-Visma held firm, and instead it was Ineos Grenadiers who were on the backfoot on Alto de Velefique, with leader Egan Bernal being dropped.

The team didn’t seem entirely sure what to do once their plan unravelled. Adam Yates was clearly on a better day than Bernal, but was caught between setting a pace to help limit his team-mate’s losses, and riding to keep himself in GC contention.

Neither is it clear what their best strategy would be now. Only fifteen seconds separate Bernal and Yates on GC, with the former in fifth at 1-52 and the latter sixth at 2-07, and neither has made a convincing case for themselves to be outright team leader; Yates looked great on the Alto de Velefique, but has struggled on other summit finishes this race; and though Bernal has more Grand Tour pedigree, he seems to be getting weaker as this race progresses. 

Their illustrious history means Ineos Grenadiers are never interested in chasing just podium finishes, so they’ll no doubt have spent the rest day hatching a new plan as to how they can get back into red jersey contention. It will have to be innovative, however, as they’re currently in a weak position, with no obvious stages during the second week to mount a comeback. 

A week for breakaway successes

Magnus Cort wins on stage six of the Vuelta

Magnus Cort wins on stage six of the Vuelta

(Image credit: Getty)

The first three stages of the second week look absolutely ideal for breakaways. All three are in the sweet spot of being too hard for the sprinters to control easily, and not hard enough for the GC riders to be interested, meaning there will be multiple riders all hoping to get into the breakaways on those stages.

Whereas the four riders to have won from breakaways so far at this Vuelta have done so on uphill finishes, the rolling terrain and flat finales of stages ten and twelve will see a different kind of breakaway specialist come to the fore. 

Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), for instance, is one of the best puncheurs in the world, but has kept quiet so far at this Vuelta, perhaps in anticipation of these stages; Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Victorious) won a similar stage at last year’s Giro d’Italia, and may have more freedom to get up the road now that team leader Mikel Landa’s GC bid has been hampered; and Astana-Premier Tech’s many breakaway specialists like Omar Fraile and Luis Leon Sanchez should also have more freedom now that Alexander Vlasov has lost time.

Neither Landa nor Vlasov have quite lost enough time to be allowed into breaks themselves, but other pre-race GC favourites Romain Bardet (DSM), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Lucas Hamilton (BikeExchange) and Rafa Majka (UAE Team Emirates) could all be looking to salvage their races with a breakaway stage win — especially stage eleven, which finishes on a steep uphill. 

The likes of Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2r-Citroën), Mark Padun (Bahrain-Victorios), Simon Carr (EF Education-Nippo), Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ), Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck - Quick-Step)  and Andreas Kron (Lotto-Soudal) are also worth keeping a lookout for, while former race leaders Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) are the kind of riders who would be still hungry for more success at this race.

One sprint finish, and possibly more

Arnaud Démare and Fabio Jakobsen on stage four of the Vuelta a España

Arnaud Démare and Fabio Jakobsen on stage four of the Vuelta a España 

(Image credit: Getty)

The battle between Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) is set to continue to be put on hold until stage thirteen, where they likely fight it out to add a third win to their two-stage hauls. 

That will also be an important stage in their battle for the green jersey, which Jakobsen currently holds sixteen points ahead of Philipsen, but the hilly stages prior to that could see the less pure sprinters also put themselves into contention for the jersey, as well as potentially stage wins. 

Although the odds are in favour of a breakaway succeeding on stages ten and twelve, there is a chance that a reduced bunch could instead contest for victory, if there is a strong enough chase from the teams of sprinters capable of getting over the category two climbs towards the end of both stages. 

BikeExchange’s Michael Matthews will fancy his chances of doing so and will have his eye on these stages, while Matteo Trentin might expect UAE Team Emirates to work to put him in contention for victory to repay his selfless work leading out Juan Sebastian Molano in the earlier bunch sprints.

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Alex Aranburu (Astana-Premier Tech) still wants something from this race after missing out on both the opening time trial win and the red jersey, while Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo) could add a second stage win for himself in a reduced bunch sprint.

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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.