The Mads hat(ter) trick
Mads Pedersen really didn't need to win another stage, he has already proved himself as the fastest rider left at the Vuelta a España, with two stage wins and a concrete hold on the points jersey. However, after being teed up on Friday with the pure sprinters absent, the Trek-Segafredo rider did not need a second invitation to show his speed once again.
He has now gone from having no Grand Tour stage wins at the start of July to having four by mid September, and there still remains the opportunity for him to add to this tally, with the final stage all but definitely finishing in a bunch sprint. He has basically wrapped up the green jersey already, with 379 points to Fred Wright's 174 in second place.
"Three wins is way more than we came here for, so that's super, super nice," the Dane said. "Tomorrow we just have to finish the day and then in Madrid we have to see how it goes. No matter what, we can be happy with these three weeks in Spain."
It must be nice to be performing well over expectations. Pedersen has proved himself the best at sprinting in a race with a lack of many clear cut opportunities; he is a man who can charge up punchy finishes with a Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) or have as much of a final kick as a big man like Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe). The 2019 world champion will not be at this year's World Championships, but with this kind of form, he would definitely have been in contention.
Fred Wright will win a big race soon
It was so close but so far for Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious) once again in Talavera de la Reina. The young Briton has already finished in the top four four times at this year's race, with a further few near misses at the Tour de France earlier this year too. The 23-year-old will probably be self critical after the latest close shave with glory, but this should give him confidence that a win will be coming soon.
Wright has proved himself adept at all manner of finishes, from reduced bunch sprints like on Friday, to long days in the break like on stages three and seven of this race. He might not be the fastest guy in the peloton, but his all round ability puts him in good stead to tackle different stages. All he needs to do is to keep putting himself in the right areas, and the result will come.
One can only assume that the man from London is learning from his experiences at the pointy end of races, and the almost-wins will likely galvanise him onto greater things, to try and get in the mix once again. There have been questions over his positioning on these finishes, but there is little Wright could do when he is facing as quick and in-form a racer as Mads Pedersen on these kinds of finish.
The Bahrain rider is in the squad for the World Championships later this month, and it's very possible that he will be in the thick of the action once again in New South Wales, Australia. Could this be the moment for Wright?
Remco Evenepoel is ready for his final test
In Remco Evenepoel's home village of Schepdaal, the local bakery is making red-filled eclairs embossed with R.EV, ready to mark their hero, the first Belgian in 44 years to win a Grand Tour. All that stands between the Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider and history is a tough mountain stage on Saturday, and then a kind, but fast, flat stage into Madrid on Sunday.
The 22-year-old had a relatively calm day on Friday, as calm as you can have when you're 13 days into your stint in the race lead, with just two days to go, and the whole of Belgium watching and praying you succeed. He has an advantage of 2-02 over Enric Mas (Movistar) in second, and there are vanishingly few opportunities for the Quick-Step rider to lose time.
It helps that Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is no longer in the race, as Mas would gain a lot from finishing second at the Vuelta, as would Movistar; this might make him shy away from gambling everything for the overall win.
One does wonder how calm a day in the leader's jersey at a Grand Tour can really be, though. The racing is one thing, but then there is the constant media attention, the duties the man in red needs to do, the stage time, the meeting the mayor. Oh, and Covid still exits. Remco looks secure, however.
Richard Carapaz has successfully salvaged his Vuelta
Ten days into this race, and it looked like Richard Carapaz's valedictory Grand Tour for Ineos Grenadiers would be a bit of a damp squib, with the Ecuadorean way down on general classification, his team concentrating on other, younger riders.
How a few days can change a perception. Carapaz has now won two stages, and the points he gained on the climbs on stage 19 means he almost has double the man in second in the mountain classification, Enric Mas. With just one day of serious climbing to go, the blue polka dots might just be his.
It would be a good way to sign off a successful, if mercurial three years at Ineos, as he departs for EF Education-EasyPost next year. He pushed Primož Roglič hard to finish second at the 2020 Vuelta, before coming third at the 2021 Tour. Second at the Giro d'Italia this year showed he is one of the few genuine GC contenders in the peloton.
However, there is an idea that he has missed out on some opportunities; he came close to the 2020 Vuelta and the Giro in May, but missed out to stronger riders in Roglič and Jai Hindley. Ineos will be pleased they got the best kind of Carapaz in one of his final outings in their colours.
Trek-Segafredo go all in for Mads, and it pays off
There was a time when Trek-Segafredo didn't really know what kind of team they were. They were trying to be a general classification team, with riders like Vincenzo Nibali and Richie Porte, while at the same time trying to be competitive across the Classics with riders like Jasper Stuyven, and good in sprints as well with John Degenkolb.
The squad has now very much focused on stage wins and the Classics, with Stuyven the only one of the riders mentioned above to still be at the team. They have proved themselves well this year, but none have performed as well as Mads Pedersen.
On Friday, as on the other semi-sprint days, the team fully backed the Dane, and delivered him to victory. It must be such a good feeling for a team to be able to work for a leader who will deliver on all kinds of different terrain.
"Everyone on the team was just so, so impressive today so I'm really thankful for the boys," Pedersen said. "It's definitely a win for them and without them there's no chance I could have sprinted here."
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