PRIMOŽ ROGLIČ IS ALIVE AND KICKING
Up until Saturday afternoon, the Vuelta a España was beginning to look like a foregone conclusion.
Current race leader Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) had appeared to be unbreakable. The young Belgian won the individual time trial in Alicante in style beating Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) by 48 seconds but then Sierra de la Pandera would arrive.
The weather was scorching hot and the brutal ramps that would take the riders to the top of the mighty mountain began to unfold. Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) had already danced away up the mountain but after some sterling work from teammate Chris Harper, Roglič launched a brutal trademark attack that blew his rivals out of the water.
After initially trying to raise his tempo to answer the Slovenian, Evenepoel would then crack. Glancing over his shoulder to witness the carnage, Roglič then pushed on and would then be joined by Miguel Ángel López (Astana-Qazaqstan). The duo then lifted their infernal pace to head off in pursuit of Carapaz with Roglič not simply satisfied with cracking Evenepoel, he wanted the stage win too.
The stage win didn’t come on the Sierra la Pandera, although the Slovenian made a huge statement of intent. Aided by Enric Mas (Movistar) he would then carry on his work on Sunday’s Queen stage to the summit of the Alto Hoya de la Mora. Roglič is far from out of this Vuelta yet.
RICHARD CARAPAZ IS ALL IN FOR THE POLKA-DOT JERSEY
By his own admission, Richard Carapaz had suffered a disappointing opening week at the Vuelta a España. It would be fair and accurate to say that the Ecuadorian rider had been completely off of the pace on the races’ first mountain stages finishing well behind the other overall contenders for the general classification.
Carapaz came to the Spanish Grand Tour with hopes of a place on the final podium, even on the top-step, but his opening week performance put him out of contention. Although the reigning Olympic road race champion would come back all guns blazing in week two.
The Ecuadorian won stage 12 atop Peñas Blancas in style in the type of gutsy performance that Jonathan Vaughters referenced when EF Education-EasyPost announced their recent signing of Carapaz. In style, the 29-year-old aggressively punched clear from his breakaway rivals to storm to victory to prove to the rest of the Vuelta peloton that he won’t get knocked down easily.
An even more impressive victory would arrive just two days later for the Ecuadorian Ineos Grenadiers star.
Carapaz was in the breakaway once more on the road to the summit of the Sierra de la Pandera climb. He later explained that he knew the roads up the brutal mountain well after riding them as a first-year professional with Movistar. Knowledge gained from his time with the Spanish team would see him blast to victory with four kilometres to go and power all the way to the line.
Even more impressive was that he was able to hold off a rampaging Primož Roglič just behind him. Carapaz is just 29 points behind Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck) in the mountains classification. If the first two weeks are anything to go by, then the battle for the blue polka-dots should be enthralling in the final week.
REMCO EVENEPOEL HAS WORK TO DO
Remco Evenepoel had looked unbreakable at this Vuelta - up until last weekend.
The young Belgian is well on the way to his maiden Grand Tour victory and it would be quite the step up for the former footballer. Evenepoel won Liege-Bastogne-Liege in stunning fashion in the spring and has since won a second Clásica San Sebastián to continue his superb form.
Questions were raised over whether the Belgian would be able to make the step up and win a Grand Tour this year but so far he has delivered. Then again, try telling that to Jumbo-Visma and Primož Roglič.
The young Belgian was put under a brutal assault by the Slovenian three-time Vuelta champion on the road to the Sierra de la Pandera and now faces serious pressure in the final week of racing.
Evenepoel lost his key lieutenant Julian Alaphilippe to injury last week so will now almost certainly need to take a second Vuelta stage win to hold off further time gains by Roglič as the race nears Madrid.
MADS PEDERSEN TAKES FULL CONTROL OF GREEN
Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) went close to a stage win on multiple occasions in the opening week of the race.
After finishing second on stage four, the Danish rider promised that he and the team were gunning for stage wins at the Vuelta as well as the green jersey. He would soon prove to be true to his word.
Pedersen’s life was soon made a lot easier by Sam Bennett being forced out of the race due to a positive Covid test. In impressive style, the Dane would then pull off a remarkable breakaway effort on the mountainous stage eight to take over the lead in the points competition.
The Dane admitted afterwards that he felt supremely confident in his abilities and that he was always in control over his breakaway compatriots.
Pedersen said: “He said: “For them they could have tried to do the sprint but I’d have won it anyway. They just gave it to me. I also didn’t sprint on the top of the climbs to try to get mountains points, it wouldn’t make sense for me.
“I think it’s like a general respect for everyone. They didn’t need the points, I needed them so it was easier just to give it to me.”
Earlier this summer the 26-year-old won stage 13 at the Tour de France. There was then perfect symmetry at the Vuelta as Pedersen finally grabbed his stage win on the road to Montilla on stage 13 to give him an almost unassailable lead in the points competition.
MAS FINALLY STARTS TO UNLEASH GRAND TOUR WINNING POTENTIAL
Enric Mas (Movistar) is currently well on the way to matching his best ever results at a Grand Tour.
For years now the Spanish rider has shown bucketful's of promise and has been widely tipped to succeed Alberto Contador as the next Spanish Grand Tour winner. Unfortunately for Mas being compared to a rider of the status of Contador will have added huge amounts of pressure from the world of Spanish cycling.
Up until recently Mas has never quite lived up to the early potential that drew that big comparison and talk of overall victory. Although his repeated attacks at this year's Vuelta show that it could potentially finally be about to change.
The Spaniard sits just over two minutes off of the red jersey.
Mas has finished second at his home Grand Tour in 2018 and 2021 but for the first time ever, the top step of the Madrid podium seems within his grasp. The 27-year-old Spaniard has kept firmly in touch with both Evenepoel and Roglič and took significant time back to Evenepoel on the Queen stage in the Sierra Nevada.
If Mas can grab a stage win for Spain on one of the final summit finishes then Grand Tour success could finally be his.
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