13 is unlucky for some, but not for Mads
It was on stage 13 of this year's Tour de France, into Saint-Étienne, that Mads Pedersen secured his first Tour, and Grand Tour stage win in the process. Seven weeks later, almost to the minute, and the Trek-Segafredo rider won stage 13 of the Vuelta a España into Montilla. The number might be unlucky for some, but clearly not Pedersen, as he stormed to victory up the final punch, leaving his rivals in the dust. Friday night's alright for winning.
2022 has been the Dane's most successful year yet, with seven wins, as he delivers on the promise that he so clearly showed when he won the World Championship road race in Yorkshire in 2019. Picking his moment to launch, Pedersen's acceleration in Montilla was such that his rivals were barely in the picture when he crossed the line.
Aged 26, it was time Trek puncheur finally started consistently picking up the big wins everyone knew he was capable of. Thanks to Friday's victory, he is the first rider this year to win stages at two Grand Tours, and now has an almost unbeatable lead in the points classification at the Vuelta.
His advantage over Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) in the running for the green jersey? Just the casual 151 points. of course, he has been helped by the absence of Sam Bennett, but his ability to pick up points consistently means he was always likely to be favourite for this competition. If he keeps this up, he might well be the perfect challenger for Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) at next year's Tour.
Second tier sprinters are not particularly impressing
Friday's stage was not a favourable one for the pure sprinters, with the kick to the line favouring a punchier rider, like Mads Pedersen. Yet it said something that the Dane was able to win it at a canter, with clear air between him and the man in second, Bryan Coquard (Cofidis).
It has not been a good race for the second-tier of sprinting, potentially because of the severe lack of bunch finishes, but when they have got their opportunities, few have delivered. Kade Groves (BikeExchange-Jayco) won stage 11, but Sam Bennett won two comfortably - with Pedersen in second, incidentally - before he was sent home with Covid.
Between the others, like Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates), Coquard and Dan McLay (Arkéa Samsic), little has been seen. Given the chance away from other options, like Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck), who aren't at this race, the riders present haven't impressed.
Add to this the lack of competitors to Pedersen, like Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) and Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ) thanks to Covid, the fast finishing field at this Vuelta has been uninspiring.
Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious) finished in the top five once again, further underlining the great season he's having. Incidentally, the man in second when Pedersen won in Saint-Étienne? Yep, it was Wright.
An easy day for Remco in Andalusia
Imagine, just for a second, the pressure that must be on Remco Evenepoel's shoulders. The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider is Belgian, something that is not unusual in the sport of cycling, but it is when it comes to leading Grand Tours in the modern age. Not since 1978 has someone from the cycling-mad, well, cycling-insane country won a three-week race - that was Johan De Muynck at the Giro d'Italia, incidentally - a casual 44 years ago.
The 22-year-old is only at his second Grand Tour, after disappointing at last year's Giro, and has a lot of expectation foisted upon him, from his home press, from the fans, and also himself. He has already done a lot, winning 34 races across his youthful career, but this is the big next step. There are many Remco sceptics out there, and in leading this Vuelta for over a week now, I'm sure he is proving some people wrong.
Therefore, with the weight of a nation on him, it must be quite nice to have a relatively relaxing day like Friday. A nice trundle through Andalusia is exactly what he would have wanted ahead of some tougher tests, with back-to-back summit finishes coming this weekend.
A doomed breakaway reunites some old companions
Remember when the Vuelta was in the Basque Country? No, I don't really either. However, just a fortnight or so ago, the breakaway pair of Joan Bou (Euskaltel - Euskadi) and Ander Okamika (Burgos-BH) were together on the road to Laguardia. Together with Julius van den Berg (EF Education-EasyPost), who has spent over 400km in the break at this Vuelta, they made a predictable combination.
What do you reckon the trio chat about when in the break? Is there any sense that the move could make it to the finish? Possibly, they reminisce about the good old days when being in the day's escape was a bit of a novelty rather than being the monotonous task it has now come. Of course, it's possible that Bou and Okamika don't speak English, and Van den Berg doesn't speak Spanish, so it might have been a very dull day out for the latter.
There weren't even any KoM points on offer on Friday, so one assumes that the three in the break knew they were just up the road for... being up the road's sake.
You can have Covid but still be high up on GC
Ahead of stage 13, the news broke that Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) had tested positive for Covid, but was judged to be not contagious enough to be forced to withdraw. This seems like a sensible move - if one is asymptomatic and not spreading the virus, why should one leave the race - but it has created an intriguing situation.
The 19-year-old Spaniard is fifth on general classification at his maiden Grand Tour, a position he will be keen to hold onto, but is surely going to be put under pressure in the coming days, now his rivals know for a fact he is ill. There is no guesswork or vibes at play here, a full on press release has announced to the world that the man in fifth place is under the weather, so perhaps this is something that will be seized upon by the men around him.
There was no evidence of people around him in the peloton moving away from the positive case, but it will hardly help the blood pressure of the hypochondriacs in the bunch. It will be interesting to see how long he lasts, and how he battles on.
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