VUELTA BREAKDOWN: As we enter the last week of the 2021 Vuelta a España, it’s, as they say, ‘all to play for’. Primoz Roglič is waiting in the wings, but anything could happen. Spencer Martin gives us his ‘Breakdown’ and ‘Ten Takeaways’ for the final climax.
Roglič – Leader in waiting?
When the Vuelta a España’s mountain weekend bonanza was unveiled, it was sold as a fireworks show, but in practice, it packed the punch of a university library over a holiday weekend. For two straight mountain stages, we got impressive stages by Rafal Majka and Romain Bardet, which both ended four-year-long WorldTour winless streaks and resurrected once-promising careers. But back in the GC group, things were extremely subdued on both stages, while the most likely winner as things stand, Primoz Roglič, went essentially unchallenged by his rivals on his march to the final 33-kilometer time trial.
Roglič might be the ‘leader in the clubhouse,’ but unlikely race leader Odd Christian Eiking and his Intermarché-Wanty team held the overall lead through the challenging weekend and now head into tomorrow’s second rest day with a fairly large lead over second place, Guillaume Martin, third-placed Roglič, and the gaggle of GC podium hopefuls in 4th-10th place. If Eiking does end up landing on the overall podium, or even taking the absurdly unlikely win, the postmortem will almost certainly highlight their failure to put him away on these stages.
Eiking – Heading for final podium?
1) Both stage winners over the weekend, Romain Bardet and Rafal Majka get incredible solo stage wins and hint at more to come from riders who haven’t sniffed Grand Tour glory in a long, long time.
- Majka rode the final 83kms of Sunday’s stage by himself, yet never lost any serious time to the chasers, to get his first race win in four years.
- Both riders end four-year-long WorldTour winless streaks.
- Bardet and Majka, both former up-and-coming GC talents, have thrived since being freed of their ill-fitting GC ambitions.
Stunning performance from Rafal Majka
2) Despite constant chatter about how Roglič is showing weakness and the teams of Bahrain, Movistar and Ineos are just about to launch attacks, this is the fifth straight day that there has been no change in placings in the top five of the GC.
- I can’t imagine a better situation for Roglič, who doesn’t have to do anything and just needs to ride into the final TT with the current time gaps to win the race.
- I’ve gotten a lot of pushback on my assertion that this final week isn’t that difficult, but days like today support my theory that while on paper a series of stages can look incredibly difficult if there aren’t multiple teams ready to attack the race leader, even multiple mountain stages can go by without any hint of a chance in GC.
- In addition to a seeming lack of ambition among the challengers to risk it all to win, there are only two mountain stages left in this race, and with both being summit finishes, it almost guarantees that all the action will be reserved for the final climb, which is Roglič’s specialty.
When will Roglič make his final move?
3) Jumbo-Visma is doing an amazing job of defending Roglič’s ‘lead,’ especially considering they didn’t bring anywhere near their strongest team to this race.
- While Roglič technically sits third overall, he is slowly chipping away at Eiking and Martin’s leads, and with a 33km TT on the final stage, has to be considered the ‘leader in the clubhouse,’ since if they went into the TT with the current time gaps, he would almost certainly emerge the winner.
- This means Jumbo just has to get their riders to the front on the climbs, set a hard pace, and then let Roglič dance away in the final kilometer, which is exactly what he did today.
- This is a massive advantage, since everyone else, like Mas and Bernal, needs to make something to get into the hunt for the win, while Roglič and Jumbo simply need the lack of something to win.
Mas needs to stay with Roglič – Or maybe attack?
4) Even with the mountainous terrain, the only real GC action we’ve seen in the last six stages has been Ineos teammates Egan Bernal and Adam Yates taking turns putting time into each other.
Stage 9: Yates takes 26-seconds on Bernal
Stage 11: Yates takes 4-seconds on Bernal
Stage 13: Bernal takes 5-seconds on Yates
Stage 14: Bernal takes 12-seconds on Yates
Stage 15: Yates takes 15-seconds on Bernal
Net total: Yates takes 28-seconds on Bernal between Stages 9-16
- But, Bernal still leads Yates by 13-seconds, mainly due to the 31-seconds Yates lost to him back on stage 2, when Ineos paced away from Yates after he was caught up in a crash.
- I have to ask, what is the point of any of this? Yates and Bernal and expending a massive amount of energy essentially fighting each other for 7th and 8th place.
- It seems the better option would be to seriously assess which rider is truly superior and then force the team to back that rider in order to save the energy the riders are currently using attacking each other in an effort to claim leadership going into the final rest day.
- Team leadership shouldn’t be like calling ‘shotgun,’ and should be the result of a decision after carefully considering available data and historical results. Oddly, while they were one of the most measured and data-based teams in their Sky teams, since becoming Ineos, they’ve appeared unwilling to make difficult decisions when it comes to team leadership and have simply tossed a few strong riders out on the road and let them decide things among themselves.
Yates last minute surges are becoming predictable
5) This doesn’t mean Adam Yates’ move on Sunday’s stage was necessarily bad, he did pick up some essentially free time, but the reason nobody felt compelled to peg him back is that he is being dropped on every uphill finish.
- Jack Haig is the only potential loser here. His Bahrain team should have left more riders around him to peg back moves like that.
It has been a long season for Carapaz
6) Richard Carapaz, citing a busy schedule, dropped out of the race on Saturday’s stage, while, Jhonatan Narváez, their best mountain domestique, dropped out of the race on Sunday, which means Ineos only have six riders left for the final week of racing.
- This leaves Ineos, who already brought an oddly composed team, short-handed with only six riders left in the race, one of them a Grand Tour rookie, Tom Pidcock, who hasn’t been able to offer much help in the mountains, and two riders, Yates and Bernal, who clearly both consider themselves team leaders.
- The Carapaz abandonment, along with the general team composition, raises a lot of questions about Ineos’ decisions around team selection. They could have avoided much of these issues by just sending a team of strong domestiques, which they have a nearly endless number of, to support Bernal’s GC bid.
Does Bernal have a podium bid?
7) Movistar used a lot of energy on Sunday to chase down a breakaway containing Sepp Kuss at the beginning of the stage. It doesn’t seem like a great idea to burn their team shutting down moves at the start of a stage where they could have attempted to put Roglič into trouble.
- Due to their lack of TT prowess, they need to be putting all their energy into offensive moves, not defensive ones.
- And any day that goes by without them taking time is a win for Jumbo and Roglic.
- If they put Roglič under difficulty in the final two mountain stages, only to lose the overall by a handful of seconds in the final TT, they will certainly look back on this weekend with regret.
Sepp Kuss – A danger to Movistar?
8) It sounds odd, but letting Kuss go would actually be the best thing Movistar could have done. I’m shocked that rival teams haven’t let Kuss get off the front and into the leader’s jersey since it complicates Jumbo’s strategy and essentially strips a helper away from Roglič.
- We saw Jumbo exploit this exact situation when Tadej Pogačar’s teammate Brandon McNulty took the lead at the Tour of the Basque country.
All good news for Odd
9) Odd Christian Eiking holds the leader’s jersey through another mountain stage. This is hugely impressive and great for him and his team, but every day he doesn’t get dropped means he gets closer and closer to an eventual overall podium finish.
- With only around 90-seconds on Roglič, it would be almost impossible to hold him off for two summit finishes and a long time trial, but with over three minutes of Miguel Angel López, he has a real shot at holding off the Colombian.
Is this the final podium – Roglič, Mas and Haig?
10) The riders present in the lead GC group on Saturday’s summit finish (Roglič, Mas, Bernal, and Haig) are, in my opinion, our eventual podium contenders.
- While López was technically ahead of them at the finish, I don’t consider him on their level only because he will lose so much time to Haig, Bernal, and even Yates in the final time trial.
- López would need to start taking massive chunks of time to have a serious chance of winning, or even landing on the podium, in the next few stages.
Lots more mountains in the final week
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #