Fred Wright’s affability could never be mistaken with Cristiano Ronaldo’s hauteur, but the Bahrain Victorious rider inadvertently echoed the Manchester United player when he assessed his near miss on stage 5 of the Vuelta a España in Bilbao.
“Maybe I’m too good,” Ronaldo famously said in 2007 in response to accusations of diving from his opponents at Middlesbrough. Wright wondered something similar on Bilbao’s Gran Vía after long appearing to be the strongman of the decisive 13-rider break, but he would have to settle for third place on the stage, four seconds behind lone winner Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates).
“I was feeling strong but I’m disappointed. I was just too marked. I needed good legs, but the legs were almost too good,” said Wright, who fell just two seconds shy of moving into the red jersey to boot. “I don’t know. I’ll look at it again and see what I did wrong. We just should have caught him, plain and simple, but it just didn’t happen.”
After a rapid opening hour of racing, Jumbo-Visma made it abundantly clear that they were willing to loosen Primož Roglič’s grip on the red jersey on the Vuelta’s second day in the Basque Country. When the break of the day eventually took shape 70km into the stage, Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) was the man best placed to take red, but Wright was just four seconds behind him.
With a ten-second time bonus on offer for the stage winner, Molard knew the importance of marking Wright on the run-in to Bilbao, though he gave himself a little more breathing room by snapping up a two-second bonus over the top of the final haul up the Alto del Vivero. Soler was alone at the head of the race by then, and Molard was, quite reasonably, reluctant to help Wright and the chasers bring the Spaniard back on the approach to Bilbao.
“I understand it, that’s just bike racing, isn’t it?” said Wright, who was generous in his congratulations to Molard behind the podium. “It’s just a shame that I was close to that win again. But it’s good legs for the rest of the Vuelta, that’s for sure.”
Wright had the consolation of moving into the white jersey of best young rider, even if he confessed that he had spent the day with stage victory in mind rather than the maillot rojo. The 23-year-old already had to settle for second place behind Mads Pedersen in Saint-Étienne on last month’s Tour de France, where his constant aggression was the lone high point in Bahrain Victorious’ strikingly subdued outing.
“In my mind, it was the stage win, I really wanted that stage win,” Wright said. “That’s why I was staying in the front the whole day. I’m a bit disappointed, but at least I get to wear a nice jersey. A leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour is pretty special, so I’m happy I got that white jersey.”
Soler dangled just ahead of the fragmented chasers on the way through the outskirts of Bilbao and Wright made a last, desperate attempt to bring him back by launching his sprint from distance on the finishing straight on the Gran Vía. He was unable to get back on terms and he had to settle for third place – and just four seconds in bonuses – after Daryl Impey (Israel Premier Tech) came past him. That ensured Molard, fourth on the stage, would take the red jersey with two seconds to spare over Wright.
“I thought we could bring him back, to be honest,” Wright said of Soler’s move on the final ascent of the Alto del Vivero. “Fair play to him, he was super strong. I was feeling good on the climb but not good enough to follow him. I thought maybe we could catch him on the descent, but unfortunately not. I know I’ve got a good sprint, and I led the sprint out for a long way… Third and the white jersey is not what I wanted, but I can be happy with it.”