The Spanish Grand Tour drought is well and truly over, at the Vuelta anyway
There were 121 Grand Tour stages in between Spain’s last victory at a three-week race – Ion Izagirre’s win on stage six of the 2020 Vuelta a España – and Marc Soler of UAE Team Emirates’ victory on stage five of this year’s race.
Just like buses, you wait for ages for one, and then two come along at once; the second bus was Jesús Herrada (Cofidis), who triumphed in Cistierna on Friday. The panic is over, for now, as Spain has proved it can still produce stage winners at Grand Tours. At its home Grand Tour anyway, as there has been no Spanish winner at the Tour de France since 2016 or the Giro d’Italia since 2018.
Herrada was by no means the fastest man in the five-man breakaway, that was probably Fred Wright (Bahrain-Victorious), but the 32-year-old showed his experience in forcing the Londoner to lead out the sprint and then time his run to the line perfectly. It is his second win at the Vuelta, three years apart, and comes after a rather dry spell for the Spaniard, although it is his second win this year. He also took the combativity prize, which is a nice extra award.
With 14 stages still to come, there might be more Spanish joy at this year’s race. All that’s missing is a genuine general classification contender; could Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) or Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) be the future? The present is Enric Mas of Movistar, who is currently third overall.
So near yet so far for Fred Wright once again
Fred Wright did everything right, once again, apart from deliver when it really mattered: in the final kilometre. The 23-year-old was third on stage five of the Vuelta – coincidently, also won by a Spanish rider, as seen above – and was third again on Friday. It follows a frustrating but impressive Tour de France, where he came so close to his maiden win on at least three occasions.
One might think it a bit jingoistic to focus so much on the British rider, but he clearly gives so much and is so emotionally honest, that there are many people willing him on to get his first win as a professional.
Leading out the sprint on stage seven was clearly a mistake, as he was outfoxed by his breakaway companions, who all clearly had him pegged as the fastest among him.
However, with the power he showed once again, along with the intelligence to get into the break in the first place, his chance will surely come sooner rather than later. Having got into two moves in three days, now might be the time to rest up and then go again next week.
Sam Bennett remains the fastest man in the bunch
While he would obviously be disappointed to not be contesting for his third win of the Vuelta, Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) will be happy enough that he won the sprint for sixth, and therefore reminded everyone that he is the fastest man in the peloton.
The Irishman took 15 points in the green jersey competition, seven points ahead of his nearest rival in the classification, Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo). While it might not seem like much, given the sparse amount of sprint opportunities at this year’s race, such a meagre points haul might prove crucial at the end of the race.
Bennett was briefly off the back on the Puerto de San Glorio but battled back, with the help of his team, proof in the belief that they have in him. However, stage seven might go down as an opportunity missed, considering the peloton came in just 30 seconds behind the break. He will go again next Wednesday, if he makes it through this hard weekend.
Trek-Segafredo’s Mads plan fails
Halfway through Friday’s stage, and Trek-Segafredo must have thought they were in an excellent place to deliver Mads Pedersen to victory. On the only categorised climb of the day, their hard riding first put sprinters Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) out the back of the bunch, before Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) was also dropped.
However, then their plan failed to come together. Bennett made his way back to the peloton, thanks to the work of his teammate Danny van Poppel, which scuppered their idea of making the sprint easy for Pedersen. Then, with the other sprinters out the back, and their team depleted, they failed to bring the break back in order to produce a bunch sprint.
In the end, Pedersen finished ninth, not just behind Bennett, but behind Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ) and Kaden Groves (BikeExchange-Jayco), so the plan might not have worked anyway. What it did prove was the intent of both the Dane and his Trek team of making the race hard; I doubt it is the last time in this Vuelta that we will see tactics like this on transition days.
Remco looks cool in red
It was a relatively calm first day in a Grand Tour leader’s jersey for Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), who was able to just stick around in the bunch and get his bearings. There was just one categorised climb all day, and this did not trouble the general classification riders one bit.
Speaking after the stage, the Belgian said: “It was a perfect scenario because the other teams controlled the race, and we didn’t have to do anything. Everybody could try to recover from yesterday’s race, and in the end, everybody were doing well. We were in control, and we were relaxed.”
A possible sprint day like Friday is a lovely introduction to controlling the race lead for Evenepoel, as Bora-Hansgrohe and Trek-Segafredo took up the reigns at the front of the bunch, relieving Quick-Step of their usual leader duties. It is this weekend that things will change, with back-to-back mountain stages. If he survives them, his chances of carrying the red jersey all the way to the finish will very much be boosted.