Back in 2017, when Richard Carapaz first tackled the Alto de la Pandera as a first-year pro with Movistar, he could hardly have imagined that the local knowledge acquired that day would prove crucial to guiding him to his second stage win in three days at the Vuelta a España.
Part of a day-long break of 10 on stage 14, Carapaz blasted away from the other stage leaders on the Pandera with some 4 kilometres left to race, only to find that GC contenders Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana-Qazaqstan) were closing in on him fast from the main pack.
However, as the 29-year-old explained later, not panicking because he recollected the upper slopes of the Pandera very well proved critical to allowing him to measure his effort and stay – just – out of reach.
An advantage of a handful of seconds at the line allowed the Ineos Grenadiers racer to follow up his (and Ecuador’s) first-ever stage win in la Vuelta at Penas Blancas with another solo summit win.
“When we started the climb we had a couple of minutes’ advantage, which wasn’t much,” Carapaz said later. “But I remembered the ascent from 2017 and knew that there was a bit of a descent with two kilometres to go.
“So I knew that if I got to that point in the climb with 10 or 12 seconds advantage, I’d be able to stay away to the finish. And the rest of it was all about keeping going at my pace, never easing back at all. I alway knew it was going to be very complicated to stay away. But I never despaired.”
Carapaz said that the other hard part of the stage had been getting in the break, which took far longer than usual to form, and where, after Thursday’s win, he had been shadowed very closely by his rivals.
“It was a huge fight, it took about 60 kilometres for the break to form. But I came off the team bus this morning feeling really mentalized to try for the win, and the team helped me enormously there to get ahead and into the break.”
Things improved notably from there on, he said. “Once the move formed, fortunately we really worked well together, and got an important gap, of four minutes or so, and I thought it could stay away.”
Carapaz has been something of a ringside witness to the way the GC battle has unfolded, and even after Evenepoel’s setback on Saturday, the Ecuadorian feels that the Belgian is best placed for victory in Madrid. As for his teammate Carlos Rodriguez, who remained in fourth overall and who gave him a huge hug of congratulations at the Pandera summit finish, too, Carapaz simply argued that the Spaniard’s best result overall will be “to do as well as possible.”
If taking one stage already proved a big boost to Carapaz morale following the collapse of his GC bid at the end of the first week, then taking a second has given him even more reasons to be optimistic about his chances. As for a third at Sierra Nevada, Carapaz seemed prepared to go for it again, and once again, he pointed out, local knowledge would be on his side.
“I know the climbs on Sunday very well from when I was living round here for several years some time ago,” he said, “so why not have a go?”