Vuelta Final Round Up: Remco Evenepoel did what many said he couldn’t – Win a Grand Tour. Maybe he had one or two tricky moments, but other days he dominated the race. Did the loss of Primoz Roglič make a difference? We will never know. The future of cycle racing is here, not just Evenepoel, but also Ayuso, Rodrigues, Arensman…
Is it just me getting [even] older and [more] cynical or did Remco look ‘agitato’ when he was giving his post-race interview? But would he really risk feigning a puncture under the eyes of all those different lenses? Helicopters, TV bikes, race photogs, good amateur photogs and of course, iPhones? What would he have to gain?
He could – and did – get awarded the same time as the group he was in at the time of the ‘deflation’ BUT without having to go ‘rouge’ for four or five minutes – every chip of the internal energy block is crucial at this stage of the game.
Same time finish
But on the other side of the coin, if he was riding tubeless rubber then the tyre would perhaps not be bumping on the rim, rather holding some air but not enough for a rider to feel confident enough to ride into a high speed finale with all the shenanigans therein?
Roglič late attack didn’t end well
Roglič’s late, inspired attack was the mark of a real bike racer, in a stage that should have seen the stage left to the ‘puncheurs’ and fast men his surprise attack looked set to dent Remco’s lead but the Belgian’s ‘puncture’ and the Slovenian’s slamming into the finish straight tarmac meant a gain of just eight seconds – and a lot of pain.
Stage win No.2 for the man in green – Mads Pedersen
Pedersen’s second stage win was no surprise, the finalé was made for his characteristics; I had the stage down as a ‘paint drier’ but those mad last three kilometres then labelled it as anything but. Remco will be looking forward to the lead car pulling ahead tomorrow and Stage 17 getting under way with the Stage 16 polemica consigned to yesterday’s news.
All well in the Quick-Step camp
I’m looking forward to seeing the Quick-Step press release tonight. . . and to Patrick Lefevere’s take, of course.
Stage 16 highlights:
Rigo returns. One of my chums on social media observed; ‘it’s his one win of the year – is he worth what he’s paid?’
The ‘win of the year’ for Rigo
It’s his only win of the year but to be fair, it’s a ‘biggie’ – Grand Tour stage wins have always been prestigious but seem even more so now that the general standard in races is so much higher and there all these SO young, ‘damn the torpedoes’ riders ripping up the ‘unwritten rules’ and making racing SO hard. Then there’s the aspect that Rigo is a big star in Colombia and his every move will attract big column inches for the sponsors. He’s also very popular in Europe with the EF bus always attracting a big audience to catch sight of, ‘Rock Star Rigo’ – and he is after all, ‘a man of the people.’
“El toro de URRAO”
And there’s no doubt that he and his fellow escapees did serve us up a great finale, so ‘CHAPEAU,’ Rigoberto – especially since it gives him the ‘full house’ of Giro, Tour and Vuelta stage wins. The GC then; Rigo enters the top 10 and all of the rest of the top 10 move up one with Primoz’s departure. But is it just me or has the GC balloon been pricked with Primoz’s sad, untimely exit?
We had the prospect of Roglič, ‘doing a vengeful Merckx versus Ocaña in the 1971 Tour de France’ and attacking, attacking, attacking with Remco defending, defending, defending all the way to Madrid.
Mas has weight of the Valverde legacy on his back
And now ?
Second placed Mas talks the talk but whilst he has a decent buffer on Ayuso and Rodriguez; would he risk second place in Madrid, all those UCi points and not being best Spaniard to try and depose Remco? It’s unlikely but we can hope. And remember yesterday I said I was looking forward to the Quick-Step daily update email take on Remco’s deflation? There wasn’t one. . .
Stage 17 highlights:
‘A great race ‘til the last 200 metres!’ The words of race hero, Robert Gesink, the Jumbo-Visma veteran looked to have the stage won until Mas pressed on in the closing metres thinking he could perhaps steal some bonus seconds from Remco.
But that wasn’t happening, the young Belgian gains in confidence with the passing of each stage and has now added a road stage to his time trial victory. It seemed to me that Remco would have let Gesink have the stage victory but had to react to Mas’ kick.
The race is now the little chap from Aalst’s to lose, tomorrow is initially for the break and with that long downhill run to the finish a GC reshuffle is unlikely, especially with Pedersen fancying his chances if the breakaway is snuffed out, as is well possible.
No chance for Mas?
Saturday then is the last chance for Mas; call me a cynic but his accelerations today looked to me like, ‘TV attacks’ – to look good for viewers but not really believing that he could break the elastic attached to Remco. The other huge side issue for Movistar is UCi Points, they need every last one to steer clear of the dreaded ‘drop zone,’ the team will not want to risk a single one of those precious digits. That said, I haven’t yet had it explained what happens if teams don’t want to go up from ProTeam up to World Tour; the financial implications are huge – a bigger salary bond to the UCi and a much higher level of staffing.
On board cameras – Stage 18:
The profile said; ‘breakaway,’ but Mads said, ‘No!’ His team did a great job for him – and for race leader Remco who was carried along gratefully by the ‘white tide.’
Mads said NO!
It was a ‘paint drier’ stage up until the tiny peloton contested the sprint with Pedersen just too strong for the ever present Fred Wright. I was disappointed to hear of Roglič’s ‘blaming’ Fred for the crash which put him out of the race; it was the Slovenian who, right at his limit, swerved across the road, not Fred, who held his line as the Jumbo man moved way off his line. I heard former CSC, Saxo, Sky, Leopard and Orica PR guru Brian Nygaard say that Jumbo had ‘shot themselves in the foot,’ with their press release blaming Wright for Roglic’s crash – I agree.
A tactical classic for Trek
‘Paint drier’ it may have been but if you appreciate tactics it was a bit of a classic. Trek had expected UAE to assist in tempo riding because Ackermann was a ‘possible’ winner of the stage – but the big German’s team put an invisible until now, Brandon McNulty in the break negating the UAE need to chase. McNulty’s invisibility underscores the fact that two Grand Tours in one season is just too much, even for strong men.
A GT too many for McNulty?
The tactics continued on the second ascent of the big climb of the day on this unusual two lap parcours as Bahrain joined the fray in an effort to set a tempo that Pedersen couldn’t match but their man, Fred Wright could. However, their efforts were in vain as the big Dane never looked troubled.
No trouble for the ‘Great Dane’ in green
And if you had told me as I watched Fred Wright win the u23 Berlin Six Day with Jake Stewart back in 2017 that he’d have two of Spanish Cycling’s biggest names riding in his service within a few years, I may have raised an eyebrow. . . And when I think about it, how many Madisons has Primoz ridden in his career to hone his bike handling?
Jake Stewart & Fred Wright winning the u23 Berlin Six Day. ‘How many Madisons have you ridden Primoz?’
Luis Leon Sanchez and ‘Mickey’ Landa were both riding for the ex-VC Londres man. Landa again demonstrated that he’s best in a strong support role rather than riding as a leader. Pedersen isn’t the fastest man in the race, that would be Tim Merlier; but it’s not just about speed – individual and team strength, staying power and morale all play their part. The Dane now leads the points classification with 379 points to Fred Wright’s 174 – ‘emphatic’ is the word.
Stage 20… the final exam for Remco
Tomorrow: nearly 4,000 metres of climbing with five big climbs – Remco’s last examination . . . .
Stage 19 highlights:
Sen. Carapaz, respect sir.
Carapaz – Impressive
His new ‘Capo,’ JV has just ordered a large Louis Treize and a Cohiba Esplendido – the Ecuadorian is a great purchase for EF with those stage wins and UCi points coming AFTER the deal was done. . .
Soudal will glue on some more money
But a man whose reaction I’m keen to hear is Remco’s Big Boss, Patrick Lefevere. Despite his team’s success it’s always a battle for him to get close to the mega bucks sponsorships of an INEOS, Israel, Jumbo or UAE – because the first question a prospective big money sponsor will always ask is; ‘can you win the Tour de France for us?’ Lefevere can now say; ‘yes, I believe so, with Remco.’
Belgian Giro winner Johan de Muynck
That said, there are many riders who could/can win the Giro or Vuelta BUT not le Tour. Time will tell and it’s most likely Remco’s next target will be the Giro? But it’s a long time, 44 years since a Belgian won at this level; the press will be beating a path to Johan de Muynck’s door, Belgium’s last Grand Tour winner, way back in the 1978 Giro, so Remco, QuickStep and Belgium should savour this moment.
Freddy Maertens’ stunning Vuelta victory with 13 stage wins
And the press will beat a path to Freddy Maertens door – albeit Freddy will want paid cash, in advance for the privilege of an interview – as Belgium’s last Vuelta winner in 1977 when he took a remarkable 13 stages along the way. Then of course there’s Lucien Van Impe, Belgium’s last Tour de France winner in 1976 – no pressure then, Remco.
Lucien Van Impe – Belgian Tour de France winner in 1976
As we predicted yesterday, Mas did little to risk his second place – and all those UCi points – and has his third Vuelta podium second step. Can he win this race, one day? You best ask Evenepoel, Ayuso, WVA, Pogačar, Rodriguez and perhaps Bernal to answer that question.
Ayuso can win la Vuelta
Ayuso can win it, just 19 years-old, talented, dedicated – but the team need to have him as sole leader with a team dedicated to him; have Almeida target the Giro and send Soler to Canada.
Rodriguez – A Vuelta winner, barring crashes
So too can 21 years-old Rodriguez; but Almeida was ruthless today in relegating the wounded Spaniard to seventh place, grabbing his fifth place on GC as Rodriguez’s crash injuries really caught up with him.
Thymen Arensman – ‘man of the future’
In sixth place was another, ‘man of the future’ Thymen Arensman; a stage win endorses the 22 years-old Dutchman as a possible future Grand Tour podium rider for DSM – or is it INEOS? Back in May it was announced he’d be with the British team for 2023 but it still doesn’t seem to be cast in stone, his market value can only have risen given the events of the last three weeks.
The big finish in Madrid
Tomorrow on the stunning La Castellana?
Merlier will be hoping to make all that suffering through the mountains worth it – but Trek and Pedersen may well have the will, the numbers and the strength to make it four. . .
Last words from Remco
But last words today must go to Remco; ‘I don’t know what’s going through my head and body at the moment. The only thing I know is that I am happy. Happy that a dream came true and that I proved what I am capable of. Happy that I am the first to win a Grand Tour for Patrick and happy I did it in this fantastic team.’
Stage 20 highlights:
The last act was played out in Europe’s highest capital city, marvellous Madrid at 650 metres above sea level, having commenced three weeks ago at just five metres above sea level far to the north in Utrecht.
The red jersey minute
Heroes of this last act?
That would be big Dane, Julius Johansen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) and Aussie, Luke Plapp (INEOS Grenadiers) who gave us something to write about over those closing laps; only reeled in at the eleventh hour.
Johansen and Plapp coloured the stage
Understudy stealing the limelight?
That’s easy, JJ Molano the 2018 Pan Am Champion and lead out man capped a good day for UAE – with Ayuso on the Vuelta podium and Pogacar winning in Montreal.
The Colombian was too fast for the man he was leading out – Germany’s Pascal Ackermann and the ubiquitous Mads Pedersen.
Lead-out man Molano beats his sprinter
The Primoz Roglič ‘polemica’ rumbles on, with my straw poll showing support for Fred Wright at about 100 to one against the Slovenian. The Roglič supporters appearing to have watched a different finish to the one most of us witnessed.
Big smiles for Evenepoel
The Hero ?
Another easy one, a small, Monument winning gentleman from Aalst who’s now also a Grand Tour winner. . .
Stage 21 highlights:
The 2022 vuelta a España podium
# Next up… The World championships, stay PEZ. #