2021 Vuelta week 2 and 3 review

We left the Vuelta at the week 1 rest day with Primoz Roglic in the leaders red jersey and a situation that felt pretty similar to the Tour de France.

This Slovenian looked home and dry as the chinks in the armour of Richard Carapaz and Egan Bernal were starting to show.

But our Primoz had been burned a number of times in stage races, especially when it came to conceding the lead in the latter stages of big races (2021 Tour, 2022 Paris Nice etc.) so he reduced the level of pressure on his Jumbo Visma team and allowed a break to go clear containing Odd Christian Eiking who was still far enough away at the finish to take the race lead.

He didn’t win the stage, in-form DSM rider Michael Storer did, but this ensured that there would be a number of riders and teams now interested in keeping order and calm at the head of the race.

And as with the other grand tours of the year, once the peloton had settled, breakaways started to get bigger time gaps and stay away.

There were memorable stage wins for Magnus Cort (multiple), Romain Bardet and Rafal Majka.

Eiking retained the lead thanks to the composition of those breakaways not having a rival for his jersey, but it always felt on loan to Roglic. And so it was.

It took the fearsome climb to Lagos de Covadonga to shake the Norwegian off, but it was definitive.

The best day of the race saw Bernal give it an all or nothing attack which Roglic was equal to. When the time came the Columbian was dispatched and no other riders could get within a minute and a half of the defending champion who took the jersey back, and for good.

Movistar showed their incredible ability to mess something up with two riders in the top three going into the penultimate day of the race.

But as Bernal faded, Miguel Angel Lopez, a stage winner two days before, got stuck in a group with him losing his podium place in the process (on the road).

As the time gap drifted over seven minutes Lopez abandoned with less than 100km of the race to go. A sad end to a Vuelta that had started to look like it would end on a high for him, but ended in a team car.

The stage was won by an opportunist in the breakaway (which is so 2021!!!) Clement Champoussin who bagged a third stage win for France. In contrast Spain won zero.

Roglic secured the final days time trial, although the incredible Cort tried to take that off him, ending up with close to a five minute gap on Enric Mas who was the best of the rest and the best of Spain.

An honourable mention to Jack Haig who came third after coming under intense pressure from Adam Yates on the final mountain of the race. He suffered terribly and was dropped many times but came back each and every one.

I wouldn’t say this Vuelta was that interesting in terms of a GC battle. But that was the case in the Tour and to a lesser extent Giro.

What has made this year so special has been the baroudeur spirit of breakaways and their ability to time their run to the line just right and hang on for valuable stage wins.

It started in Italy with Taco Van der Hoorn and carried on here with Corts stage wins being evolutions of that tactic. It’s made a number of key stages in grand tours like one day classics and that is 100% no bad thing.

For now we move on to the Worlds and the end of season classic campaigns, so there is still plenty to get excited about and enjoy.

See you on the road!

2021 Vuelta Week 1 Review

There is an overused word to describe the feelings riders and fans have towards the Vuelta.

Its ambience.

People often write or speak of the specific relaxed, end of term vibes of the Vuelta. It’s a unique ambience they say.

It certainly works for me.

I spend many a happy hour watching the Vuelta imagining life as a hardened pro cyclist getting to the end of their season and riding round the humid, windy interior of Spain to get a nice tan to take into the winter.

The first week of this year’s race has certainly done nothing to diffuse that stereotype.

There were a couple of flat stages where the organisers prayed for high winds to get the echelons forming. But there was barely a breeze and the riders enjoyed the sun and several sprint finishes.

Where there have been climbs there has been excitement. But Primoz Roglic is in control with rivals such as Egan Bernal clearly going backwards.

Hugh Carthy is sadly at home in Preston by now after abandoning.

Alessandro Valverde suffered a terrible crash before being forced to quit the race. It will be interesting to see how the race develops with his bickering team mates Enric Mas and “Superman” Lopez battling to lead Movistar in his absence.

Sadly, it appears there is no series 3 on their fly on the wall documentary on Netflix. The episode featuring this week’s racing would be a must see.

If this was the Tour de France and if it was Tadej Pogacar in the lead of the race, I would be declaring this one over in terms of a GC battle.

But Roglic has previous (see 2020 Tour, 2021 Paris-Nice) of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

He might be going for a hat-trick of Vuelta wins but in both 2019 and 2020 he was close to losing the race in the closing days. Once through a needless crash when Movistar pushed on and once on the final summit finish when Richard Carapaz went after him.

For those of an English and Ineo bias, the race seems to be slipping away.

Carapaz is fading after his Olympic road race glory and with Bernal losing time on the last summit finish before yesterday’s rest day it might be that Adam Yates gets the responsibility of leading the team now.

However, he is over two minutes behind Roglic and that seems very unlikely a gap that he will cross. Even with two weeks of racing left.

So, let’s enjoy this weeks stages, some sleepy looking towns and wave lashed beaches with the riders swooping past. All mirrored Oakley’s and sun cream as they get through the final grand tour of the 2021 season.

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCITime
11 ROGLIČ PrimožTeam Jumbo-Visma2034:18:53
23▲1 MAS EnricMovistar Team0:28
34▲1 LÓPEZ Miguel ÁngelMovistar Team1:21
47▲3 HAIG JackBahrain – Victorious1:42
56▲1 BERNAL EganINEOS Grenadiers1:52
610▲4 YATES AdamINEOS Grenadiers2:07
711▲4 CICCONE GiulioTrek – Segafredo2:39
88 KUSS SeppTeam Jumbo-Visma2:40
92▼7 GROßSCHARTNER FelixBORA – hansgrohe3:25
1014▲4 DE LA CRUZ DavidUAE-Team Emirates3:55

Am I odd for preferring Tour De L’Ain to the Olympics?

I know its only held once every 4 years and that I have loved watching Greg Van Avermaet in a gold crash helmet, but this Olympics has left me cold.

Whether it was the controversial build up with positive tests for Covid-19 across a number of sports that left me wondering if it would even happen, or my desire to visit the Jura which meant I was glued to the other race, I do not know.

But.

I relaxed more watching L’Ain and really got into the attacking riding in the moyenne montagne over the weekend.

Michael Storer of DSM was a worthy winner but each stage had everything I want in a bike race in France.

Sleepy stages going across beautiful farm land coupled with forested hill sides and a race that isn’t controlled by a super-team like Ineos or Jumbo.

Tokyo on the other hand was won brilliantly by Richard Carapaz, but on a deserted wide open car racing circuit.

Maybe it would have looked better with fans.

Even the sheer variety of events on offer doesn’t engage me. Its a really bizarre sensation.

Cycling to me is all about the dreams you have about riding your bike and the feelings and emotions it evokes.

It’s clear where my cycling desires lie isn’t it !

They come in rolling mountains and finish with a chunk of cheese and chilled white wine.

So let’s get stuck into the remainder of 2021 and love the fact there are races for all to enjoy !

Don’t get me started on how excited I am for the Arctic Race to start this week…

Tour De L’Ain 2021 Result

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCIPntTime
12▲1 STORER MichaelTeam DSM1251009:13:09
23▲1 VANHOUCKE HarmLotto Soudal85700:55
36▲3 BADILATTI MatteoGroupama – FDJ70501:01
413▲9 BAGIOLI AndreaDeceuninck – Quick Step60361:15
511▲6 SKJELMOSE JENSEN MattiasTrek – Segafredo50281:17
610▲4 CHAMPOUSSIN ClémentAG2R Citroën Team40241:23
71▼6 ZIMMERMANN GeorgIntermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux35201:29
84▼4 ROCHAS RémyCofidis, Solutions Crédits30181:39
95▼4 STEINHAUSER GeorgGermany25161:46
107▼3 DÍAZ José ManuelDELKO20141:57

Week 3 – Sleepy final week to the Tour

The final week of the Tour was a total non-event in terms of the general classification leaving many to wonder if the course wasn’t quite balanced enough to promote attacking riding.

Although to be fair when there was a summit finish it was generally either won by Tadej Pogacar or he gained time on his increasingly hapless looking rivals.

If it hadn’t been for Ben O’Connor and Jonas Vingegaard emerging from the shadows and taking the race on we would have been subjected to less action.

Pogacar was so far ahead after the final mountains that he and his team were able to let the latter stages play out with chaos on the road and breakaways ruling the roost.

Ineos Grenadiers had such a disaster with the fading of Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte that Richard Carapaz was their only hope.

Despite a couple of attacks he never once looked like dropping the other favourites.

His team also reverted to type after promising enterprising and attacking riding. They formed a train on the climbs and as mentioned in last weeks post, pretty much armchaired the yellow jersey to within a few kms of the finish on key stages.

I have no idea why they chose to ride in that way. Defensive and stifling they should have left more riders from lower down the top 10 to challenge in the way that Guillaume Martin did.

But they knew that if he hung on Carapaz was likely to get on to the podium and for Ineos that looked enough.

Contrast that with Jumbo/Visma who lost Primoz Roglic at the same time as Thomas faltered. They made sure that Vingegaard became a loose cannon, especially on the Mont Ventoux stage. The second prong to their fork was Wout Van Aert who became a stage hunter in the Sean Kelly, Peter Sagan mould.

Their tour will be a success, Ineos a failure.

I am not sure that the management of Jumbo is such that they showed great agility in adapating their planning. I put it down to the riders being strong on the road and mentality tough.

Despite getting boxed in by the Eddy Merckx mafia of Belgians in Paris (!), Mark Cavendish and Quickstep will be looking at this Tour as a real successs. He equalled the record and if thats as far as it goes then I am sure he will still be happy.

Julian Alaphillippe got his stage win and Cav the green jersey. Job done.

The main blot of the week 3 landscape was the police raid of Bahrain Victorious. This was the culmination of rumours since Rod Ellingworth left the team suddenly and they started winning.

Gino Mader and Mark Padun came from nowhere to win important races before the Tour and during this race Matej Mohoric and Dylan Theuns got wins (although neither was too surprising).

Foul seemed to be being cried over the sudden emergence of Sonny Colbrelli as a mountain climber, which was a little uncomfortable to watch at times.

But until there are charges from the investigation, and that goes for all stage and classification winners, not just Colbrelli, we will take the race and its outcomes at face value.

The good news for those of us who are down in the dumps this week with the race over is that the Tour of Wallonia starts today !

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCIPntTime
11 POGAČAR TadejUAE-Team Emirates100050082:56:36
22 VINGEGAARD JonasTeam Jumbo-Visma8003805:20
33 CARAPAZ RichardINEOS Grenadiers6753407:03
44 O’CONNOR BenAG2R Citroën Team57530010:02
55 KELDERMAN WilcoBORA – hansgrohe47528010:13
66 MAS EnricMovistar Team40026011:43
77 LUTSENKO AlexeyAstana – Premier Tech32524012:23
88 MARTIN GuillaumeCofidis, Solutions Crédits27522015:33
99 BILBAO PelloBahrain – Victorious22521016:04
1010 URÁN RigobertoEF Education – Nippo17520018:34

Week 2 belongs to Cav and Van Aert

The second week of the Tour de France offered only glipmses of a batte for the yellow jersey but was made famous for the wins of Mark Cavendish.

His two stage wins in Valence and Carcassonne book ended the week and gave us something to remember this race for.

His first stage win in 2008 was a “remember where you were moment“. I was in the car going to Skegness listening to Simon Brotherton on 5 live.

Friday I had it on in the background whilst working and from 2km to go to the finish was a nervous wreck.

He is level with the record now and its thoroughly deserved after his efforts in this race over the years.

At the other end of his Tour career is Wout Van Aert who was the other star of the week after winning the stage with a double ascent of the fearsome Mont Ventoux.

He was part of the breakaway for much of the stage before going clear with Kenny Elissonde and leaving him behind as Julian Alaphillippe tried to get across to them.

Behind Wout there was the merest hint of a battle for the GC with Jonas Vingegaard becoming the first person to drop Tadej Pogacar only to be pulled back on the descent thanks to some negative riding from Richard Carapaz and Rigo Uran.

Why those two didnt want to put the yellow jersey under pressure and leave him to chase Vingegaard on his own was beyond me.

It was a clear indication that they were only interested in riding for 2nd place. Which is poor.

In fact the whole Ineos tactical masterplan this week has been poor.

Short of giving Pogacar an armchair and slippers they have done very little other than keep Carapaz in with a shout of the podium.

What happened to last years pledge to go from long? be disruptive and shake up the race?

They have ridden the perfect mountain train for the race leader who isn’t in their team. Bonkers.

The second third weekend of the race took us into Andorra and saw some spectacular climbing and a deserved stage win for Sepp Kuss who continued the Jumbo/Visma comeback after the loss of leader Roglic.

Whilst I don’t see much changing in the top 10 this week, save Carapaz moving up to second or third, I will be keeping focus on Cav getting through the mountains within the time limit.

Fingers crossed he can make it to Paris.

NK.RIDERTEAMTIME
1 POGAČAR TadejUAE-Team Emirates62:07:18
2 URÁN RigobertoEF Education – Nippo5:18
3 VINGEGAARD JonasTeam Jumbo-Visma5:32
4 CARAPAZ RichardINEOS Grenadiers5:33
5 O’CONNOR BenAG2R Citroën Team5:58
6 KELDERMAN WilcoBORA – hansgrohe6:16
7 LUTSENKO AlexeyAstana – Premier Tech7:01
8 MAS EnricMovistar Team7:11
9 MARTIN GuillaumeCofidis, Solutions Crédits7:58
10 BILBAO PelloBahrain – Victorious10:59

Videos released highlighting Grand Tour struggles…

The three grand tours this summer/autumn/winter were very different in a host of ways.

The timing was one thing, the readiness and sharpness of the riders was another. Lots of pundits and experts were even confused by the shadows and lighting with the usual bright yellow sun and fields of sunflower for the Tour de France long since having gone over ahead of the changing colours of the leaves.

Some of the worlds biggest teams have been taking to YouTube to diarise what their experiences were and in the name of research (and to avoid watching Strictly Come Dancing at the weekend) I have studied most of them and come up with a shortlist of one film per race.

First up is the Tour de France through the eyes of the Deceuninck QuickStep team.

This was an interesting film as it covered the fast start of Julian Alaphillippe before moving on to cover the stage and green jersey winning powers of Sam Bennett.

It’s well shot and tells the story in stages, although it does miss out bits and pieces from when Alaphillippe lost a lot of time in the GC battle.

The EF gone racing series by the popular hipsters team in association with kit sponsor Rapha is seen as the benchmark of this type of fly on the wall documentary and this one is no different.

The best one they ever made was Lachlan Morton riding the GB duro gravel race and this isn’t as good. But it is still a decent watch.

The final big race of the year was the Vuelta and it featured a nervous sense that the race might not make Madrid along with some terrible weather.

Like the Tour and the Giro it featured a brilliant battle to see who would win with Primoz Roglic and Richard Carapaz going to the final kilometer of the final climb the day before the finish before we knew for sure.

After his final weekend loss of the Tour de France, the Jumbo/Visma team car is the best place to watch that GC competition play out. It’s safe to say they are nervous, all of which adds to the quality of the film.

All three are a great waste of an evening so make sure you have a watch and enjoy.

La Vuelta 2020 review

This was the grand tour that looked the least likely to run its 2020 course after a surge in COVID cases in Europe and refusals from the French authorities to let the opening weekend stages go ahead across the border.

But run its course it did and in keeping with the Tour and the Giro it was a cracker.

Primoz Roglic won riding for Jumbo/Visma after a ding dong battle with Richard Carapaz of Ineos Grenadiers with the red jersey changing hands a number of times during the race.

In the end it was time bonuses rather than physical gaps on stages that retained the race for the Slovenian ace although one particualar split that Carapaz missed was highlighted as race defining (despite the gap being only 3 seconds).

The truncated opening and full closing weeks featured terrible weather and it was an early race crash that saw Mike Woods of EF Procycling drop out of the reckoning.

That left leadership in the hands of lanky Lancastrian Hugh Carthy and he didn’t disappoint.

He won the queen stage and was still trying to get the race lead on the final Saturday of the race with an all or nothing attack in the mountains above Madrid. Carthy went on to take the final podium spot in third place.

Let’s hope its a sign of more to come!

Sam Bennett and Pascal Ackermann were the sprinters of choice in the race, dividing the scarce flat stages amongst themselves. Aside from Carthy there were memorable stage wins for Woods, who had more freedom after losing time and a brace for David Gaudu of Groupama/FDJ.

It was a fitting and excellent end to a season we will review in due course but which did so well to happen in any form.

2021 is looking to have gaps with the Tour Down Under and Tour de Yorkshire gone already. But let’s deal with next year in time.

Vive la Vuelta!

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCIPntTime
11 ROGLIČ PrimožTeam Jumbo-Visma85040072:46:12
22 CARAPAZ RichardINEOS Grenadiers6802900:24
33 CARTHY HughEF Pro Cycling5752401:15
44 MARTIN DanIsrael Start-Up Nation4602202:43
55 MAS EnricMovistar Team3802003:36
66 POELS WoutBahrain – McLaren3201907:16
77 DE LA CRUZ DavidUAE-Team Emirates2601807:35
88 GAUDU DavidGroupama – FDJ2201707:45
99 GROSSSCHARTNE FelixBORA – hansgrohe1801608:15
1010 VALVERDE AlejandroMovistar Team1401509:34
2020 Vuelta final GC

Tour ’20 – Stages 18&19 – Kwiatkowski gets his reward

Polish domestique deluxe Michal Kwiatkowski got due reward for his years in service of Tour de France winners when he took stage 18 after a long breakaway.

With team mate Richard Carapaz, they took flight from the days break along with serial escapee Marc Hirschi of Sunweb.,

The most active rider of the race was keen to add to his stage win last week but crashed on a descent leaving the Ineos pair alone at the head of affairs.

With the gap big enough and the favourites not interested in attacking they had the luxury of sorting out who was going to win on the run in to the finish. It was brillant to see a clearly emotional Kwiatkowski cross the line for a rare, but really popular win.

Stage 10 saw Soren Kragh Andersen win the stage after a day that was only brightly animated by Remi Cavagna in a long lone breakaway that was always doomed but was entertaining enough to avoid switching the TV off.

Late in the stage a breakaway did escape including a number of good classics riders. Luke Rowe , Nils Pollit, Tim DeClercq and the king of Flanders Greg Van Avermaet made the split.

However Andersen was able to repeat the feat as he did on the way into Lyon escaping to win his 2nd stage of the Tour.

All eyes now move to the final weekend of the race and its opening and only time trial.

It’s been a really decent Tour so far so let’s hope for an exciting final weekend of action.

Tour ’20 – Stages 16&17 – Kamna fulfills the promise whilst Superman flies

After a quiet few days at the start of last week, the Tour de France has been really exciting at the start of this culminating in yesterdays stage finish at the top of a new purpose built cycleway in the sky.

The two alpine stages have been going over new ground and exploring, whilst retaining the tradition of scenary and toughness that makes them the best part of the race (for me at least).

The first of the most recent two stages saw Egan Bernal dropped again before abandoning and Jumbo taking the opportunity to let breakaways go.

In fact the Tour de France 2020 has become the year of the lone winner with the likes of Marc Hirschi, Soren Kragh Andersen, Lennard Kamna and now Miguel Angel Lopez.

Kamna was part of a stage 16 breakaway that included Richard Caparaz and Julian Alaphillippe before he gave the Ecuadorian a fake suffer face and then attacked him.

Villard de Lans will always be about 1989 and Laurent Fignon for me so it was a real trip down memory lane for the race to finish their again.

Kamna was a worthy winner to honour that history pulling away on downhill, flatlands and climbs to make sure he won.

Carapaz and Alaphillippe looked to get over the disappointment by being in the next days breakaway on stage 17 only to be caught by the GC battle.

Meribel put on its finest display for the race arriving and as the Bahrain led peloton sped through the town to get tot the new finish at Col de la Loze it felt like we had the real race back again. For a few minutes there were cheering fans and despite their masks it was a brief moment where covid wasn’t on my mind.

The new bike path looked amazing despite its fluctuating gradient and it had the desired effect on breaking up the GC leaders including Bahrains leader Mikel Landa meaning all their work was not rewarded.

‘Superman’ Lopez got away and behind him the likes of Richie Porte and Rigoberto Uran started to fade.

Then it was the leaders turn with Primoz Roglic putting some daylight between him and Tadej Pogacar as the road got over 20% in steepness.

However Pogacar wasn’t gone for good and he battled back to limit his losses to 15 seconds meaning he is 57 down now against the yellow jersey.

This race is most definitely not done and I am enjoying every minute of it. Let’s see what today brings.