Vuelta a Espana

Closing-battle ‘polemica’ spices up thrilling Vuelta a España finale

Some wondered if Movistar was dishing out revenge on former rider Richard Carapaz as Primož Roglič hitched a ride to save his red jersey.

The 2020 Vuelta a España went down to the wire as promised, but not without a final-stage “polemica” in the wake of how the final tactics played out on the windswept Covatilla summit.

Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) survived a dangerous, all-in bet from Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), and the Slovenian found an unexpected friends on the road. Movistar ended up lending Roglič a wheel – whether by accident or design –  just as Carapaz was pressuring the Slovenian for the Vuelta’s red jersey against a fierce headwind.

Carapaz was flying alone off the front, putting increasing pressure on Roglič. For one of the first times in the race, Roglič was briefly isolated as the Ecuadorian motored up the road. Though Sepp Kuss and George Bennett weren’t there this time, Roglič gained help from an unlikely source – Movistar’s Enric Mas.

Having started the day in fifth overall with over 90 seconds to pull back on fourth-place Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), Mas was on the offense as he tried to put time into the struggling Irishman, who was dropped further down the climb.

Roglič wisely grabbed the young Spaniard’s wheel as the Covatilla reached its final stretch, and the fast unfolding race dynamics helped salvage his lead.

After Movistar had drilled the pace in the GC group all day long, tongues started wagging when Mas looked to be pulling Roglič toward a red jersey defense in the final kilometer of the stage. Was Movistar trying to stick it to Carapaz, who left Movistar in 2019 to join rival Ineos Grenadiers?

Conspiracy theories flourish in these kinds of situations, but Mas insisted Saturday’s tactics were all about racing, and had nothing to do about settling imagined scores.

“We were doing our race. It had nothing to do about helping one to screw over another,” Mas said. “I only realized that Roglič was there when I looked back and saw his wheel. It was a situation of the race, because Dan Martin had been dropped, and we were looking to move up to fourth overall.”

When the dust settled, the top-5 on GC ended just as they had started the stage, with some changes in the time gaps. Carapaz chipped away at Roglič, but will lose the race in part based on time bonuses that the Slovenian picked up with his four stage victories. The Ecuadorian, who won last year’s Giro d’Italia, batted away suggestions that Movistar was out to spoil his chances.

“I have nothing to say,” Carapaz said at the line. “Everyone has their own objectives. What happened, happened. I’m happy with second place.”

When pressed about it again during the post-stage press conference as to whether he could have won the Vuelta if Movistar wasn’t there to help pace Roglič, Carapaz said, “I don’t know, maybe, but I am happy with the second place that I achieved. I enjoyed the day, and it’s a big achievement to be second in the Vuelta a España.”

Roglič also downplayed any sort of hint of alliance and insisted he was measuring his efforts against the time gap that he had built coming into the final showdown.

“It was a big fight, and everyone went full-gas,” Roglič said. “It’s true that I wasn’t always in control, but I knew I had a good gap, and I could ride at my own pace.”

Just like the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, the 2020 Vuelta came down to a thrilling finale. Unlike the Giro and Tour, which saw time trials decide the final outcome, the Vuelta went down to the wire on a beyond-category summit. Which was better?