After taking stock over the rest day, the British squad was hoping to turn the tides of fortune in its favor. Instead, it was left with more water pouring into its GC battleship after getting distanced trying to follow a Primož Roglič attack on the second category Puerto de Almáchar.
Egan Bernal is still in the lead of the young rider’s jersey, but he is now 2:19 behind Roglič, with Adam Yates another 15 seconds back. Despite losing time, Bernal was still quite upbeat and denied that he had suffered due to the Vuelta’s infernal heat.
“We were ready for all eventualities, anything could happen. The race could go smoothly with the break or go crazy, you had to be prepared for everything,” Bernal said. “The truth is that putting aside the time I lost, I felt good on the climb and had good legs, until I was dropped.
“It was a bit of a rider’s impulse [to follow Roglič], I felt good, and I came out after him. That’s cycling; attacking and then exploding. The heat does not make me feel so bad, I hope to defend myself well in Asturias too, although then the cold makes me feel worse. You have to go day by day.”
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) August 24, 2021
Richard Carapaz did his best to set a difficult pace on the one and only climb of the day, but the wounds of the first week opened again as Roglič launched a surprise attack midway up the ascent.
As Roglič romped up the road and the group of favorites imploded, Carapaz tried to shut it down but soon found himself on his limit and he peeled off to let Bernal have a go. The Colombian duly accepted the challenge, but he, too, was soon off the back of the Movistar-led chase group.
Even with Roglič’s mishap on the descent, Ineos Grenadiers once again found itself in a battle to limit losses and try to survive for another day. It adds to what has already been a below-par Vuelta a España for the British squad and added another 37 seconds of pain to the team’s GC woes.
At this rate, the Ineos Grenadiers strategists will be running out of new plans to implement. It started the race with Bernal, Carapaz, and Yates as its plans A through C, but those are fast disappearing as viable options — or in the case of Carapaz, completely gone.
The rest day Monday was a chance for Ineos to reassess its goals for the Vuelta and while the GC fight is still on, for now, there has been a further alteration of the team’s tactics.
It’s rare to see the British team up in a breakaway as it usually restricts its non-GC riders to domestique duties alone. After putting Pavel Sivakov in a break on stage 7, Tuesday’s return to racing saw not one but two Ineos men take a punt in the behemoth of a breakaway.
Jhonatan Narváez and Dylan van Baarle went up the road in the 31-rider escape group on stage 10 and came close to delivering for the team. Van Baarle finished in the small chasing group 21 seconds behind the stage winner Michael Storer (Team DSM), while Narváez came through in sixth at the head of another cluster of chasers.
“[To have Narvaez and Van Baarle up front] was for them to try and win the stage. They can have their chance, we also go for stages,” Bernal said after the stage.
Though it didn’t reap the reward the team would have liked, it marked the beginning of a switch away from a full-GC focus to a more balanced approach. The team is far from its worst Vuelta performance — which was Rigoberto Uran’s 27th place at the 2013 race — but as the overall hopes continue to dwindle, the more the focus will turn to stage victories.
The second week of the Vuelta a España provides plenty of terrain for the Ineos Grenadiers team to find some consolation in a stage win. Carapaz has largely been kept back to ride in support of Bernal and Yates, but it can’t be too long before he too is let off the leash and allowed up the road.
Meanwhile, Bernal and Yates still have some chance of making it onto the Vuelta’s podium but they face a stern test if they have any chance of doing so.