MADRID (VN) – The 2022 Vuelta a España drew to a close in Madrid on Sunday. Remco Evenepoel tore the GC to shreds, Richard Carapaz was king in the mountains, and Mads Pedersen made hay almost everywhere else.
It was a race that saw drama, disaster and dazzling racing all the way from when Jumbo-Visma trounced the Utrecht TTT to when Juan Sebastián Molano mounted the podium in Madrid after an unlikely sprint victory more than three weeks later.
Here are five takeaways from this year’s edition of the Vuelta a España:
Remco Evenepoel is the real deal
Remco Evenepoel put a big red middle finger to his critics with a GC victory that had poise, power, and utter-self confidence.
Doubters pointed at Evenepoel’s lack of grand tour experience and brash temperament ahead of his big-ambition Vuelta. Some thought he’d be crushed by Primož Roglič, Richard Carapaz, and Simon Yates. Others chewed over whether he could handle the huge hype from his fervid Belgian fanbase.
Also read: Is this the start of the “reign of Remco”?
Yet Evenepoel was near inch-perfect except for one bad day in Andalucia and led the race from the end of the first week.
COVID and crashes may have robbed the race of many key players, but Evenepoel was an exemplar.
He crushed the time trial, scored a mountaintop victory in the leader’s jersey, and piloted his depleted Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl team to the first grand tour victory of its current incarnation. Even his procedures with the press were polished.
Evenepoel truly arrived when he finished first in Madrid. After a season that included victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Donostia San Sebastian Klasikoa, Evenepoel proved maybe there is something huge beneath the hype with a Vuelta win that opened up the possibility of a decade of rivalry with Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard.
Spanish cycling isn’t in such a bad place after all
Spanish cycling got the café solo it very much needed at this Vuelta a España.
The host nation hadn’t seen a home rider win the red jersey since Alberto Contador won in 2014, Alejandro Valverde was soon to retire, and Movistar faced the very real prospect of dropping out of the WorldTour. And Spain’s Vuelta a España drought seemed unlikely to be anywhere near an end ahead of this year’s edition.
Enric Mas’ confidence was crushed after a terrible Tour de France, Mikel Landa already wrote off his chances, and hey, Juan Ayuso and Carlos Rodríguez are just kids.
Spanish cycling didn’t see its own long-awaited red jersey when the race rolled into Madrid on Sunday, but it did see some very promising green shoots.
Three riders in the top seven with Mas in second, Ayuso third, and Rodríguez in seventh by just one second put Spain back on the GC map.
Grand tour rookies Ayuso and Rodríguez are just 19 and 21 respectively, and so Spain should see a lot more success in the future. Third-place Ayuso has a contract through 2028 and the full force of UAE Team Emirates behind him, and Rodríguez will be schooled in the Ineos Grenadiers academy of GC racing.
And for the immediate future, Mas got his mojo back, regained the belief of his Movistar team, and possibly saved the stalwart squad from relegation with a huge haul of UCI points.
Oh, and did we mention Marc Soler and Jesús Herrada scored stage wins too? Vamos!
Jumbo-Visma’s media machine had a malfunction
Primož Roglič’s abandon marked the race in more ways than one.
The three-time champion added to his growing list of grand tour calamities with a heavy crash that saw him exit the race just as his late-race resistance to Remco Evenepoel began. The Belgian was left to barnstorm through the final week and the Spanish tour ended on a simmer rather than a roaring boil.
Also read: Wright woeful at Jumbo-Visma statement
Roglič attracted sympathy far and wide after his second grand tour DNF of the season in an incident that transferred his perennial Tour de France torment over the Pyrénées into Spain.
But the story turned sour when Roglič issued a shock statement with Jumbo-Visma pointing blame at Bahrain Victorious rider Fred Wright several days later.
Wright was woeful, the peloton was puzzled, and social media exploded at allegations issued by the usually slick PR machine at Jumbo-Visma.
Modern-day pros are schooled in their media spiel. Teams pour investment and time into slick Instagram feeds, polished press releases, and viral videos. Eagle-eyed fans and critics alike have access to riders’ quick-fire thoughts and personal lives with Instagram reels and pithy Twitter posts.
Opinion will vary on Jumbo Visma’s statement and the incident at its heart.
But the backlash against the team’s usually slick PR machine is a telling symptom of the huge influence of social media on pro cycling – and how important it can be to get it right. It doesn’t impact if a team wins races, but it can influence how the world feels when those victories arrive.
Richard Carapaz could reinvent EF Education-EasyPost
Richard Carapaz made mayhem in the Vuelta’s mountains with his trio of stage wins, and brought Ineos Grenadiers a polka-dot leaving present before he pedals toward EF Education-EasyPost next year.
Also read: How Vaughters signed Carapaz to EF
This Vuelta told just how Carapaz is tailor-made for EF Education.
Rigoberto Urán blazed to his first grand tour victory in eight years at this Vuelta but hasn’t hit a three-week top-10 since 2020. Hugh Carthy and Esteban Chaves have struggled for former highs, with the Brit finishing 25th and the Colombian way off the back before he left the race in the third week.
EF Education-EasyPost needs a new center of stage-race gravity, and it will get one in 2023.
Carapaz’s GC bid never got out of first gear at this Vuelta, but the Ecuadorian reconfirmed himself as one of the peloton’s most resilient and exciting racers over three weeks with his late-race resurgence and breakaway-bothering antics.
The Olympic champion brings both the South American spirit and charming charisma that runs through his future EF Education team, and the attacking exuberance that marks its top riders, from Magnus Cort to Neilson Powless.
The season isn’t over, but EF Education EasyPost’s 2022 trophy cabinet is currently looking sparse with just eight victories. That number will only likely increase in Carapaz wearing EF pink in 2023.
Cycling’s sticking points are still stuck
The Vuelta lost the battle in pro cycling’s wider war against COVID and lost its way in the mission to reduce waste and emissions.
A swathe of riders left with the virus, including GC contenders Simon Yates and Pavel Sivakov. Other top names like Ethan Hayter, Wout Poels, and Pieter Serry also popped a positive COVID test and headed home in a Vuelta that saw more than two dozen riders leave with the virus.
Race officials did what they could to mitigate the impact of COVID on the race in many ways.
Bubbles, distancing, and facemasks were mandated in rules rolled out through the season. But the Vuelta also followed the Tour de France model of allowing riders with a positive diagnosis to remain on the race if their viral load was low enough, and forced the peloton into two mid-race transfer flights that widened their exposure.
The Vuelta proved that the pandemic still simmers. There will never be one perfect solution to dealing with COVID, and this grand tour didn’t get any closer to finding it.
And speaking of flights, the Vuelta didn’t score so well on environmental and sustainability issues.
A transfer from the Netherlands to the Basque Country and then from Spain’s north coast all the way to Alicante in the southeast put Remco and Co. into trains, planes, and autobuses for some 2,000 kilometers.
That’s on top of the “regular” day-to-day drives taken by the myriad of gas-guzzlers that makes up the Vuelta entourage.
Gran Salidas, Grand Départs, and Grande Partenzas are woven into the rich history of grand tours and they won’t be going anywhere soon. Long transfers within huge countries like France and Spain will always be a factor in grand tours. But a balance could be found in some more considered route planning.