Vuelta a Espana

Roundtable: Where will this 18-stage autumnal Vuelta a España sit in the history books?

Primož Roglič held his nerve and limited his losses to Richard Carapaz in the final mountain stage of the race Saturday, and was able to successfully ride to his second-straight Vuelta victory.

That’s it, folks, the Vuelta a España is over, and so too is this year’s crazy rescheduled season.

Primož Roglič held his nerve and limited his losses to Richard Carapaz in the final mountain stage of the race Saturday, and was able to successfully ride to his second-straight Vuelta victory.

Just as this was a far from normal season, it was a far from normal Vuelta, playing out over 18 stages rather than 21. Does that alter how the race will be viewed in the future? What does the final result mean for the race’s key players going into 2021?

Time to chew over the big questions from this year’s Vuelta – let’s roundtable!

Did Primož Roglič’s victory come through Jumbo-Visma’s team dominance or solo strength?

Like at the Tour de France, Roglič rode on the strongest team in the race at this Vuelta.

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): The yellow jacket swarm wasn’t as dominant as it was during the Tour de France, but the big difference was Roglič had the legs to finish off the job. Jumbo-Visma was the strongest team in the race, but this Vuelta was so compact and so demanding, it really came down to had the best legs. Roglič absolutely confirmed he is the captain of the Jumbo-Visma ship. Movistar might have had an ever deeper squad, but they lacked the captain to do the job at the sharp end of the stages.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): To totally sit on the fence – both. Jumbo-Visma wasn’t as unstoppable as they were in the Tour, but their yellow jerseys were front-and-center of the action, with either Robert Gesink, Jonas Vingegaard, or Sepp Kuss always around their leader when the road pointed uphill. Tellingly, the two days Sepp faltered – on the Formigal stage and on the stage 17 Covatilla climb, Roglič looked in a touch of trouble, showing how important Kuss has become to the Slovenian’s success. However, I also think Roglič was the strongest in the race. Heck, he won two uphill sprints, a mountaintop finish, and a time trial – you don’t get much more “complete” than that. Roglič may not have the attacking flair of Richard Carapaz but he can succeed across all terrain, and has definitely gained a new level of composure and consistency through his grand tour career.

James Startt: Well obviously both. But, I certainly don’t think he would have won without a strong team. That’s said…he won the Vuelta last year, and could well have won the Tour this year. When it comes to modern-day cyclists, it doesn’t get much better than Primož. I mean, he can win grand tours and classics. He’s just an amazing cyclist, so you really can’t take anything away from this win!

Where will this 18-stage, autumnal Vuelta sit in terms of prestige and reputation in a few year’s time?

Jim: I don’t see the time of year altering its reputation and prestige, but the slightly-shortened format could see some of the old-schoolers grumbling that it wasn’t a true grand tour. However, if you consider that the three stages that were cut out of the race were all pan-flat sprint stages in the Netherlands, they wouldn’t have made a difference in the classification battle. One yardstick for measuring the race could be to look at the podium – with five top-4 finishes in his last five grand tours, Roglič is no flash in the pan, and Carapaz has similarly proven his grand tour credentials. You can only race against who is there and on the parcours in front of you, and this Vuelta saw some fearsome racing from a quality lineup.

Andrew: This Vuelta could serve as evidence to some that a grand tour doesn’t need to be a full three weeks to deliver a big show. This Vuelta was taut, interesting, and compelling all the way to the final mountain stage. Does a leaner and crisper grand tour format have a place in the future? One could argue that this shorter format could provide a roadmap for the future of how pro cycling can remain relevant to the larger public. It was only three days less, but it seemed a more engaging race because there wasn’t any fluff in the mix.

Where does Richard Carapaz sit in the Ineos Grenadiers pecking order after this Vuelta?

So far, so good for Team Ineos Grenadiers. Photo: Sebastien Nogier -Pool/Getty Images.
Ineos Grenadiers will have enough GC contenders to pack out one eight-man team in 2021. Photo by Sebastien Nogier – Pool/Getty Images

James: Well I would say that he is moving up quickly. He showed during the final week of the Tour de France as well throughout the three weeks here, that he is a very resilient rider and he has certainly shown that his victory in the Giro was no fluke last year! Where he stands in the pecking order? I think it is too early to say. Between, Bernal, Thomas, Geoghehan Hart, and Carapaz, they sure have plenty of talent to pick from, and everyone save Thomas is still very much improving…so we will see. At this point, none of them stands head and shoulders above the others, so it will also depend on the races, how much time trialing there is etc to know which rider is best suited to lead the team at that moment.

Jim: There’s so much talent in that team it’s hard to know where to start. However, I think that while a victory in Spain would have left Carapaz toward the top of the ladder at Ineos, “only” taking second leaves him a few pegs back, given his other grand tour successes all came with Movistar. If Egan Bernal makes a successful comeback and Geraint Thomas is at his best, I’d put those two at the top of the tree in 2021. If they don’t hit their previous form after injuries and time away from the bike, there could be a fierce rivalry between Adam Yates, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Carapaz when to comes to deciding leadership roles.

Andrew: This season should put Carapaz on equal billing with Bernal and Thomas going into 2021. Put all three on them on the 2021 Tour de France team next season, and Ineos Grenadiers would be hard to beat. Bernal needs to confirm he’s back from injury, and Thomas will need to confirm he can still be competitive. Carapaz proved all that in spades in 2020. Though he didn’t win the Vuelta, he proved that if he deserves a stronger team in 2021 in any race he goes to.

 

What would have happened if there was one more mountain stage after La Covatilla, where Carapaz halved his deficit to Roglič? Would the result have changed?

Andrew: It’s hard to say. Everyone races based on what’s in front of them. If there was another mountain stage the next day, La Covatilla would have been racing in a very different manner as well. Carthy and Carapaz were both stronger than Roglič in the mountains, but a grand tour typically favors the all-rounder who can also time trial. Roglič more than confirmed his grand tour chops in this Vuelta and emerges as more confident than ever. The Tour de France will be back at the center of his focus for next year, and on a more balanced route, it could favor him even more than this year.

Jim: Roglič looked rock-solid through the Vuelta. Some saw his loss of 21 seconds to Carapaz on the final mountain stage as a sign of fatigue, and the Ecuadorian did look very dangerous when he went away. However, the race tactics could have been totally different had there been another stage to come, and Carapaz may not have attacked. Either way, Roglič knew what he had to do when he rode his own TT to the line to La Covatilla and did well to limit his losses. It could have been close, but I think Rog would have hung on to red had there been another climbing stage.