Primož Roglič bookended his Vuelta a España winning ride with victory in the opening and closing time trials.
The Slovenian became only the third rider, after Roberto Heras and Tony Rominger, to win the race three years in a row.
While Roglič’s dominance meant the final week didn’t give us the suspense in the overall classification that we might have hoped for, there was still plenty of action and drama throughout the three weeks of racing.
Here are a few moments that made the 2021 Vuelta a España.
Primož Roglič and Egan Bernal go on the attack
What happens when you’ve got a rider with nothing to lose and a rider who has it all to lose but can’t resist going on the attack? Fireworks, that’s what.
Roglič looked relatively in control of the Vuelta from start to finish, but the Jumbo-Visma rider wasn’t content in riding a defensive race. He wanted to have a bit of fun and make up some time on his rivals, too.
He had already taken a chance at the start of the second week, hitting out on the Puerto de Almáchar on stage 10. It almost went horribly wrong as he crashed on the descent, but he came out of it unscathed and not cowed by his experience.
So, when Roglič saw Egan Bernal go long on the road to the Lagos de Covadonga he couldn’t help himself but just follow. Bernal’s attack came as he sought to make something out of a Vuelta that had not gone quite to plan.
He wasn’t too interested in settling for a place down the top 10 and he wanted to make the most of some good legs to have a bit of fun and see if he could get a stage win.
Although the ride would effectively shut down most chances of the other GC riders overhauling Roglič to take red, it was exciting to watch. It was just a shame that Bernal didn’t have the legs to follow Roglič to the line.
Magnus Cort wins everywhere
Just 12 riders were able to take a stage win at the Vuelta, and that was in large part thanks to riders like Magnus Cort.
The mustachioed Dane took a stage in each of the three weeks and could well have won another, but he blew up with only two hundred meters before the line on stage 11.
Ahead of the Vuelta a España, Cort and his team decided that he’d steer away from the big sprint finishes and focus his talents elsewhere and the race was the better for it.
Cort’s most impressive ride came in the opening week as the last man from a breakaway, going solo on the final climb to the line and holding off the chasing GC riders — including an attack from Roglič — to take the win. It was last gasp stuff and it looked as though Cort would be swallowed up by the baying pack, only to take the win by a hair’s breadth.
Cort did take one of his wins from a reduced bunch sprint in Córdoba during the second week, a day after being dramatically denied by Roglič inside the final kilometer. His last came from another breakaway ride, bringing his career-Vuelta total to six.
Momentum can be a brilliant confidence boost for a rider and Cort used it to his maximum. His efforts won him the overall prize for most combative.
Fabio Jakobsen winning green
Fabio Jakobsen completed his truly remarkable comeback story by taking the Vuelta’s green jersey.
Unlike the Tour de France, this competition at the Spanish grand tour is usually one wrapped up by someone in the GC fight, but Jakobsen took it by a substantial margin, beating Primož Roglič by some 51 points — not that the Slovenian may have minded.
The physical journey that Jakobsen has been on over the last year cannot be understated and it was impressive to see him on the start line in Burgos, let alone winning stages.
With two wins under his belt before the race started, Jakobsen knew he had the power to take victories again. However, due to his crash in Poland, Jakobsen hadn’t contested a grand tour in two years, and he didn’t know how he would cope with three weeks of racing.
He needn’t have worried, and he was still picking up stage wins and points in the final week. The only major mishap for Jakobsen came on stage 13 when his team tried to use the plentiful road furniture to split the group, and the Dutchman found himself caught behind one of those splits.
Florian Sénéchal — Jakobsen’s sometimes leadout man — still won the stage for the team, but Jakobsen’s frustrated response afterward showed that his competitive spirit was well and truly back.
Chaos in the GC and Miguel Ángel López’s dramatic departure
The penultimate stage of the Vuelta was designed with the intention of providing the perfect terrain for an ambush.
With podium places still on offer ahead of the final time trial, the stage and its parcours delivered.
Ineos Grenadiers sensed the opportunity and blew the race apart on the penultimate climb, leaving Miguel Ángel López fighting to save his third overall and Egan Bernal off the back.
With Bahrain-Victorious getting in on the act and very little help for López behind, it soon became clear that the Movistar rider wasn’t going to be atop the rostrum in Santiago de Compostela. The Bahrain-Victorious team did a great job to get Jack Haig into the top three after a rocky start to its Vuelta campaign.
While López’s misfortune was surprising enough to see, the drama did not stop there and there was more to come as the Colombian stepped off the bike with less than 20k to go and refused to continue the race. The full picture of what led him to abandon so suddenly is still not yet known, but the reverberations from it could be felt for some time.
— Movistar Team (@Movistar_Team) September 4, 2021
Odd Christian Eiking defending the red jersey
Just four riders got to wear the red jersey during this year’s Vuelta.
Primož Roglič had it the longest and was wearing it when the music stopped, but Odd Christian Eiking won the hearts of many with his defense of it during his seven-day stint in it.
Eiking was ultimately a carer for the red jersey until it reached its eventual owner, but he wasn’t going to give it up easily and his spirited defense got many of the GC riders talking. A few were even concerned that he could take it all the way.
Also read: Odd Christian Eiking takes over race lead
Wearing the jersey of race leader can give any rider an extra boost and help them delve deeper into their reserves than usual. Eiking did just that, taking on the big GC names over the tough mountain tests at the end of the second week.
In the end, the stage to Lagos de Covadonga was his undoing. The days of digging deep to hold onto the GC group had taken their toll and it was clear even before Roglič and Egan Bernal had launched their long-range attack that Eiking was in trouble.
While the GC contest provides the main storyline, it’s stories like this that make up the heart of a grand tour.