A lot can happen in a week.
The Vuelta a España has reached its first rest day with the peloton accumulating nine racing days from the opening TT effort in Burgos to the summit finish on the Alto de Velefique on Sunday.
Some seven riders have tasted stage success so far, and the GC battle is well and truly taking shape. Meanwhile, the hot conditions and early crashes have seen 13 riders depart the race already, including Hugh Carthy and Alejandro Valverde.
Here are some of the big moments that happened during the first week of the 2021 Vuelta a España.
Fabio Jakobsen takes first grand tour stage in two years
There was hardly a dry eye in the house as Fabio Jakobsen romped to victory on stage 4 into Molina de Aragón.
It was nearly two years to the day that the Dutchman had last seen success on a grand tour stage when he charged to victory on the final day of the 2019 Vuelta a España.
Jakobsen’s journey back to top-level racing after his horrific 2020 Tour of Poland crash has been well chartered.
Quick work by his teammate Florian Senechal and local doctors kept the now 24-year-old alive in the immediate aftermath of the crash and he has since faced a lengthy recovery from his long list of injuries.
Having notched up his first wins since his return at the Tour de Wallonie in July, there was hope but no heavy expectation that Jakobsen would come home with a win.
However, he has since backed up that first win with a second into La Manga del Mar Menor on stage 8 and he now looks like one of the men to beat in the bunch finishes.
Jakobsen’s return to the top has been nothing short of remarkable, not least because of his ability to put a terrible crash behind him to mix it in the sprints once again.
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) August 17, 2021
Primož Roglič, Enric Mas go toe to toe
The format of the GC battle is beginning to emerge as the cream rises to the top as others fade away.
Following an onslaught from Ineos Grenadiers on Sunday’s final ascent of the Alto de Velefique, the British squad melted away from the front of the GC contest while Mas and Roglič raced away.
They rode together almost all the way to the line, with Roglič only dropping Mas on the sprint for the line.
Despite losing touch with Roglič in the final meters of the stage, Mas has so far been the lone rider to look comfortable with the pace of the Slovenian during the first week. He is now the only rider within a minute of Roglič, sitting 28 seconds back overall.
There are still two weeks remaining of the Vuelta, and Mas and his Movistar team will need to develop a plan to overhaul Roglič in the overall standings. If the Spanish team wants to win its home race, it will need a significant advantage over the Jumbo-Visma leader ahead of the final time trial.
Fortunately for Movistar, it has Miguel Ángel López sitting in third place at 1:21 back, ready to pounce and cause some trouble.
Roglič has been slightly more isolated in the mountain finales compared with other GC riders thus far but he still has a strong Sepp Kuss in his corner and won’t want to lose any time over the next two weeks.
Ineos Grenadiers misfire
It will be different this time, the British team promised ahead of the Vuelta a España.
After the Ineos Grenadiers line-up of galácticos failed to run on all cylinders during the Tour de France, the team decided not to change tact and go all-in with a GC-packed roster at the Vuelta.
Under questioning ahead of the race, Egan Bernal, Adam Yates, and Richard Carapaz pushed aside any concerns that they could suffer the same fate in Spain as the team did in France.
With the Giro d’Italia-winning Bernal, the Olympic road race champion Carapaz and Adam Yates, who had been targeting the Vuelta all year long, you would have been forgiven for thinking the team would stomp all over the GC battle.
However, the Ineos Grenadiers riders suffered a misfire during the opening week, which has left them with a lot of ground to make up.
After Carapaz struggled in the first two mountain stages and Yates lost time when he was held up in a crash on stage 2, it seemed that Bernal was pushing through as the team’s sole leader.
Sunday’s summit finish was a chance for the team to test its rivals and push open any cracks in their armory. However, the only major cracks that were on show appeared to be Bernal’s as he was repeatedly dropped off the back.
With Bernal and Yates hovering back at the two-minute mark, Ineos Grenadiers will need to go back to the drawing board for the second week.
"We decided to give it our all. The idea was to put in a hard tempo during the stage and then to try it on the last climb"
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) August 22, 2021
Magnus Cort holds off the pack
One of the joys of grand tour racing is that it can confound your expectations on a regular basis.
The Vuelta a España has done that on a regular basis already this year, usually for the improvement of the race though not always.
One of the better surprises in 2021 was the day that Magnus Cort held off a charging group of favorites on the Alto de Cullera.
Cort has a strong record at the Vuelta with three stage wins in previous editions of the race. The Danish rider had poo-pooed his chances of taking victory on the steep uphill rise to the finish on stage 6, but he took his chances in the breakaway, nevertheless.
As the GC men charged into the lower slopes of the Alto de Cullera, it looked as though the breakaway’s day would be over soon. Cort’s final dig off the front seemed to be a last-ditch effort to hold off the inevitable catch.
However, as the GC contenders occupied themselves with taking chunks out of each other, Cort chugged along up the steep inclines.
In the final meters, it looked as though he was about to have a shared experience with Gino Mäder — losing a win at the last moment to a charging Primož Roglič — but he had just enough gas remaining to take it all the way to the line.
With EF Education-Nippo’s general classification rider, Hugh Carthy, dropping out of the race on the same day, Cort’s win also gave the American team something to smile about on a rollercoaster stage.
“Only one rider in the peloton could have pulled off what Magnus Cort just did. And that’s Magnus Cort.” – @Vaughters
— EF Pro Cycling (@EFprocycling) August 19, 2021