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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España GC pack plays poker on Picón Blanco as Sepp Kuss, Richard Carapaz lose time

Movistar makes a statement, Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers lose leaders as GC favorites shadowbox on Vuelta's first summit finish.

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It was a battle of nerves as much as of legs as the GC favorites shadowboxed their way through the brutal Picón Blanco summit finish on stage 3 of the 2021 Vuelta a España.

The first mountain test of this year’s Vuelta didn’t draw out the drama that had been so widely forecast, but a lot can be read from Monday’s race up the relentless slope of the Picón Blanco. Movistar and Bahrain-Victorious stamped their authority and both Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers saw their three-prong trident shorn of spikes.

Before breaking down the big GC squads, here’s a look at how the classification favorites are faring after the first three stages.

  1. Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty): GC leader
  2. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma): +30
  3. Enric Mas (Movistar):+45
  4. Miguel Ángel López (Movistar):+51
  5. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar):+57
  6. Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo): S.T
  7. Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers): S.T
  8. Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious): +1:09
  9. Alexander Vlasov (Astana Premier Tech): +1:13
  10. Romain Bardet (DSM): +1:16
  11. Damiano Caruso: (Bahrain-Victorious): +1:20
  12. Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers): +1:21
  13. Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers): +1:55
  14. Hugh Carthy (EF Education Nippo): +2:02
  15. David de la Cruz (UAE Team Emirates): +2:17
  16. Sepp Kuss: (Jumbo-Visma): +2:40
  17. Steven Kruijswijk: (Jumbo-Visma): +2:51

Jumbo-Visma (Roglič, Kuss, Kruijswijk)

Primož Roglic was as bulletproof as ever on the Picón Blanco. The defending champion marked the moves and kept himself in contention without showing himself or wasting even half a watt.

It wasn’t the same for his co-leaders unfortunately.

Jumbo-Visma had started the Vuelta with the ambitions of keeping Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk in contention through the first week, and that tactic soon looked in tatters. Kuss crumbled first under the pressure of Bahrain-Victorious and lost ground. Kruijswijk went backward soon afterward.

Roglič sits as leader of the GC clubhouse after stage 3, but Kuss and Kruijswijk are over two minutes back on him. Jumbo-Visma will have to revert to the traditional all-for-one strategy through the rest of the race, but that may be no bad thing. Just ask UAE Emirates and Tadej Pogačar.

Roglič looks the strongest rider in the race so far and Jumbo-Visma doesn’t have to worry about controlling the race now the red jersey has been passed elsewhere. Roglič and his Dutch-based crew won’t be losing too much sleep Monday night.

Ineos Grenadiers (Bernal, Yates, Carapaz)

It was a case of “you win some, you lose some” for Ineos Grenadiers in Monday’s Picón Blanco poker game.

Adam Yates was first on the wheel of anyone that moved in the GC pack as he bounced his way through the steepest of grades.

The Brit was down on time at the start of the day after getting held up behind the stage 2 crash and some had forecast him to be a write-off. After such an impressive display and a comfortable finish in the first group of GC riders, Yates has hauled himself back into contention.

Where Ineos gained with Yates, it lost with Richard Carapaz. The Ecuadorian ace labored through the top half of the summit finish as the weight of his Tour-Olympic summer sat heavy in the legs. Carapaz lost one minute to Roglič on Monday and now sits nearly 90 seconds down on the Slovenian supremo in the overall standings. His race isn’t done, but it won’t be easy from here on.

And Egan Bernal? Like Roglič, he marked the moves and stayed out of trouble. The Giro d’Italia champ now sits in a close-knit pack of GC guys close behind Roglič and is yet to put a foot wrong.

Bernal and Yates are well in contention, but Carapaz has ground to gain. Ineos Grenadiers’ three-prong assault may have lost one spike.

Movistar (López, Mas, Valverde)

Movistar came in during the final act to steal the show Monday. The home squad moved up late in the grinding summit finish as Miguel Ángel López, Enric Mas and Alejandro Valverde mobbed the front.

Mas took a mental boost by being the first GC guy over the line Monday, and Movistar will be even happier that López and Valverde were just a bike length behind him in the main pack of favorites. “The Blues” now have all three of its leaders within 30 seconds of Roglič and their race is on. 

Valverde may not stay in contention for too long, but the perennial near-missers Mas and López are ready to pounce. How the team plays the next week will make for a fascinating watch.

And one other win for Movistar – it’s just 22 seconds off the top of the teams’ classification.

Bahrain-Victorious (Landa, Caruso)

Bahrain-Victorious laid down a hammer but didn’t quite hit the mark Monday.

The Bahraini squad set the tone for the whole Picón Blanco climb, putting five riders on the front and controlling the pace for much of the ascent as Wout Poels rode himself into submission.

Was it a play for Mikel Landa? Who knows, but the Basque couldn’t convert the attacks to better his placing. Landa wobbled and weaved when the pace rocketed through the steepest slopes Monday, but was able to regather when the gradient eased. That Landa was able to recover from a dark patch to finish in the GC group alongside Roglič and Bernal after such a show of strength from his team suggests that Bahrain-Victorious could be a powerful player in this year’s Vuelta.

Landa is just 39 seconds behind Roglič, and his teammate Damiano Caruso – second in this year’s Giro – is just 11 seconds behind him. Rising talents Marc Padun and Gino Mäder are also poised and in a strong position on GC.

Bahrain-Victorious could be the ultimate dark-horse for this year’s Vuelta.

What’s next for the GC pack?

A pair of flat stages follow in the next two days before a hilltop finish Thursday and a multi-mountain test Friday reshuffle the GC deck.

Roglič and Co. will be taking every moment they can to pedal easy, because the race is set to get tougher with every passing week