After enjoying the first rest day of the Vuelta a España, the peloton picks up their bikes once more and marches into the second week.
With nine days of racing in the legs already, the tiredness will be well and truly setting in for the riders. However, the peloton has no time to rest on its laurels with some tough days in the saddle coming at the end of the week.
The key battles will be in the fight for the overall classification but week two of the Vuelta a España provides some strong opportunities for more breakaway victories and one solitary chance for the sprinters to get some glory.
There will be plenty of action and here are three things to watch out for over the coming six days of racing.
Movistar tries to break Primož Roglič
Primož Roglič has ridden a pitch-perfect Vuelta so far and has not yet looked out of control in the contest for the red jersey.
As the Vuelta kicks into gear again, Roglič’s rivals have drastically reduced but they have not disappeared. Home team Movistar holds the best cards with Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López sitting in second and third place behind the Slovenian.
While Movistar’s usual tactic of chucking everything, including the kitchen sink, often sees them get the team prize and tank in the GC battle, the squad appears to be handling the multiple leaders challenge well this year.
Though Alejandro Valverde’s abandonment following a horrific crash in the opening week was a blow for the team, it also uncomplicated its tactics.
Mas and López have been working together well, as shown by their respective rides Sunday, and they will need all of that to topple Roglič before the final time trial next week. Both know that they lack the pace against the clock and will want to accrue as large a gap as possible before the last stage.
With Roglič looking pretty comfortable at this stage, Mas and López will have to use their strength in numbers to crack him and not let individual ambition and ego get in the way.
A mountain doubleheader showpiece and new climbs
Unlike the first week, where the big mountain excursions were scattered between flat and mid-mountain stages, the high-altitude days have been thrown together in week two to give us fans a weekend climbing extravaganza.
First up Saturday is the stage 14 summit finish to Pico Villuercas, a climb that is being ridden for the first time at the Vuelta a España. The 14.5-kilometer ascent used to regularly feature in the amateur Vuelta a Extremadura but it has never been included in a professional race until now.
The ascent, which crests at just below 1,600 meters, averages 6.2 percent but peaks out at 15 percent shortly before the line.
Before the riders can even consider Pico Villuercas, they will have to contend with the shorter, but far steeper, Puerto Collado de Ballesteros. The brutal climb comes at the midway point of the stage and immediately after the third category Perto Berzocana.
The Puerto Collado de Ballesteros is just 2.8km long but it averages 14 percent and hits gradients of 20 percent on multiple stretches. Though there is still a long way to go to the final climb after this, it could put some GC riders in serious trouble early on.
Sunday’s ride to El Barraco will be a griding down process for the bunch with four classified climbs — including two category 1 ascents — to contend with across nearly 200km of racing. It’s not nearly as explosive as the previous day, and it could well be one for the breakaway to win, but it will still be a difficult stage for the GC men.
The 20km Puerto de Mijares, the second of the category 1 climbs, will likely be the most selective of the day’s ascents. The last climb of the day is the third category Puerto San Juan de Nava, which crests around 5km from the finish, before a fast run to the line.
The big mountain doubleheader will finish the second week of the Vuelta with a bang and should set up a great final week. As the chances to take time on others dwindle, the GC men will have to take their opportunities on these two days.
Ineos Grenadiers regroup
Ineos Grenadiers came into the Vuelta a España with plenty of bravado and ambition as it brought three potential GC contenders in Egan Bernal, Adam Yates, and Richard Carapaz.
All said the road would decide who would be the ultimate leader within the team. While it might not yet have done that, it has largely excluded the squad from the fight for the red jersey.
Of course, anything can happen across three weeks of racing, but the overall victory appears to be inching inexorably further away from their grasp.
Bernal was the last man standing for the Ineos Grenadiers triumvirate, but he, too, fell down the standings on a difficult day on stage 9. The Colombian’s bad day leaves the British squad going back to the drawing board and assessing where to go next.
As the second week gets underway, Bernal is still the best-placed rider from the initial trio of leaders, but he is now 1:52 behind Primož Roglič in red. Yates looked the strongest last Sunday, but he is 15 seconds further back than his teammate and has a lot of ground to make up.
Neither can rely on their time trials to make a significant dint in the gap to those in front and they will have to make their gains in the mountains. The second week of the Vuelta will be crucial for their GC hopes and a bad week could spell the end of a strong result.
Olympic champion Carapaz is now nearly 11 minutes down in the overall and his goal will almost certainly switch to team player and breakaway hunter. A stage win from the Ecuadorian could steady the boat at Ineos Grenadiers and give the team something to build upon.