Roglic leads – but who’s the Fastest Ineos Grenadier? | a recap of Stages 1-9 of the 2021 Vuelta a Espana

Habitual Vuelta winner Primoz Roglic is leading again. Just four riders are within two minutes of him.

The time trial

Primoz Roglic is not a man who messes about. He is the best time trialist in this race, so he won the opening time trial. His rivals all ceded at least 14 seconds over the 7.1km course. Some of the less obvious potential contenders lost 30-odd.

The summit finish

In most Grand Tours, you have to wait a week before there’s an individual time trial or a summit finish to separate the major contenders. Having kicked off with the former, the Vuelta delayed the latter until Stage 3, jamming in a shrug-inducing sprint stage to plug the gap.

The Picon Blanco is 7.6km at 9.3%, which officially qualifies as “selective”. After Estonian rider Rein Taaramae won the stage from the break, nine riders arrived together in a greatly reduced favourites’ group. The likes of Hugh Carthy and Romain Bardet were just outside this group, but there were more significant absentees too.

Richard Carapaz surrendered a minute and presumably any pretence that he might be looking to win the Vuelta, while Roglic’s colleagues Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk were a minute behind Carapaz and are therefore inked in as support riders for the remainder of the race.

The flat

Stages 4, 5 and 6 were all nominally flat, so the organisers made sure to seek out an uphill stretch of road for the finishes of two of them. Stage 4’s didn’t rule out the sprinters, but Stage 6’s was a typical Vuelta finish: 1.9km at 9.4% – the short distance ensuring it would be raced at greater intensity.

Magnus Cort Nielsen won from the break with a comfortable gap of about a metre on Primoz Roglic after everyone else who he’d been with had been swallowed by the pursuing peloton. But for all the drama, the most significant racing actually happened 30km earlier.

This was when Cort Nielsen’s team-mate Carthy found himself the wrong side of a split in the main bunch as the racing heated up in crosswinds on the approach to the climb. He and some team-mates then made a colossal effort to close the gap, only for the hard riding to immediately tell when they hit the climb. The Briton finished 2m50s behind Roglic, which I don’t really need to spell out is a pretty hefty chunk of time.

The mountains

This had actually been shaping up as quite a gentle first week by Vuelta standards, so they threw in a couple of full mountain stages with summit finishes on the Friday and Sunday with a flat lull in between.

The first was not on the face of it hugely significant with most of the favourites finishing in the same group. It did however bring the departures of Alejandro Valverde, who slid out on a bend and almost fell off a mountain, and Hugh Carthy, who was feeling stressed and empty (bloody expectations, ruining everything).

Summit Finish 2 was more of a racing thing with Roglic and Enric Mas stretching themselves a few seconds from everyone else.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking about the real area of intrigue in this race? Who was FIG? Who was Fastest Ineos Grenadier? Which member of the wealthiest team in cycling is failing to lead the Vuelta by the slightest margin?

The answer, somewhat surprisingly, was Adam Yates, who lost 45 seconds – 25 less than Egan Bernal and about nine minutes less than Carapaz.

That leaves the Briton 2m07s adrift overall in sixth. Bernal is actually one place ahead of him with 1m52s to make up on Roglic.

Mas is second with Miguel Angel Lopez third. I’ll say it now: there is no way Lopez will finish third. I have no idea how, but somehow it will all unravel for him.

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