Three talking points after Stages 1-9 of the 2023 Vuelta a Espana
I’m already a day late with this, so the time trial will have happened by the time you’re reading it. Let’s ignore that for the time being and instead make some sort of effort to sum up the first nine days of racing in this year’s Vuelta a Espana.
I’d normally do a fuller recap, but the race has been a bit rambling and confusing, so it seems to make more sense to pick out a few events and themes that hopefully explain where we are better than a blow-by-blow account would.
This was the top 10 on the first rest day. Let’s work our way back from that.
And these are the things I’ve come up with to halfway explain that…
1. The breakaway beneficiaries
The first thing to highlight is the fact that the current top three probably aren’t the best riders. While all are strong riders and overall contenders – in theory at least – they essentially owe their positions on the podium to having already lost enough time that they were able to get into the break on Stage 6 without anyone hunting them down in a panic.
Kuss won that stage and in so doing rose from 12th overall, 55s behind Remco Evenepoel, to second and 2m39s ahead of him. That’s a nice advantage, but three things suggest it will only reduce.
- What happened over those first five stages
- The fact this is Kuss’s third Grand Tour of the year
- Kuss’s career record, which suggests a rider who can rival the best in the mountains providing he doesn’t make hard efforts on all the other days
2. The most likely contenders
Exclude those top three and we’re left with three favourites within 11 seconds of each other: Evenepoel, Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard. (Mikel Landa is in amongst them, but he was another Stage 6 breakaway beneficiary.)
Despite all the climbing and hilltop finishes, it’s actually still quite hard to gauge how these three measure up to each other. Evenepoel looked disproportionately pleased with himself when he won Stage 2 by a matter of yards (or at least he did until he crashed into a woman just beyond the finish line). He was also at pains to diminish Roglic’s Stage 8 win, suggesting the Slovenian’s sprint “wasn’t very fast” and that he’d only failed to match it because he thought other riders had already taken the win.
For his part, Vingegaard doesn’t look to be on the same level as at the Tour de France, but then we also know that he likes to wait for the biggest mountain stages, so maybe he’s simply not felt inclined to put in a full-blooded effort yet.
3. Absent friends
Without leave. Geraint Thomas lost 47s on the first day in the mountains (Stage 3) and has only lost more time since. He’s over 12 minutes behind Kuss and realistically out of the contest.
“Up and down,” was his take on how things have gone. “Mainly down.”
Well, if we’re maintaining this lie that the time trial hasn’t already happened – and we absolutely are – then the time trial.
After that, it goes: hills, flat, mountains, mountains, hills to take us into the second rest day. You know the drill: the finishes are generally uphill and either long or steep and on the big days both.
I’ll be back at some point early next week (no rash promises about it being Monday) with my week two recap or another ‘taking stock’ type article or whatever.
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