Well you could say that Remco Evenepoel was without rival | a recap of Stages 16-21 of the 2022 Vuelta a Espana
Well, I’ve got to be honest, that kind of petered out a bit.
The week began with Remco Evenepoel leading Primoz Roglic by 1m34s after the latter had repeatedly snatched small chunks of time and chipped away at the Belgian’s lead.
The decisive moment
Stage 16 didn’t promise much, but there was just enough of a slope with 2.5km to go that Primoz Roglic was able to get a gap with only a small handful of stage contenders able to catch him.
While his efforts reclaimed 8s from Evenepoel, he also managed to tangle with Fred Wright on the finishing straight and crashed. There was a decent amount of blood and he looked pretty groggy when he got back on his bike.
The attack was an admirable show of intent, but Captain Hindsight would no doubt conclude that he should have just ridden in with the peloton because he duly abandoned the race the following morning.
Given time to reflect/stew, Roglic concluded that the crash was Wright’s fault.
“The crash was not caused by a bad road or a lack of safety but by a rider’s behaviour,” he said. “I don’t have eyes on my back. Otherwise, I would have run wide. Wright came from behind and rode the handlebars out of my hands before I knew it.”
Wright thinks otherwise, but gave an impressively magnanimous and non-combative response to Roglic’s take.
“It was really hard to read, and I’m pretty disappointed,” he said. “I think it’s unfair, the team and I have looked at the footage again tonight, and I honestly don’t believe I did anything wrong – it was just a racing incident.
“Primoz is an amazing bike rider. He was so on the up and challenging for the red jersey in Madrid. It was a huge loss for the race and I totally understand he must be very disappointed. I’m sure he’ll be smashing races again soon. He was so impressive three days ago, I’m gutted for him.”
On balance, we’re inclined to side with Wright on this one, if only because riders do generally try and avoid smashing into rivals’ handlebars when passing them because if you’re on a bike and you crash into something, it generally results in a lot of pain.
The rest of the race
Sadly, Roglic’s exit resulted in something of a damp squib with few further surprises in the overall contest. (Some of the individual stage wins were pretty good fun though.) All credit to Evenepoel, whose job effectively boiled down to surprise prevention, but his success in that area meant this didn’t really feel like a vintage Vuelta.
I said at the outset that this year’s edition didn’t have the usual ‘best of the Giro and Tour’ vibe and this was compounded by most of the bigger names seeming off the pace from the outset. Beating other Grand Tour winners should elevate a victory, but with Jai Hindley 12 minutes down, Richard Carapaz half an hour adrift and Tao Geoghegan Hart 49 minutes down, it feels like Evenepoel has bested riders operating at no more than 80 per cent.
The likes of Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Froome were so innocuous that it was kind of a surprise to learn that they’d finished. Alejandro Valverde – 20 years Evenepoel’s senior – finished a creditable 13th in his final Grand Tour while riding in support of runner-up Enric Mas.
Evenepoel’s win is significant though. For one thing it’s the first Grand Tour win for a Belgian in 44 years. That’s a big thing in itself, but it will also unavoidably raise expecations further in one of road cycling’s more fervent markets. That’ll be tough for the rider himself, but it will also make it feel like more is at stake at next year’s Tour de France. (I’m guessing he’ll aim for the Tour next year.)
In broader terms, we’re at the arse end of the season now. The World Championships are imminent and then the Tour of Lombardy – the race of the falling leaves – rounds things off next month.
I may or may not report on those. Sign up for the email so that the site can come to you whenever it next stirs.