Words by Sadhbh O’Shea | Photo by SWpix.com
The reconfigured 2020 season has very much been a case of blink and you’ll miss it. As the Giro d’Italia is approaching its denouement, a shortened Vuelta a España has already began in earnest. With just 18 stages in this year’s race, the organisers have cut to the chase with a first category summit finish on the Alto de Arrate.
Back to defend his 2019 title, Primoz Roglic (pictured) has already sent out a big warning shot to his rivals on the opening day by jumping clear on in the final kilometre to take victory and the first red jersey of the race. Yet again, the Jumbo-Visma team looks equally as strong as their leader with Sepp Kuss finishing just 10 seconds behind Roglic, while George Bennett and Tom Dumoulin were within a minute of the Slovenian.
After his experiences at the Tour de France where he ceded the overall lead on the final day of GC action, Roglic won’t be too comfortable in that position until he crosses the line on the final stage. Victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege was a soothing ointment for those fresh wounds but a second jersey rojo would put it firmly behind him.
With Chris Froome losing more than 11 minutes on the Alto de Arrate, the question of who will lead the Ineos-Grenadiers GC charge has already been answered. Having helped the team to salvage their Tour de France earlier in the year, Richard Carapaz will shoulder the responsibility of leadership as he aims for his second Grand Tour title.
Estaban Chaves, Alejandro Valverde, Enric Mas, Hugh Carthy and Dan Martin are all still in the mix for the general classification battle after day one but it appears that Thibaut Pinot will be hunting for stage wins after giving away almost 10 minutes to Roglic.
Cycling has provided a small escape as the world is turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic. It is a little bit of our old lives and a semblance of normality in a time when the reality is anything but. However, unlike our favourite box sets, reality is never too far away, and the coronavirus loves to spoil a party.
Tensions have been high at the Giro d’Italia after a spate of positive Covid-19 tests revealed concerns about the security of the race bubble. As coronavirus cases continue to rise around Europe, the strength of the bubble is as important as ever if a race is going to make it to the end. Spain is one of the worst-hit countries on the continent and there seems to be no sign of the spread abating, though the race is avoiding some of the hardest hit areas.
Organiser ASO has sought to learn from its experience at the Tour de France in August, when caseloads were far fewer than they are now, and will need every bit of it if the Vuelta a España is to make it to Madrid. Two cases were already found ahead of the race, and ASO will hope the stepped up measures can prevent any further spread through the teams.
In these Covid times, visits to the Netherlands and Portugal have been scrapped altogether with just one trip outside of Spain’s borders to the summit of the Tourmalet. The shortened format has meant an unusual mid-week start but, aside from that, it still looks like a traditional Vuelta a España with brutally tough climbs and few and far between opportunities for the sprinters. Thanks to the loss of the Gran Salida, the first week of racing is as unforgiving as a summit finish on stage 1. There may be some riders already questioning the wisdom of putting their hand up for this particular Spanish road trip.
By the end of the first week, there will already be some gaps forming in the overall classification but the Tourmalet on stage 6 is the first real chance for the main contenders to do some real damage in the standings. Three summit finishes punctuate the second week of racing, including a trip up the terrifyingly steep Alto de l’Angliru. The Vuelta a España has visited the climb just seven times, including its debut in 1999, but it is steeped in cycling.
The final week of action opens with a technical time trial along Spain’s north-western coast. The 33.7km test is predominantly flat but it comes with a sting in the tail in the form of a 1,800-metre, 14.8% climb at the end. Those that give away time will have a few more chances to make up their losses over the last week and another summit finish to the Alto de la Covatilla will host the final GC contest on stage 17 before the now ritual sprint finale in Madrid.