Words by Sadhbh O’Shea | Photo by ASO/GOMEZSPORT
Primož Roglič must have had a creeping sense of déjà vu when Richard Carapaz attacked on the upper slopes of the Alto de la Covatilla. Having had the Tour de France title ripped away from him on the penultimate day in such dramatic fashion, it seemed so very cruel that he might have to suffer the same fate at the Vuelta a España.
The Jumbo-Visma train had already done all they could and even the trusty Sepp Kuss had fallen back after an earlier attack from Hugh Carthy. Briefly without teammates, Roglič looked to be on the ropes as the gap between himself and the Ecuadorian grew. Carapaz had started the day 45 seconds behind Roglič, who had grabbed a six-second time bonus at the finish of the previous stage, and had to throw caution to the wind if he had any hope of overhauling the margin. At times it seemed like he would be able to do it and become the second rider in 2020 to dash the Slovenian’s grand tour hopes.
Silhouetted by the setting sun, a moment of salvation for Roglič came in the form of teammate Lennard Hofstede. The Dutchman dropped back from the breakaway to assist his team leader and stem flow of seconds as they tipped the scales in Carapaz’s favour. Roglič may also want buy a round of drinks for the Movistar squad after Alejandro Valverde and Enric Mas’ efforts to capitalise on Dan Martin’s travails helped to limit the damage. In the end, Carapaz could only take 21 seconds on Roglič, not enough to reclaim the race lead.
In a week where it appeared the Vuelta a España might be about to go out with a whimper, the final general classification stage could have been a damp squib as riders looked to consolidate their positions rather than risk it all for glory. Fortunately for us fans, that fear did not become reality as the GC battle culminated in a tense finale on the Alto de la Covatilla. After disappointment at the Tour de France, Roglič can release a sigh of relief as he closes out the season with the second grand tour title of his career and adds four stage wins to his tally.
The fight for the red jersey was scrappy at times, with Roglič taking a little bit here and Carapaz a little bit there. While Roglič looked like the busy season might have been taking its toll on him in the final kilometres of the penultimate stage, his relentlessness in eking out everything he could from each stage would ultimately pay dividends in the fight for the ultimate prize.
On top of his four stage victories, the Slovenian also finished inside the top 10 on three other occasions. His constant chipping away saw him sit atop the points classification throughout the entire race but it also earned him grand total of 48 bonus seconds. His gains proved more than enough to keep him ahead of Carapaz, who had taken just 16 bonus seconds over the course of the 18 days. The Ineos rider had the better of Roglič in the big mountains and he might have been able to close the deficit had the Vuelta been a full-length grand tour at 21 days, but you can only race what you are given.
With 24 seconds separating Roglič and Carapaz going into the final ceremonial stage, the Vuelta a España is set to be the closest grand tour contest this season. While the decision to impose a time gap between the two riders on stage 10 will remain a controversial one, the Jumbo-Visma rider’s margin of victory is sufficient that we are not left wondering what might have been.
Behind the battle for the red jersey, Carthy secured himself the first grand tour podium of his career. With his previous best finish at a three-week race 11th in the 2019 Giro d’Italia, the EF Pro Cycling rider from Preston found himself unchartered territory duking it out at the pointy end of the general classification. If he ever felt uncertain of his position among the top riders, it did not show at all. He rounded the second week off with a stage win on the mighty Alto de l’Angliru and put in a big performance in the time trial to keep him in contention for the overall win heading into the last mountain stage. Though it wasn’t to be in terms of the title fight, Carthy’s podium placing cements his position as a serious grand tour contender.