The 2021 Vuelta: the power of three

by William Fotheringham

Words by William Fotheringham | Photo by ASO/GOMEZSPORT

Primoz Roglic and the hat-trick

It’s the big stat of this Vuelta: Roglic equals Tony Rominger’s hat-trick of Vuelta wins, and does so while winning four stages. There are plenty of remarkable things about the former ski-jumper’s cycling career – not least that he didn’t start racing until the age of 24 – but the one that intrigues me is his ability to bounce back after misfortune. It’s not as if he does this once in a while; his career has a saw-tooth profile that is more Fausto Coppi than Bernard Hinault. So last year we have the catastrophic final stage of the Tour, followed by victory at Liège and the Vuelta. This year, the disastrous finale to Paris-Nice, followed by the Tour of the Basque Country; the horrendous crash at the Tour, followed by an Olympic gold medal and the Vuelta. It’s worth asking at this point how a rider can dominate the Vuelta three times – and this year’s win was particularly dominant – but not win the Tour? I’d suggest three things: less pressure at the Vuelta compared to the Big Boucle, shorter, punchier climbs, and a slightly weaker field. This was an assured, confident win, summed up by the fact that he had no inhibitions about donating the leader’s jersey to Intermarché, and no signs of haste in getting it back. It wasn’t suspenseful in the slightest, but the anarchic nature of the rest of the race made up for that. And hats off to the three team mates who have supported Roglic in all three wins: Robert Gesink, Lennard Hofstede and Sep Kuss.

Three stage wins for Fabio Jakobsen

One of the most heartwarming stories of the season: the Dutch sprinter’s return from a coma after that horrendous crash in Poland 12 months ago to stake his claim among the sprint elite once again. That’s a huge tribute to his bravery, patience and capacity for hard work. But his comeback, and Mark Cavendish’s, jointly reflect an intriguing bigger picture, with no sprinter dominant this year, although Cav’s four Tour stage wins are a bigger total than any other sprinter has achieved in Grand Tours in 2021. None for Sam Bennett, only two for Caleb Ewan – who’d have expected that at the start of the season?

Three stage wins for Magnus Cort Nielsen

But the Dane’s trio of stages were a triumph for team work at EF – lest we forget, they lost their GC rider Hugh Carthy early on – and reflect his all-round prowess: on the summit finish at Cullera he escaped solo and narrowly eluded Roglic; at Cordoba, he outwitted UAE and Matteo Trentin, while his win from the break at Monforte de Lemnos belonged as much to his team mate Lawson Craddock.

Three leaders at the Team Ineos “Trident” but no podium or stage win.

This wasn’t an outright disaster for Ineos, but given their massive budget, the expectations around them, and their brave words about racing in a more enterprising way, it’s not great to field three potential winners in Richard Carapaz, Egan Bernal and Adam Yates, and come away with so little, apart from the Bernal break en route to Lagos de Covadonga which ultimately gained nothing. And coming after a below-par Tour, it hardly looks like progress.

Three successful Grand Tours for Alpecin-Fenix

After a good Giro and a fantastic Tour, a solid Vuelta thanks to Jasper Philipsen’s brace of stage wins. Evidence that you don’t need to be WorldTour to win races, and you don’t just have to rely on an iconic leader named Van der Poel. Going back to pre-season predictions, did anyone expect them to win sprint stages at all three Grand Tours this year?

Three reasons for Intermarché-Wanty Goubert to smile

Although they lost their GC leader Louis Meintjes to a late crash, this was another Grand Tour that marked progress for the new kids in the WorldTour, with Rein Taramae’s stage win and brief spell in the leader’s jersey followed by Odd Christian Eiking’s longer sojourn in red. It’s always interesting to see what happens when a team get a leader’s jersey to defend, and at this point the Belgian underdogs took on a new dimension and began racing like a GC team.

Three stage wins for Team DSM

Heartening to see Romain Bardet back racing hard, and yet another Australian climbing revelation for the German team, with Michael Storer following Jai Hindley last year. The Vuelta was originally moved to its end of season slot to provide teams with a chance for redemption after the Tour and Giro, and DSM grabbed the chance. Three stage wins and the King of the Mountains was a more than decent return after a disastrous Tour de France. But between Magnus Cort Nielsen, Roglic, Jakobsen and DSM there wasn’t a great deal left for the other teams.

Three best stage finishes

Stage 20 – Clément Champoussin, Castro de Herville. A coup de theatre by an underdog, all it wanted was for the Frenchman to thumb his nose at the GC riders as they foxed and feinted at the race’s final summit finish.

stage 19 – Magnus Cort Nielsen, Monforte de Lemos. You feel for the chasing teams, DSM and especially BikeExchange, but you cheer for the seven man break as no one misses a turn and Lawson Craddock gives his all. And you know MCN is going to win from the moment the chasers crack.

Stage 13 – Florian Senechal, Villanueva della Serena. The world’s best lead-out team gets it horribly wrong, with designated sprinter Fabio Jakobsen falling to bits as Josef Cerny rips the string to shreds. And then DQS somehow get it back together with Senechal, although you can’t help thinking: if the Frenchman had come second (that unlucky Matteo Trentin the nearly man again) what would the debrief have been like? The madness and the anarchy of the Vuelta in three crazy kilometres.

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