and it was pretty damn close to doing so.
The Vuelta a Espana followed the tour de France and the Giro d’Italia in coming down to the final raced stage, with less than a minute between the top two on GC, while proving Ineos and British cycling were written off prematurely.
This years final Grand Tour was very 2020, it was a cut-down version of the usual three weeks with three stages removed due to Covid travel restrictions and it in this compacted season the final raced stage saw a compacted top of the GC.
The only difference between the Vuelta and the previous two races was that the final day of racing didn’t see a change of jersey at the end. In France Tadej Pogačar overturned just less than a minute to take yellow from Primož Roglič. In Italy Tao Geoghegan Hart was second on GC to Jai Hindley, by a part of a second, which he overturned on the final day.
In Spain there was less than a minute separating the top three going into the final racing stage. As in France Roglič was leading, this time it was 45 seconds ahead of last years giro winner, Richard Carapaz, with Britain’s Hugh Carthy a further 8 seconds behind.
Roglič had looked the strongest as he and Carapaz exchanged the red jersey – winning four stages, looking on top form while looking second, well third best on two stages. Taking it on stage one, he initially lost it when he had a wardrobe malfunction, as he struggled to get a rain coat on in the miserable weather – something that almost happened to Hindley in the Giro. And on the queen stage, where it looked like it could be curtains for his attempt to retain his title.
In the end he lost just just 10 seconds to Carapaz, Carthy was a further 16 seconds ahead, taking the 10 second bonus for a magnificent victory atop the Angliru. One of the climbs in world cycling and a hell of a stage on anyone’s palmares.
The final raced stage also Roglič put into difficulty as again he was third of the top three, this time Carapaz beat Carthy but couldn’t get enough time in on the final part of the final climb to deny Roglič for the second time on the final day in a GT this year.
The relief on Roglič’s face as he crossed the line and pumped his fist in celebration – the relief after that final time trial defeat lost him the Tour. So on actual final day there was just 47 seconds separating the top three. It just goes to show how important those end of stage bonus seconds are, with four wins and three second places, Roglič picked up 58 seconds over the race. While Carapaz gained 16 seconds with two seconds and a third – he also lost three seconds and the race lead when the officials decided to change the rules on time gaps at the end of stages. Carthy’s only time bonus, 10 seconds, came from his stage win.
In the end after the final procession stage around Madrid the gap between the top three had moved out to over a minute as Carthy lost nearly half a minute cruising in. But that can’t deflect from an amazing ride by the dead-pan Prestonian. A ride which along with Hart’s in the Giro showed the death knell sounded for British cycling was a bit premature. Carapaz’s second, again with Hart’s victory shows the death knell for Ineos was called a bit early.
At the start of the final day Ineos picked up their first Grand Tour trophy as Chris Froome was recognised for his victory in 2011 – the first for him and the team. A nice gesture that also marked the end for Froome with the team. It’ll be strange seeing him in a different kit next season, hopefully we’ll see him back challenging.