2022 Vuelta a Espana Rest Day Three Roundup and Reflections
Cycling fans around the world who have dedicated three weeks in August and September to watching La Vuelta a Espana have not been left disappointed this far. The golden late-summer light and beautiful scenery of southern Spain have joined forces to set the perfect stage for professional cycling at its highest level.
Following a stage 10 individual time trial from Elche to Alicante that saw race leader Remco Evenepoel (Team QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl) surprise many by increasing his GC lead by a noteworthy 48 seconds, the Vuelta peloton and caravan moved further south on the Iberian peninsula to Andalusia - Spain’s most southern region – known its bullfighting and flamenco, and for the city of Cordoba, which surpassed Constantinople in size during the Islamic Golden Age as capital of Al Andalus, attracting many a philosopher and scientist. The Andalusia region has been influenced by many cultures in centuries past and visitors will notice Roman, Carthaginian, Byzantine, and Jewish influences, adding to the cultural melting pot of Moors, Greeks and Berbers.
Offering the hottest and driest climates of Spain, Andalusia constitutes the perfect territory to test the endurance of the Vuelta peloton.
Stage 11 from ElPozo Alimentación to Cabo de Gata saw the peloton enter Andalusia along small, winding roads in hilly territory, with white painted villages and joyful spectators welcoming the Vuelta riders. Having finally returned to professional Grand Tour racing following a long recovery from his crash in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, World Champion Julian Alaphilippe (Team QuickStep-Alpha Vinyl) again showed great form and support of teammate and race leader Evenepoel at the front of the peloton, before heartbreakingly crashing and dislocating his right shoulder. One important support rider down, Evenepoel persistently soldiered on. The stage concluded in a fiercely contested sprinter match, which caused disappointment for sprint ace and points classification leader Mads Pedersen (Team Trek-Segafredo), who only managed to finish fifth behind stage winner Kaden Groves of Team BikeExchange.
Thursday’s 192.7-kilometer stage 12 along the coast from Salobreña to Peñas Blancas concluded with a challenging 19.8-kilometer climb up the Penas Blancas, feared more for its longitude than its incline percentages (6.3 percent average). Olympic champion Richard Carapaz (Team Ineos-Grenadiers) joined the breakaway of the day and made the most of the climb to the finish line by attacking solo in the final two kilometers and winning the stage, thereby cementing his comeback after having lost valuable time in the general classification. The Andalusian soil was hard on race leader Evenepoel, who crashed during the stage, but used his youngster willpower to cross the finish line before his major GC rivals, 07:39 minutes after Carapaz.
On Friday, September 6, the 2022 Vuelta a Espana lineup took to the roads between Ronda and Montilla, taking the riders down from the mountains and presenting breakaway hopefuls and sprint aces with the perfect opportunity for stage success. The power challenge between the day’s breakaway hopefuls Julius van den Berg (EF Education-EasyPost), Joan Bou (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and Ander Okamika of Team Burgos-BH up the road and members of the sprinter teams pulling at the front of the peloton further back ended with a win for the sprint challengers who reeled in the escapees and set up their aces for a remarkable sprinting contest. Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) attacked in the final two kilometers, but Mads Pedersen powered ahead and crossed the finish line first, followed by Cofidis’ Bryan Coquard and a disappointed Ackermann. It was Pedersen’s first stage victory of the 2022 Vuelta, following three second place finishes in the first week.
Having used the flatter route of Friday’s stage 13 to rest and recover, the mountain goats and general classification favorites were ready to give it their all from the onset of Saturday’s stage 14 from Montoro to Sierra de La Pandera was a 160.3-kilometer feast for climbers. Ecuadorian Carapaz looked insatiable and set out to conquer the mountains and take an additional stage victory for his Ineos-Grenadiers team, while hoping to impress management members of Team EF Education-EasyPost, the team he has recently signed with for seasons 2023-2025. Carapaz took the stage win and was the only breakaway rider who managed to stay away from the chasing peloton and GC contenders. Miguel Angel Lopez (Team Astana) reached the finish line eight seconds later tailed by Jumbo-Visma’s defending Vuelta champion Primoz Roglic. Current Vuelta leader Evenepoel suffered from the effects of his crash and crossed the finish line 48 seconds behind Roglic, thereby loosing valuable time in the overall rankings.
Carapaz’ impressive performances in the second week have seemingly worked as a wakeup call for EF Education-EasyPost’s Rigoberto Uran, who has otherwise disappointed this season, but is now waking up and improving his performances in this year’s Vuelta to show team management he is to remain team captain after the arrival of Carapaz in 2023.
Sunday’s stage 15 was contested in the legendary Sierra Nevada mountains and the 152.6 kilometers from Martos to Sierra Nevada took the riders on a route of remarkably beautiful terrain of imposing lakes, dramatic mountaintops, scattered pine trees and small curvy roads. A 29-man breakaway group set out to fight for the stage victory.
The group again featured two-time stage winner Carapaz, but today’s breakaway attempt proved a bridge too far for Carapaz, who later fell back to the main peloton in order to help his team’s best ranked rider Oscar Rodriguez, before concluding the stage in a more relaxed tempo.
A revived Rigoberto Uran had also joined the breakaway and another fighting effort from him saw him climb to a 12th place finish in the stage and jump six places in the general classification following the stage.
It was, however, breakaway combatant Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) who soloed to stage victory in Sierra Nevada following an impressive performance on the day’s final 23.1-kilometer climb featuring gradients of up to 13.5 percent.
Enric Mas (Movistar Team), Lopez and Roglic took valuable time on Evenepoel, who remains Vuelta leader before the final week of this year’s Vuelta a Espana, albeit in a diminished position, just 01:34 minutes behind Roglic.
The final week of Tour of Spain 2022 will answer several interesting questions. Will 22-year-old Evenepoel have the stamina to keep the GC lead all the way to the race finish in Madrid on Sunday? Will the effects of his crash and his diminished QuickStep team influence his abilities? Will he win the Best Young Rider classification?
Will Roglic take a fourth Vuelta title and remain Vuelta a Espana champion in a year where he abandoned the Tour de France after a crash, but has shown improving performance in the Vuelta, always eager to fight for bonus seconds and other ways to grind Evenepoel’s lead down to a minimum. With the Queen stage and highest mountains already contested, do the remaining mountains pose too much threat for Evenepoel and enough opportunity for Roglic?
Will Mas be able to surprise spectators by moving past Roglic and Evenepoel in the general classification or will he suffer in the final week and see 19-year-old surprise Juan Ayuso push him off the podium? Is Ayuso too young to have the consistency needed to ride at his top level for more than three weeks in a Grand Tour?
Will top 10 riders such as Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos-Grenadiers), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), and Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroen) pose significant podium threats or be allowed to hunt for stage victories as the main GC contenders watch over each other?
Will Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) or Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Team) win a stage in the final Grand Tour of their memorable careers?
The unknown factors of crashes and Covid-19 may also continue to have a significant influence of this year’s Vuelta. More than thirty riders have already abandoned the Vuelta because of Covid-19 and the far too lax precautions being taken by the UCI, race organizers and government authorities.
The final week of La Vuelta 2022 sees the peloton move north towards Madrid and exposes its riders to both flat, hilly and mountainous terrain. As pro cycling closes in on the less appealing winter season, stay tuned for the excitement of the final week of the 2022 La Vuelta a Espana, enjoy its wonders, notice its surprises, and savor the memories that riders work so hard to create on the roads of Spain.