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Cracks between Vuelta a España contenders broaden in GC battle at Alicante

Overall leader Team Jumbo's Slovenian rider Primoz Roglic (2L) crosses the finish during the 7th stage of the 2021 La Vuelta cycling tour of Spain, a 152 km race from Gandia to Balcon de Alicante in Tibi, on August 20, 2021. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / AFP) (Photo by JOSE JORDAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) on stage 7 at the Vuelta a Espana (Image credit: Getty Images)

Rather than a major GC upheaval, the Vuelta a España’s first full mountain stage 7 confirmed trends we already suspected, as Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) continues to reign supreme, and the other overall riders maintain a similar trend in their progress to previous stages.

Despite the jaw-dropping size of the day’s breakaway – at nearly 30 riders, much bigger than usual in the opening week a Grand Tour – and a ferocious first hour of racing, the double champion Roglič never seemed seriously in trouble on the stage.

Instead, with Sepp Kuss present in the break, Roglič and his Jumbo-Visma teammates kept the pace impressively steady behind as they trekked over a non-stop series of minor climbs in the sierras of Alicante.

The evolution might have changed had Alejandro Valverde’s long-range attack, with Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) on his wheel, managed to go clear. But instead Valverde’s intriguing move culminated with the most ill-fated of exits, although thankfully, initial reports suggest, without any major injuries.

Quite how Valverde’s absence will affect the race is probably the hardest development to interpret from Friday’s stage, not just for Movistar but for the event as a whole. For the last two decades, virtually no Vuelta has taken place without Valverde, in which time he has racked up an unprecedented number of top level finishes, including an overall win in 2009.

Removing him from the equation may not change the GC battle dramatically given he was not going for a top placing. But both his role as a kingmaker and his unmatchable ability to feature, to a greater or lesser extent, in the Vuelta’s day-to-day action are time-honoured components of this race that are now abruptly lacking.

Apart from Valverde’s exit, the 3,600 metres of vertical climbing and ascent of Balcón de Alicante confirmed trends we already knew. Hugh Carthy (EF Education- Nippo), already clearly on the back foot, abandoned the race. Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), having lost nearly half a minute at Cullera, showed yet more evidence that he has come into the Vuelta with a serious dearth of pre-race competition after his Giro crash, as he lost another 30 seconds on Friday. Not a disaster by any means, rather a sign that he has yet to touch bottom.

Despite Valverde’s exit, Movistar duo Miguel Angel Lopez and Enric Mas remain on top of their game and in the mix. Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), already in difficulty at Picón Blanco and in the Landa group on Thursday, slid a little further down the hierarchy.  

Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), yet to show his top condition and not at Roglič’s level so far, nonetheless stayed close enough to the Slovenian to remain very much in the GC battle.  

Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana) continues to yo-yo around the GC, with no clear pattern to his performance, to the point where there is no indication yet that he should be ruled out, or in, of the overall battle.

The 3,600 metres of vertical climbing of stage 7 and its final ascent to the Balcón de Alicante have acted as pointers, then, to what may well be confirmed on Sunday at Velefique, although it will more likely require at least a few more days of serious climbing before the general classification takes greater shape. 

But after a Tour de France where everything on GC was essentially decided after one day of mountain racing, that’s arguably not such a bad thing.

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.