The most eventful Vuelta a España in years took another big switch of direction on Sunday, as Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) has reclaimed the lead from Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) after putting the Slovenian under pressure on the mighty Angliru climb.
Ahead of Roglič on the Formigal a week ago, then beaten by a minimal margin by Roglič on the Moncalvillo on Wednesday, and deprived of the lead by a hotly-debated commissaire’s decision on Friday, two days later in the rollercoaster 2020 Vuelta, Carapaz had the better of his rival again.
Carapaz’s recapture of la roja was all the more impressive given he was quickly isolated on the Angliru from his teammates, and never looked too comfortable for the first two-thirds of the mammoth ascent.
But having dangled perilously close to the end of the lead group of less than a dozen riders, with two kilometres Carapaz began to inch clear, opening a gap of nearly 20 seconds at one point.
Fourth at 16 seconds on stage winner Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling), so just outside the time bonuses, Carapaz faded a little in the final kilometre and his margin over Roglič, who was fifth on the stage, stood at a narrow 10 seconds. But after an uneventful stage on Saturday, and having been tied on time with Roglič, on Sunday la roja was his again.
“Getting the jersey back is something very important, it’s a big boost to my morale,” Carapaz said. “I could get time on Roglič and that’s always positive.
“It was a really tough stage, particularly after Saturday, which took a lot out of everybody with so much climbing. I remembered the Angliru a bit from when we came up here in 2017” - when he placed a notable 11th - “and that it’s amazingly difficult. Racing further down the line wasn’t any particular strategy, nor was an attempt to create a surprise, I just wanted to go at my pace all the way up.
“At the end it was a question of natural selection,” Carapaz said, rather than explosive attacks. Enric Mas (Movistar) and Carthy were the only ones in the top five to make major challenges with riders suffering and falling behind largely thanks to the unrelenting, brutal steepness of the Angliru itself.
Carapaz confirmed that when he raised his pace a little and saw Roglič suffering as a result, “I decided to go for it, simply to try as hard as I could, Carthy and Mas had already attacked. So I just went up at my own pace, to see what I could achieve. Finally, I got those 10 seconds.”
In terms of how he will now tackle the race’s next big challenge, Tuesday’s time trial, Carapaz’s advantage over Roglič remains minimal. But on the plus side, it will enable him to start last and have a time reference on his arch-rival, as well as Carthy and Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), all of whom are at less than a minute back.
Having worked on his time trialling during the off-season, Carapaz said, he was optimistic about his chances on Tuesday.
“Having this time is favourable for us, we’ve come here with the idea of doing a great Vuelta and that’s what we are doing. Now I’ve got to try and defend this lead.”
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.
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