As he approached the finish line of stage 12 of the Vuelta a España, the way Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) hammered repeatedly at the handlebars before raising his arms in victory made it more than clear how much of an emotional release this 15th career triumph represented for the Ecuadorian.
Having come to the Vuelta, as Carapaz put it afterwards, “with other objectives,” mainly to go for a top GC result, his overall bid fell apart even before the first week’s mountain stages were complete.
Like many of the potential Vuelta GC candidates now well out of the overall battle, Carapaz decided he was going to refocus on trying for a stage win. And the repeated appearance of his name in the multiple attempts at breakaways early on stage 12 showed he meant to keep his word at almost the earliest possible climbing opportunity.
“I knew I wasn’t going to stay up there on GC on Saturday,” the second summit finish to Colláu Fancuaya where Carapaz lost four minutes on the favourites, “so I told my trainer I was dropping out of it,” the 29-year-old told reporters afterwards.
A runner up in the 2020 Vuelta and again in the 2022 Giro d'Italia, Carapaz said, “I had decided to go for the overall in the Vuelta again back in last October, but there were lots of reasons why it wasn’t working, a combination of circumstances."
Carapaz denied, though, that the news breaking of his departure for EF Education-EasyPost during the Vuelta had been one of those reasons which had affected his GC performance. And he certainly paid tribute to Ineos Grenadiers for their role in his latest victory, saying "thanks to team support, trying to help me get in the breaks like today, here I am now.”
Getting in any break is hard enough in itself. But succeeding from a break as improbably large as the 32-man move that finally made it away on the road to Peñas Blancas is an even more complicated ask.
However, Carapaz managed to do that with a brilliantly-executed strategy on the final climb, one that even allowed him to turn a weakness - being one of the few top potential stage winners without a teammate in the break - to his advantage.
Shadowing the Bora-Hansgrohe and Alpecin-Deceuninck squads, the two most powerful teams on the climb, as they tried to push each other to make a wrong move, Carapaz stayed just behind the leaders as the 32-man group shrank remorselessly to just half a dozen riders out in front, two-thirds of the way up.
Even when Elie Gesbert (Arkéa-Samsic) then made two very dangerous accelerations close to the summit, Carapaz still kept a cool head and allowed Bora leader Wilco Kelderman to chase them down, while following closely behind.
Then with two kilometres, Carapaz launched a single all-out attack, that carried him to the line ahead of the German and to a fourth Grand Tour stage win, his first since the two stages picked up en route to the overall victory in the Giro d’Italia back in 2019.
“I knew the final climb was a long one, but very steady, a 40-minute effort,” Carapaz said. “And from the moment I got off the team bus, I knew I had to be in the break, and for some reason, a lot of my attempts didn’t work out.
“Finally I got in the right move, and I was alone in the break, so I was able to take advantage of the other teams' work on the climb. Then I knew I had to play it all on one card, on one big charge for the line. And I was able to get there.”
While Carapaz also has his eye on Sunday’s top mountain stage of this year’s Vuelta at Sierra Nevada, he had fulsome praise, too, for the rider who has replaced him as Ineos Grenadiers' main GC challenger, Carlos Rodriguez.
On a day when the stage started very near his hometown of Almunecar, Rodriguez, fourth overall, tried his best to distance his rivals towards the summit of the Peñas Blancas, only to lose a handful of seconds on the three riders ahead of him on GC.
But at 21, come what may for the young Andalucian in this year’s Vuelta, Carapaz publicly recognised on Thursday that Rodriguez is a huge prospect for Spanish cycling.
“He getting there little by little, and he’s got a great future,” Carapaz concluded.
However, the current Olympic champion’s imminent departure for EF Education-EasyPost will leave a sizable vacuum in Ineos Grenadiers lineup, and Carapaz taking his first ever Vuelta stage win in such a classy way on Thursday was a reminder of exactly why, too.
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1