Emotions could hardly run more bitter-sweet for EF Education-Nippo at the Vuelta a España on Thursday as the team took a spectacular stage win with Magnus Cort but simultaneously saw their GC plan almost completely implode.
Part of a day-long break of five with a scant 25-second lead at the foot of the final climb of Alto de la Montaña de Cullera, Cort dug as deep as possible to claim his fourth Vuelta a España career win and second with EF Education in two years.
In the process, the Dane fended off no less a star than Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) as the Slovenian bore down on the EF Education racer but could not quite claim the win.
The flipside of EF Education-Nippo’s stage 6 came when GC contender Hugh Carthy lost contact with the main group in a technical, windswept final circuit. The Briton finally was brought back to the peloton by his teammates after a hectic chase, but was dropped on the final ascent, losing nearly three minutes.
According to Sports Director Juanma Garate, Carthy is not ill or injured. But his massive effort to regain contact meant he was too exhausted to stay with the other favourites on the climb.
“We’re absolutely over the moon for Magnus,” Garate told Cyclingnews, “when you start a climb like that with 20 or 25 seconds and all the top-name favourites chasing behind, on paper he shouldn’t have made it.”
Cort has won his four Vuelta stages in three very different sets of circumstances, from breaks like Thursday to reduced group sprints on medium mountain stages like in 2020 to two bunch sprints in 2016.
“He’s a born winner. And wherever he gets into a move, it’s because he’s got options to win,” Garate said.
“We knew the time gap at the foot of the climb, but it’s hard to know the exact time after that beause everybody was going so fast,” Cort added. “I turned and looked back with 150 metres to go and could see that Primož was chasing hard, so I gave it everything I had.”
Cort said that after the Tour de France, he had specifically requested to the team that he take part in the Vuelta a España “because it’s my favourite race. It’s also the first time I’ve won in the first week, so that makes it even more special.”
For Garate, Carthy’s time loss “is not a reflection of his real form.”
“He’s in good shape physically, so we’ll have to look at the situation and change our plans from hereon. It’s going to be a different Vuelta a España for us from now on.”
Garate said that Carthy had been dropped from the bunch because of a split-second situation that arose where, “if you don’t go into a corner in exactly the right place and they suddenly accelerate really hard ahead, you lose a couple of metres and suddenly you’re out the back.”
Carthy engaged in a frantic pursuit with several teammates pacing him back up to the peloton. But despite regaining contact, as Garate confirmed, the British rider was too exhausted from his effort to remain in contention on the climb.
Less than a year after his breakthrough podium finish, the 2021 Vuelta has been anything but straightforward for Carthy, who lost around half a minute in a split on the second stage and then roughly the same time on the favourites on the Picón Blanco.
Asked if the GC battle was over, Garate said that was effectively the case. “When you’re at four and half minutes overall after six days of the Vuelta, we can’t go on thinking about fighting for the overall victory.
“So we’ll just have to take things calmly, and let Hugh shine where he can, which is in the mountains and the summit finishes and we’re sure he’ll do it fine. but without the pressure of going for the overall classification.”
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.