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Eiking’s Vuelta a España’s leadership ends in pain and disappointment

LAGOS DE COVADONGA SPAIN SEPTEMBER 01 Odd Christian Eiking of Norway and Team Intermarch Wanty Gobert Matriaux Red Leader Jersey competes during the 76th Tour of Spain 2021 Stage 17 a 1855km stage from Unquera to Lagos de Covadonga 1085m lavuelta LaVuelta21 on September 01 2021 in Lagos de Covadonga Spain Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) during stage 17 of the Vuelta a España (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Odd Christian Eiking’s spell in the Vuelta a España’s leaders jersey ended in pain and disappointment on stage 17 after Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) attacked with 60km to go and distanced him before he crashed on the descent as he fought to defend a place in the top five overall.

The Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert rider had led the Vuelta a España since stage 10 to Rincón de la Victoria when he was part of a breakaway.

He and his Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert team valiantly defended the red jersey day after day but there was little he, or they, could do when the race entered the steep Asturian mountains for the finish atop Lago de Covadonga.

Eiking fought back after the first climb of the La Collada Llomena but was distanced on the second time up it with 60km to go as Ineos Grenadiers rode to set up Bernal for his attack. He went over the summit a significant 1:50 back on Roglič and Bernal but was closer to the chase group of other GC contenders. 

Eiking tried to pull back time on the rain-soaked descent but after Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) and others crashed at speed, he slid out, too. He got up and continued to chase but had no chance of catching the group led by Bahrain Victorious and gradually lost more time.

He finished 9:23 on a rampant Roglič and slipped to 11th overall, at 7:59. 

“It was the worst possible scenario: with the legs and with the crash, I suffered too early,” Eiking said post-stage.

“I was hoping to limit my losses by coming back on the descent, which I thought we were doing. But then the crash happened and it was not possible to come back anymore.

“I knew I was not on a great day but I was hoping to be in the group with some of the favourites when we started the last climb. Then I’d probably only lose a few minutes and not whatever I lost.”

Despite losing the leader’s jersey, Eiking promised to race on, remembering the positive aspects of his week as the Vuelta a España race leader.

“It’s been a really nice week, probably the best race of my life,” he said. “I’ll take that with me and there’s still  a few stages left. I’ll keep on racing.”