Ineos Grenadiers management at the Vuelta a España have insisted that Richard Carapaz remains their co-leader for the GC battle despite recognising the Ecuador racer had suffered more than expected on the event's first mountaintop finish to Pico Jano.
A runner-up in both the 2020 Vuelta a España and the 2022 Giro d’Italia, Carapaz was dropped on the final climb by the Primož Roglič-led group, and finished nearly three minutes down on new Vuelta leader Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl). When he crossed the line he was also 1:22 behind a trio of Ineos Grenadiers riders: Carlos Rodriguez, Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
Overall, after a week's racing, while Sivakov, Geoghegan Hart and Rodriguez are all around the 1:30 mark down on Evenepoel, the Olympic Champion is now 19th, at 2:56. But rather than giving Carapaz a secondary role in the squad's GC battle from hereon, team management say they prefer to take a broader perspective on his potential to bounce back.
“That was just one bad day, and we still believe in his chances for the overall,” Ineos Grenadiers sports director Xabi Zandio told Cyclingnews.
“He’s not ill or injured, he’s fine although he did lose a good chunk of time.”
“But there’s a lot of racing yet to come, and he’s very combative. I’m sure he’ll be up there in the action again in the days and weeks to come.” Zandio emphasised that although Carapaz has three teammates who were better placed than him on the overall, he still had options on GC, too.
"He’ll go on fighting. He's a born fighter. There are bound to be complicated stages for the overall contenders on the days to come," he reasoned.
"Richard’s still up there, and he’s shown on plenty of occasions he knows how to use those tough moments to his advantage.”
Zandio also paid tribute to an excellent performance by Ineos' three younger racers on what he said proved to be a more difficult than expected stage to Pico Jano. “[Enric] Mas (Movistar), Evenepoel and [Juan] Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) were stronger than the rest on what was a very special day for multiple reasons: the rain, the first summit finish of the race, quite cold at times. And they all went flat out. So I’m very pleased with how our young riders are doing, too, they rode really impressively yesterday [Thursday].”
“And as a result, we’ve got three riders who are well placed now in the GC and Richard's very motivated too."
Zandio argued the two mountain stages in Asturias this weekend, combined with the time trial next Tuesday “will give us a much clearer idea of who’s where in the overall.”
Referring to the two summit finishes on Saturday and Sunday, Zandio said, “Both Fancuaya and Praeres will be important, although Praeres, where it’s so steep that you won’t be able to depend on teammates, is probably the best judge of all.
"Those final four kilometres are going to be really critical and rather than getting ahead of ourselves, we’ll see how Richard goes on each of those days.”
Ineos Grenadiers sports director Matteo Tosatto told Eurosport after stage 7 on Friday that, "Saturday is a really hard day, tougher than Thursday ... and although it's got a hard finale, the beginning is also difficult. So we should expect attacks from the word go."
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