“I’m waiting the next mountain stages to see if I’m better,” Aleksandr Vlasov said on Wednesday, and the confirmation came just a day later. If the Russian was looking for a response after conceding half a minute at Picón Blanco, then it came on the Alto de Cullera on stage 6 of the Vuelta a España, where he was among the prime aggressors.
Searing pace and vertiginous slopes caused the peloton to shatter on the 1.9km ascent to the line, but Vlasov dealt with that combination better than most. The Astana-Premier Tech rider attacked inside the final kilometre and although his move was pinned back, he still had the reserves to place fourth on the stage.
Vlasov climbs to sixth place overall, 53 seconds down on Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), who, as anticipated, moved back into the red jersey after he accelerated to second place on the stage in the same time as winner and early-escapee Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo).
Vlasov was the next best of the podium contenders, coming in just four seconds back and ahead of men like Egan Bernal (seventh at eight seconds), Adam Yates (13th at 25 seconds) and Mikel Landa (19th at 27 seconds).
“Today I felt quite good and in general I think like my form is getting better day by day,” Vlasov said afterwards. “I was in a good position and I just tried to follow the first riders. Inside the final kilometre I tried to attack by myself and I think it was a good move, but at the end we couldn’t catch the last rider from the break and I finished fourth. However, I am quite happy with this day and my form. Let’s see what will happen in the next stages.”
At the Giro d’Italia in May, Vlasov began strongly and reached the midpoint as the man best placed to challenge Bernal’s dominance, but he faded in the third week. Although he had the resolve to reach in Milan in fourth place, it was clear that Vlasov’s best moments in the race had come in the opening two weeks.
Be it by accident or design, he has cut his cloth a little differently for the Vuelta, where the build-up is, by dint of the race’s place on the calendar, very far removed from the approach to the Giro.
“For the Giro there were stage races and an altitude training camp beforehand, but I didn’t do a lot of races before the Vuelta. Instead, I rested after the Giro and I tried to train as best I could,” Vlasov told Cyclingnews in Tarancón on Wednesday.
“It means I’ve come in here very fresh, and maybe I’m still below my best form. I’ll be hoping to try to find condition through the race so I’m at my best in the third week of the race.”
Vlasov’s relative travails at Picón Blanco may also have been a hangover from his crash at the Vuelta a Burgos a week before this race began.
“I struggled a bit but maybe it was because of that crash,” said Vlasov, who avoided all pitfalls during the windswept finale to Thursday’s stage. He was successfully marshalled across to the front group when the bunch was briefly sundered into echelons in the final 30km, and he was positioned towards the head of affairs on the 1.9km ascent to the line to boot.
“The stage was a really hard one, very fast and also the wind in the final made it even harder,” said Vlasov. “But my teammates did a great job to bring me to the front group after the peloton split in parts and later, I got some important help while we were heading into the final climb.”
This Vuelta will be Vlasov’s final Grand Tour in Astana colours, with the youngster set to switch to Bora-Hansgrohe in 2022. Despite his imminent departure, his berth at this Vuelta was always secure, and although the squad’s Spanish cohort have been handed the freedom to pursue stage victories, Vlasov’s protected status was never in doubt.
“No, no, now we have just one objective: we want to do the Vuelta as well as possible,” Vlasov said. “I’m an Astana rider until the end of the season and I want to do everything as well as possible until then.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.