The New Ineos
After a disappointing Tour de France and Geraint Thomas crashing out of the Giro d’Italia, it was shaping up as a below-par season for Ineos.
But two weeks is a long time in cycling.
With Tao Geoghegan Hart having just won the Giro and Richard Carapaz taking the leader’s jersey at the Vuelta a Espana on Stage 6, they could end the season winning two grand tours with their second tier leaders.
In both races they’ve been on the attack and racing with plenty of flair. The new Ineos has arrived.
So can Carapaz get the job done in Spain?
The combination of the terrain and the fatigue, of a COVID-affected season, makes the race more difficult than normal to control.
Carapaz is thriving under these conditions. He won the Giro last year by attacking. He’s taken the leader’s jersey at the Vuelta by attacking. He’s not a rider accustomed to sitting behind a fortress of teammates. He’s very comfortable taking the race into his own hands.
And he looks fresher than the pre-race favourite Primoz Roglic.
Roglic faltered a little in the miserable conditions on Stage 6 and conceded 43 seconds. It’s the first time he has been outpowered in the mountains this year.
Roglic has now slipped to fourth, at 30 seconds, and will need every bit of support his Jumbo-Visma teammates can muster.
I think he needs to ride conservatively and hope to make big time gains in the only individual time trial, the day after the second rest day.
His rivals here don’t time trial like Tadej Pogacar.
It was great to see Dan Martin win Stage 3 and shed a tear, as the emotion of a tough two seasons spilled over. He’s now sitting third overall, at 20 seconds.
If Martin has real ambitions to win, he must take time on Stage 12, to Alto de l’Angliru. He knows he’ll lose out in the Stage 13 individual time trial, as much as two minutes to Roglic in that 33.7km solo examination.
His uncle, Stephen Roche (his mum’s brother), has won the Giro and the Tour. Dan could round out the Grand Tour set for the family. He’s a long shot but he’s a chance.
The surprise packed in the first week has been Hugh Carthy, of EF Pro Cycling.
Carthy loves Spain. His professional career started with Caja-Rural, based in Pamplona, and his breakthrough victory was the 2016 Vuelta Asturias, the region that plays host to the two big mountain stages, this Saturday and Sunday.
He was brilliant on Stage 6 and has moved up to second overall, at just 18 seconds.
His best result in a grand tour came last year, 11th at the Giro d’Italia, so he can go the distance. The Brits are making a habit of winning grand tours.
Movistar still have plenty of fire in their belly and Enric Mas is in the hunt, albeit a little further off the pace at 1:07. Movistar will ride aggressively in this crucial second week.
And Esteban Chaves has been a little unlucky, with a puncture at a crucial moment on Stage 3 costing him about one minute.
A special mention to Rob Power (Sunweb). The West Australian took an impressive fourth on Stage 6.
Stage 7 provides an opportunity for the breakaway to succeed. Given the West Australians at Sunweb are on such a roll it would be great to see Michael Storer in the move.
Stage 8 and another mountaintop finish to Alto de Moncalvillo. A GC battle. There’s only one official climb preceding the final ascent to the finish line. And, being sandwiched between two relatively easy days, the last climb should be ridden aggressively.
Stages 9 and 10 are days for the sprinters. Expect Deceuninck - Quick Step to control both stages for Sam Bennett.
Stage 11 is brutal. Four Cat 1 climbs, across 170km, to a mountaintop finish at Alto de la Farrapona.
It’s up and down all day long, hardly any flat stretches to organise a chase. I expect two races in one. A breakaway to win the stage and then the battle for the red jersey.
Stage 12 features the toughest mountain in the race, Alto de l’Angliru.
This stage is just 109km but you’ll be hard pressed to find a harder 109km. Plus, it comes before the second rest day, which always leads to more aggressive racing.
If you only watch one stage of the Vuelta, this is the stage to watch.
The second week is the toughest of the race and the race for the red jersey is wide open.
WATCH Stage 7 of the Vuelta a Espana LIVE, FREE and in HD on SBS VICELAND and On Demand tonight from 12:35am.