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Thoughts on La Vuelta 2021

By Larry Theobald

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Larry Theobald, formerly of CycleItalia, gives his thoughts on the 2021 Vuelta a España

BRAVO to the new kids on the block! Gino Mäder's 5th place and Best Young Rider classification in only his 3rd Grand Tour; King of the Mountains Michael Storer in only his 5th Grand Tour; stage winner Clement Champoussin; and Bienvenido to Fabio Jakobsen, winner of the points jersey in a great comeback from his scary crash not too long ago.

The rest? “Kite-Man” Roglic wins for the third time in a row, joining the illustrious company of Tony Rominger and Roberto Heras

Michael Storer

King of the Mountains Michael Storer. Sirotti photo

But rather than “defend in the mountains and mow ‘em down in the chrono” he did both, matching or exceeding any challenge from pure climbers like Yates or Lopez while catching his two-minute man Enric Mas in the final chrono stage to seal the deal. The Jumbo-Visma team raced what could be described as a perfect stage race, with all eight riders finishing.

Team Jumbo-Visma

Team Jumbo Visma after the the final stage. Sirotti photo

Some big names went out early like Alejandro Valverde, Richard Carapaz and Mikel Landa, leaving teams boasting about “tridents” with “bidents” at best or even just a spear in Movistar’s case when Miguel Angel Lopez mysteriously quit the race while 3rd on GC. Giro d’Italia winner Egan Bernal finally conceded to fellow Ineos teammate Yates but then Yates’ podium challenge fizzled in the final chrono test. Would Bahrain-Victorious have done any better had Landa finished the race, since Jack Haig took the lowest step on the podium? Meanwhile, Astana had a miserable Vuelta, only the Spanish Izaguirre brothers holding up honors in 26th and 27th place with just Yuri Natarov in 91st place joining them at the finish.

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La Vuelta has always suffered as the lowest tier of the Grand Tour podium, starting only in 1935 and not being run annually until 1955, then rather ignominiously being taken over by ASO in 2014, guaranteeing it would never, ever overshadow ASO’s LeTour. Moving from the first of the GT’s to the last on the calendar has also changed it to a bit of “last chance saloon” for those who didn’t have much luck in that year’s Giro or Tour or were otherwise on the comeback trail like Jakobsen.

Fabio Jakobsen

Points classification winner Fabio Jakobsen. Sirotti photo

Spain’s got history, landscapes and architecture to rival most countries, but for some reason the organizers seem to choose far more straight, flat, featureless highways for the race than their French or Italian counterparts. Perhaps to counter this, TV coverage (we watched from here in Italy via Eurosport as Italy’s RAI network seemingly couldn’t be bothered) lingered too long or returned too often to views of a castle, monastery or palace along the route. The director for the international feed used by Eurosport also maddeningly missed a lot of key moves while one or two of the moto camera operators seemed obsessed by a “worm’s eye view” so often you could almost count the number of cogs (and teeth) on the rider’s rear wheel!

I didn’t understand the rather dull stage victory presentations, especially when compared to those of my beloved Giro d’Italia. I’ve read that laws in France now prohibit the use of alcoholic beverages in celebrations of this type, so no spraying of Champagne at LeTour, but Spain makes some wonderful cava wines. Is a similar law in place there? Maybe worse than this I saw a bottle of Italian Astoria (supplier to Il Giro) prosecco being dumped ceremoniously (seemingly unopened) into a green plastic bin, the kind used for recycling. There’s got to be a better way to demonstrate recycling, perhaps by recycling some of the cheesy-looking trophies awarded? I wonder if Astoria supplied this bubbly and what they think of it being used this way?

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Something else I didn’t understand was why bicycles were brought up to the victory podium for Sunday’s final ceremonies? The UCI should promote their “primacy of man over machine” philosophy by discouraging this practice. If the team/bike sponsor wants to provide the rider with a special bike to RIDE in the race, that’s OK. But lugging a special bike (especially when it’s one you never used in the race) up onto the podium is too much. What’s next, a “constructor’s prize” ala F1? Bikes don’t win races, athletes use them to win bike races.

Primoz Roglic

Winner Primoz Roglic. Sirotti photo

Overall, La Vuelta’s course (other than those boring flat roads) seemed well-designed, providing entertaining stages more often than not, but the domination of Roglic certainly put a damper on the race unless you were a Roglic or Jumbo-Visma fan. Nobody can say Roglic or his team “raced not to lose” rather than to win but in 2021 there was simply nobody else to provide a steady challenge to his or his team’s hegemony.

Maybe next year Mr. Mäder, Storer, Aranburu? Esperemos!

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