The horrifying ramps of Stage 13’s summit finish at Los Machucos were conquered by a formidable Slovenian onslaught. Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) raced away to his second stage victory, grabbing a GC podium spot and the best young rider’s jersey from Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez. His co-attacker, compatriot and race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo -Visma), increased his grip on the red jersey.
The peloton suffered through yet another stage in Spain’s famed Basque Country with a treacherous shark-tooth style profile that I am venturing to say has been the most difficult mountain day thus far in this year’s race. 166 kilometers from Bilbao to the summit of Los Machucos saw riders faced with no fewer than six categorised climbs before Los Machucos itself, a brutally steep climb featuring sections as steep as 25 percent that was surely created in the deepest dungeon of cycling suffering.
Rider of the Race
To be frank, I’m not sure how I feel about the likes of Pogacar and Egan Bernal (Ineos) dominating the grand tour scene. While my 21 year old self finds itself struggling on weekend group rides, Pogacar and Bernal, 20 and 22, respectively, are off showboating at Le Tour and La Vuelta.
My tongue in cheek grumbling aside, Tadej Pogacar is really something special. In his neo pro season, the Slovenian has won the Tour of California and Volta ao Algarve (as well as being best young rider and a stage victor at both ), and two stages at La Vuelta!
If that’s not enough to get you excited, then I highly recommend you watch the final 5 kilometers from today’s stage. Not only will you see Tadej launching more than one acceleration from the group of favourites, you will also see one of those attacks snap the elastic to everyone except Roglic. It’s truly remarkable – and likely soul crushing for competitors – to watch him ride away with what looks to be such ease. Let there be no doubt, Tadej is no longer a future contender but a fully fledged current grand tour contender, and is absolutely the Rider of the Race.
In the start I didn’t know I would feel so good on the last climb. In fact, I just wanted to survive because after stage 7, I just wanted to not lose too much. But in the end it was an incredible day for me.
When I heard over the radio that nobody was following me and Roglic so I realised that it’s a good opportunity. And with Roglic it’s difficult if you’re going against him because he’s really strong. I could do that today and I’m really really happy.
The Breakaway’s Vigour
Before Pogacar and Roglic launched their Slovenian rampage, several of those who had infiltrated the day’s breakaway showed strong courageous vigour in solo attempts for victory that more than deserve our acknowledgement.
Euskadi-Murias’ Hector Saez was the first of the courageous to try his hand at solo victory. Saez broke clear of his breakaway companions approximately 50 kilometers from the finish and built a healthy advantage of two minutes. As kilometers ticked by, it looked increasingly good for Saez. Unfortunately for his chances, Astana picked up the pace of the peloton in the final 30 kilometers, forcing the breakaway to also ramp up its speed.
Once on Los Machucos, Groupama-FDJ’s Bruno Armirail bridged to and passed Saez. Perhaps the second attempt at a solo victory would work? No, unfortunately not. The punishing grades of Los Machucos gave Armirail a swift lesson in the steepness of Basque climbs. TV images showed him riding diagonally from one side of the road to another, trying to ease the burden of the gradient as he climbed at a near standstill.
Not to fear, though, for another Frenchman was near! AG2R La Mondiale’s Pierre Latour was the next courageous breakaway hero to try his hand.
Inside the final 5 kilometers, Latour dug in deep to push his pedals up the steep gradient. As the race narrowed into the final kilometers with Latour still holding a noteworthy gap over the likes of Roglic and Valverde, hope was rising that the Frenchman would hold on. Alas it was not to be. As was the case for both Saez and Armirail, stronger riders lurked behind and were nearing. As Roglic and Pogacar stormed up the climb, they caught and dropped Latour with 1.5 to go. A worthy effort by all three, it was just not a day meant for solo breakaway success.
The Slovenian Duo
Whether truthful or imagined by conspiracy theory cycling fans, the finish of today’s stage appeared to show a compatriot allegiance between Roglic andPogacar. Prior to them distancing the likes of Movistar double act Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, it looked at times that Roglic and Pogacar were performing a one-two punch. Roglic would make an acceleration, then Pogacar, and then another one by Roglic.
Once the elastic had snapped and the two Slovenians were by themselves, neither attempted to drop the other. Perhaps this was because Roglic doesn’t see Pogacar as a long term threat or simply because Pogacar had no more accelerations to give. Some whispered that an agreement was made yesterday.
Whatever the case may be, the Slovenian duo brought an exciting finish to an otherwise sleepy stage. Conspiracy theories aside, I hope that this excitement and duo continues strongly throughout the remainder of the race.
1 Tadej Pogacar (UAE – Team Emirates) 4:28:26
2 Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) same time
3 Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale) +0:27
4 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) s.t.
5 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) s.t.
1 Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 49:20:28
2 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +2:25
3 Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) +3:01
4 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) +3:18
5 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +3:33
6 Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) +6:15
7 Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) +7:18
8 Carl Fredrik Hagen (Lotto Soudal) +7:33
9 Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) +7:39
10 Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) +9:58
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey: Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)
Points jersey: Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)
Climber’s jersey: Angel Madrazo (Burgos-BH)
Young Rider’s jersey: Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)
The official Vuelta website is here; for full race review, go to cyclingnews.
Header Image: © ANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty Images