If there’s one thing you can be sure of at the Vuelta a España, it is that there will always be some controversy of sorts. You could say the same of the other Grand Tours but the roads of Spain have a knack for producing it on a regular basis. Anyone who knows about my career knows what I’m talking about.
Looking back to the start of proceedings in this year’s race the bad weather was blamed for the race ending in the dark but then you realise that the race was scheduled in the early evening, when it was due to go dark. The stage was also held on greasy Barcelona city centre roads, with teams forced to take huge risks to avoid losing time to their GC rivals. So it wasn’t just one thing, it was a combination of all those elements.
That’s why the Vuelta 2023 endured a painful opening week of crashes and tension and Jumbo-Visma’s first assault on the peloton. That in turn exposed Soudal-Quickstep’s weaknesses and race leader Remco Evenepoel to what was to come. Then Sepp Kuss took over the red jersey and never lost it.
The second week was probably meant to be the calmest portion of the race with the individual time trial giving some order to the GC and then the Col du Tourmalet finish to reveal the true overall contenders. Yet Kuss didn’t fall apart on either of those days, creating Jumbo-Visma’s leadership conundrum, while Evenepoel cracked in the French Pyrenees, forcing him to change his race strategy.
Up until then, the flat stages gave the sprint teams some opportunities but after the Tourmalet, the Vuelta was about surviving to Madrid for many, while the GC battle became a case study in team and rider management.
With Remco and Soudal-QuickStep refocusing on stage wins and ultimately the climbers jersey, the race tactics changed for everyone involved. The attacks became more selective, with only scary riders of immense talent and strength making the escape group and fighting it out for the honours.
With those types of riders on the attack, other teams than Jumbo-Visma were obliged to do the majority of the chasing and controlling to defend top ten placings, so there was never a situation where the Dutch squad had to panic and use their own riders.
The first hour of each day saw a massive fight to be part of the escape but when you have former world champions, Grand Tour podium finishers and the like struggling to make it into the attacks, it was obvious that Jumbo-Visma had the race locked down.
All that was left were the parts they hadn’t planned for:…