We are ten days into this Vuelta a España and the full complexity of the situation is beginning to dawn on everyone involved with the overall victory.
Before the Valladolid time trial, the hierarchy looked fairly simple, Remco Evenepoel had two rivals that he couldn’t afford to give any leeway namely the Jumbo-Visma pair of Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard. On a slightly lower and less confirmed level were the UAE pairing of Juan Ayuso and Joao Almeida who were there but not always provoking the outcomes.
Further back in the consciousness sat a recovering Enric Mas and Bora’s Alexandr Vlasov – who was showing his limits when the road headed upwards. Then on stage 6, and the ascent of Javalambre, Jumbo-Visma decided to lay down the first big test for Soudal–Quickstep and suddenly the red jersey changed shoulders to Lenny Martinez. Evenepoel, meanwhile, coughed thirty-odd seconds and two super lieutenants, as Sepp Kuss and Marc Soler were thrust into the GC limelight.
The loss of the race lead might not have been a bad thing for Remco, However, the time conceded was. Though it certainly wasn’t a disaster, it wasn’t ideal. An average day was the reason, and there were no signs of panic. The new players in the GC weren’t noted for their time-trialling prowess and the World TT champion would be rectifying the situation on the roads around Valladolid when racing resumed after the first rest day. Only Vingegaard was expected to be competitive, while Roglic was expected to lose close to a minute to Kuss and co if they were on their normal form – anywhere from six to eight seconds slower per km. That was theory but stage racing throws up some real surprises and that’s where the Vuelta finds itself as it heads towards its visit to France and the fearful Tourmalet mountain top finish.
In the expected scenario Evenepoel would have retaken the overall lead and Kuss, Soler and Martinez would have lost three minutes or more, and no longer been part of the equation. It hasn’t worked out like that and now instead of controlling the race, Soudal–Quickstep are in a position where they will have to be offensive. However, if we discount Martinez who is at his first Grand Tour and the most likely to fall back in the final week everyone else in the current top ten places are known quantities. In the case of Kuss and Soler the strong TT performances indicate they are both now fully involved in the podium battle and potentially up for the win.