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 by: Bill Oetinger  10/1/2019

Racing Wrap-Up

Covering the Giro, Tour, and Vuelta in one go will make this a long column. You will have to be a big fan of bike racing to wade through it. If you’re not, hey…bye! See ya next month!

There’s an old saying I like: “Life is what happens while you’re making plans.” We can all recall times our big plans have been derailed by some unexpected kink in the fates. Everyone gets ambushed like that sooner or later. 

I’m adopting that old bromide as the theme song of the 2019 racing season. Not much went according to the plans of riders or teams (or the media) and it would have taken an almost uncanny prescience to predict the final results of the three Grand Tours. If they have betting pools for picking the winners of the three big tours, the way they do for the March Madness basketball tournament, I am pretty sure no one in this entire world would have gotten the results right…

Richard Carapaz, Ecuador, at the Giro d’Italia; Egan Bernal, Colombia, at the Tour de France; Primoz Roglič, Slovenia, at the Vuelta a España.

Although these were their first Grand Tour victories, Bernal and Roglič were not exactly earth-shaking surprises. I and a lot of other people have been predicting big things for both of them. It wasn’t so much a question of if they would win a major tour, only when. Carapaz pretty much blind-sided me at least, although perhaps he wasn’t that much of a dark horse: he finished fourth on last year’s Giro…a rather distant, non-factor fourth, but still a noteworthy result.

That makes five first-time winners in the last five Grand Tours, which bears out my closing thoughts after last year’s Vuelta: that we are seeing big changes in the ranks of the top tier of stage racers. New kids are coming along and shunting the old warhorses aside. That said, the record—and this report—will note that some of those old warhorses did pretty well this year.

The first little bit of “life happens” preceded the Giro. Rising star Egan Bernal had been named by his team—Ineos (formerly Sky)—as their leader for the race. But It was announced on May 4—one week before Stage 1—that he had broken his collarbone in a training crash. (Flashback…last season Bernal might have been team leader for Sky at the Vuelta but after a grisly crash during the Classica San Sebastian he missed that tour as well.) So that was one of the favorites out before the Giro even started. The all-conquering Ineos team had Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas already lined up as co-leaders for the Tour de France and they didn’t really have any other GC contender they could pop into the line-up on short notice for the Giro.

Other possible GC hopefuls? Simon Yates (Michelton-Scott), winner of last year’s Vuelta. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), third at the Vuelta. Mikel Landa was the team leader for Movistar, with Richard Carapaz supposedly in the role of one of his top lieutenants. Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) has been looking just about ready for a big break-out performance. As for the old warhorses—the veterans with impressive palmarés—Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) were both entered…both past Giro champions. Looking back through the start list now, with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I can’t see anyone else who was a serious threat for the overall. 

Roglič won the first stage. (They called it a stage but it was really just an 8.2-km prologue.) He’s just about the best thing going right now in time trials and he drilled this one, with Yates, Nibali, Lopez, and Dumoulin rounding out the top five. Carapaz was way down in 14th, 47 seconds back. That’s a lot to give away over eight kilometers.

The next notable thing to happen was Dumoulin crashing out on Stage 4. Although he limped over the finish line, with blood pouring into his shoe from deep gashes in his leg, he was too badly ripped up to start the next day. So there goes another of the top guns. (His injuries required surgery later in the season and that kept him out of the Tour.)

Roglič never intended to hang onto the Maglia Rosa for the whole tour. As has been noted before, it takes about an hour a day and a lot of attention and stress to be in the leader’s jersey, what with podium ceremonies and press conferences and all that hoohaw, not to mention the stress it puts on the whole team, being expected to control the race each day. So he surrendered it to a minor rider out of a breakaway on Stage 6. (Andrew Hood wrote an interesting article at VeloNews about this: The fine art of ceding a leader’s jersey. It does a nice job of explaining one of those subtle bits of strategy that many race fans might overlook.)

Stage 9 was the only full time trial (34.8 km) and Roglič won this one just like he won the prologue. (The final stage would be a time trial too but only 17 km…I would call that an epilogue.) That put him in 2nd place, conveniently near the top but not having to hassle with the leader’s chores. Next closest among the GC big shots in the ITT was Nibali at 1:05, which left him 1:44 behind Roglic. Carapaz conceded 1:55. Taken together with other time he’d managed to lose over the first week—a little here, a little there—he was down in 20th, a whopping 5:06 behind, or 3:36 behind Roglič. But even at that he was ahead of his ostensible team leader, Landa, who was at 6:42 after the ITT. Yates and Lopez were in about the same pickle, down 5:36 and 6:19 after the time trial.

Over the off-season, Yates’ Vuelta victory seemed to have gone to his head a bit. He was as cocky as a rooster at the pre-Giro press conference, saying he was the odds-on favorite and that the other riders should be so afraid of him they would be “shitting their pants.” Yeow! Even if you can back that up on the road, it’s still offensive. But if you end up 5:36 back after just nine stages, it starts looking shabby and embarrassing. You win these things with your legs, not your mouth.

Anyway…things stayed about the same until Stage 13, the first serious uphill finish. There, Movistar teammates Landa and Carapaz went off the front of the Roglič-Nibali group on the final climb and Roglič either wouldn’t or couldn’t respond. He appeared more concerned with marking Nibali than with chasing down the Movistars and it cost him. Carapaz took 1:19 out of him and trimmed the gap between them from 3:36 down to 1:57. Meanwhile, Nibali was hanging in there, 1:40 behind Roglič. Nibali—the wise old vet—was critical of Roglič’s tactics in marking him but letting Landa and Carapaz go. He said he was too passive, too conservative. Roglič would need to be more aggressive if he hoped to win the Giro, according to Nibali.

That may all have been true, but then again, perhaps Roglič was simply at his limit and had nothing more to give. The next day Carapaz launched a daring attack on the second-to-last summit, got a gap and kept it all the way down the far side of the ridge, then widened it considerably on the final climb while Roglič and Nibali and a few others hesitated. This was the decisive move of the Giro. Carapaz won the stage, finishing 1:54 ahead of an elite group containing Nibali, Roglič, Landa, and a few others. Add to that the 10-second bonus for winning the stage and he took over the lead of the Giro by seven seconds.

So 1:19 on Stage 13 and 2:04 on Stage 14 and just like that a 3:36 deficit turns into a 7-second lead! But wait: there’s more! The next day Carapaz put another :40 into Roglič. How that happened is one of those devil-in-the-details stories. Just after having passed bottles up to the team’s domestiques, midway through the stage, the guys in the Jumbo-Visma follow car decided to take a pee break. Hey, they’re human…it happens. However, just after they pulled out of the long file of cars on the narrow mountain road, Roglič radios them to say he needs a new bike because his shifter isn’t working. But now the car is at the back of the line. So Roglič grabs the bike of one of his domestiques and soldiers on, jamming to catch up. But it doesn’t really fit him. And on the next tricky downhill, on the not-quite-right bike, he overcooks a corner and crashes. (Remember when the same thing happened to Chris Froome last year?) So, what with a hefty serving of Murphy’s Law, another 40 seconds are lost.

It just gets worse for Roglič each day, Stage 16 was supposed to end in Ponte di Legno after climbing up and over Mortirolo, one of the steepest, nastiest ascents in all of pro cycling, (I’ve done it. It is brutal.) When they hit the start of the climb, Nibali attacked and gapped all the others. This was in a dreadful storm, with visibility cut down to almost nothing. The weather was so bad that the organizers decided to end the stage at the Mortirolo summit rather than carrying on another 28 km to Ponte di Legno. With the help of Landa, Carapaz eventually clawed back up to Nibali. But Roglič couldn’t do the same and lost another 1:22 to Carapaz, Nibali, and Landa. Could he have bridged back up to them over those last, lost 28 km? Half of it is a steep descent off Mortirolo and half of it is a moderate climb to Ponte di Legno. We’ll never know, as they took the times at the summit. (When we get to the decisive moment in the Tour de France, remember this.)

Nibali, the old warhorse, who has been called washed up by the Italian press year after year, now leapfrogged Roglič into 2nd place. Can it get any worse for Roglič? Yes it can. On Stage 20 he loses another 50 seconds to Carapaz and Nibali and :52 to Landa. This includes a 10-second penalty imposed on him because a fan—presumably Slovenian?—gave him a push on one of the steep pitches. Landa takes over 3rd place, bumping poor Roglič off the podium. However, there is that short time trial on the final stage and Landa sucks in ITTs. Roglič has just enough left to get back past Landa, scrapping his way back onto the podium, eight seconds ahead of Landa.

Carapaz wins the Giro. Nibali—the supposedly washed up old nag—finishes a fighting 2nd at 1:05. And Roglič staggers to the finish, down 2:30. Carapaz is the first rider from Ecuador to win a Grand Tour. He did it with dash and daring, a classy victory.

A brief aside… While the Giro was playing itself out, another Slovenian rider, 20-year old Tadej Pogačar, was winning the Tour of California. He had won the Volta ao Algarve back in the spring and in my season preview in May, I mentioned him as one of those new kids I’d never heard of before. More about young Tadej later.

So…on to the Tour de France! But…oops…not so fast. Another dose of “life happens,” and this was a really nasty one. While doing a recon ride around the time trial course of the Critérium du Dauphiné on June 12, Chris Froome crashed into the wall of a brick house at a speed estimated to be around 40 mph. Dan Martin was also doing recon but from his team car and was right behind Froome when it happened. He said if was probably the ugliest crash he’s ever seen. Froome suffered extensive injuries, most significant among them a fractured right femur, fractured elbow, and fractured ribs. 

That was the end of the plan for Froome and Geraint Thomas to be co-leaders for Ineos at the Tour. Thomas also crashed on June 18 during the Tour de Suisse but his injuries were less serious and he was able to start the Tour. Froome’s departure opened the door for Egan Bernal to co-lead with Thomas, or at least to enter his first Grand Tour in a support role. He had recovered sufficiently from the broken collarbone (May 4) to enter the Tour de Suisse on June 15. Not only did he enter, he won the whole 9-stage tour, taking out the mountaintop finish on Stage 7 along the way. Good recovery!

So Team Ineos was all set with Bernal and Thomas. Which other GC hopefuls were entered? On paper anyway, lots. Movistar had Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa, and Alejandro Valverde. Groupama-FDJ had perennial Great French Hope Thibaut Pinot. Vinnie Nibali was there, going back-to-back with his fine Giro. Simon Yates was also attempting the Giro-Tour double. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) was there, fresh off his victory at the Dauphiné. Steven Kruijswijk represented Jumbo-Visma. Richie Porte was there for Trek-Segafredo. And then there was Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep) the other recent French hope. Although he has proven himself to be a real force in one-day classics, no one expected him to be able to take out the GC at a Grand Tour.

The first notable moment at le Tour was the 27-km team time trial on Stage 2. Jumbo-Visma was first, followed closely by Ineos and QuickStep, leaving Kruijswijk, Geraint Thomas, Bernal, and Alaphilippe in good shape. Others didn’t fare so well. Movistar lost 1:05, putting Valverde, Landa, and Quintana in a hole right out of the gate.

Stage 3 had a profile like a rusty saw blade: no major summits but many little, lumpy climbs, including a short but fairly testing uphill dig to the line. It looked like one of those Flemish classics stages from the spring and Alaphillipe—who excels in those races—rode this one as if it were a one-day classic. (I’ve said before he reminds me of his teammate Philippe Gilbert…that he rides a la Philippe. Yeah, it’s a silly play on his name but it’s also pretty accurate.) He attacked late in the stage and kept the hammer down all the way up the last incline to the finish, putting around a half-minute into all of the pre-race faves. That netted him the maillot jaune.

And there he stayed until Stage 6, the first uphill finish, with a wickedly steep last ramp on hard-packed dirt. A few riders from a breakaway managed to stay ahead of the big boys and take the first three placings. Behind them, coming into that last brutal pitch, Alaphillipe attacked and only Thomas and Pinot were able to stay with him. All the other big shots lost anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or two. Bottom line: Alaphillipe gave up the leader’s jersey to a guy from the break but put time into most of his rivals.

After this stage, Caley Fretz, writing at CyclingTips, produced a wonderful analysis of Alaphillipe’s riding, in particular in this Tour. I thought about extracting a quote or two from it but decided the whole piece so perfectly captures the man and the moment that I am simply urging you to read it. It’s not long but in a few paragraphs he nails it. Give it a look.

On Stage 8, Alaphillipe took the yellow jersey back with another classics-style attack late in the day. Only Pinot could hang with him and the two of them picked up bonus seconds over the last summit and then more at the finish. In the end they both put time into all their rivals. Audacious, flamboyant aggression! As Fretz notes in his article, the word panache has been much overused in the annals of cycling, but with these French guys, it’s still le mot juste.

Stage 10 was the last stage before the first rest day and should have been fairly uneventful. Not so! It should have been a typical sprinters day and those fast boys did duke it out up to the line. But behind them, the race was ripped apart by crosswinds and echelons. When side winds pounded the peloton, Team Ineos got on the front and pounded the pace, almost immediately opening gaps in the group. Some of the best-placed riders caught onto their coattails and even helped to drive the pace, Alaphillipe among them. Others who were less attentive lost time…1:40 for Pinot and Richie Porte, for instance, and as much as ten minutes for some. In my wrap-up after last year’s Vuelta I said Porte and Pinot showed “an uncanny knack for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” This stage exemplified that tendency in spades. Catching rivals out in crosswinds is a ruthlessly efficient tactic and a time-honored tradition in big stage races. Recall Stage 2 of the 2015 Tour de France, when Froome and his Sky team took 1:28 out of Nairo Quintana rolling across the breezy Dutch polders. Quintana finished 1:12 behind Froome that year, and he lost more than that in just one miscalculation in the wind. Perhaps he learned his lesson: this time around he managed to get in the lead group.

So…at the first rest day, Alaphillipe was still in yellow, with Ineos teammates Thomas and Bernal at 1:12 and 1:16, and Kruijswijk hanging tough at 1:27. The likable, ebullient Alaphillipe was reveling in his glory and the French media and fans were lapping it up. Things stayed that way up to the only full-scale time trial—27 km—on Stage 13. Everyone expected Geraint Thomas to win or at least to be first among the GC rivals, and he did post the fastest time at the finish…except there was still one rider out on the course: Alaphillipe in his flashy yellow skinsuit. They say the yellow jersey will inspire riders to feats of valor they’ve never managed or imagined before and that was the case on this day. The upstart Frenchman crossed the line ten seconds ahead of Thomas, and he looked like the king of the world as he did it.

If the nation of France had been excited before, it was now doing backflips of rapture. And it only got better over the next two stages, both of which featured monster mountain finishes in the Pyrenées. On Stage 14, up to Col de Tourmalet, Pinot won with Alaphillipe and Kruijswijk six seconds behind (scooping up the bonus seconds). Bernal was another two seconds back but Thomas lost half a minute and a lot of the other hopefuls lost so much time the word “hopeful” no longer applied to them. Simon Yates won Stage 15 in a miserable rainstorm, :33 ahead of Pinot and Landa. The other best-placed riders were all close behind but Alaphillipe finally cracked a tiny bit, coming in at 1:49. 

Still, he was doing better than anyone would have predicted. At the second rest day, we was still in yellow, with Thomas at 1:35, Kruijswijk at 1:47, Pinot—back in the hunt—at 1:50, and Bernal at 2:02. (Think where Pinot would have been without losing 1:40 in those crosswinds.)

It was status quo through a couple of transition stages heading for the Alps and then the battle was rejoined on Stage 18, which ended with the long ascent of the combined Lauteret-Galibier and a final descent to Valloire (another route I’ve done, which, at least at tourist tempo, is not too hard). Nairo Quintana, no longer a threat for the overall, won the stage out of a breakaway. Most of the big guns finished together, except for Egan Bernal, who launched a little attack and put about half a minute into all the other contenders. That left him in second, just 1:30 behind Alaphillipe and five seconds ahead of his teammate and team leader, Geraint Thomas. (How would all this have been playing out if Froome were there?)

Stage 19 is where we get that deja vu all over again feeling, harking back to the truncated, weather-shortened Mortirolo stage on the Giro. The big challenge on the mountainous parcourse was Col de l’Iseran, a massive, hors categorie ascent. But that was not supposed to be the finish. There were another 38 km to go after the summit: first the long, long descent, then some flats across the valley, and finally a smaller climb to Tignes. On the big climb to Iseran, Ineos had Bernal attack off the front of the yellow jersey group. We don’t know exactly what their team tactics were. Either he was going off the front for himself or he was going up the road where he would be available to help Geraint Thomas later. Whichever way they played it, they had more options than any of the other teams.

Thomas bided his time with Alaphillipe and the other leaders, letting Bernal toot off into the distance. Then the team cars got the word and passed it along to the riders: torrential hail and a soupy landslide across the route had caused the organizers to shorten the stage, using the times over the summit of Iseran as the official finish placings. Bernal won the stage with Thomas and Kruijswijk in a small group at 1:03. Alaphillipe cracked a little bit again, coming in alone, 2:10 behind Bernal. That left Bernal in the lead, :48 clear of Alaphillipe, with Thomas and Kruiswijk not far behind.

Just as Carapaz had used two strong climbing days to get past Roglic at the Giro, Bernal had parlayed two strong climbs into a winning margin over Alaphillipe. Losing the maillot jaune seemed to knock Alaphillipe back on his heels. Or maybe he was just shot. On Stage 20, a very short route but with a long uphill finish, he finally, comprehensively blew up, losing three minutes to Bernal and most of that to the other remaining leaders. He dropped all the way down to a distant 5th place…not even a podium to show for his spectacular Tour. 

As has often been pointed out before, there is a classic French ethos that can be summed up thusly: while winning is all well and good, it is better to lose gloriously than to win cautiously. At the moment, Alaphilippe seems to embody that gallic mindset. But “Chapeau!” to him all the same. Conventional wisdom said he couldn’t win a Grand Tour and so far that conventional wisdom has proven correct. But he did much, much better than anyone could have predicted and he did it with flare and charm and….panache. 

After the champagne flutes had been passed around on the road to Paris, 22-year old Egan Bernal beat Geraint Thomas, his team leader and the defending champion, by 1:11. Thomas was diplomatic and philosophical about how life had happened—in the form of hail and landslides—while their team was making plans. Had that Stage 19 been run under blue skies, there is no doubt he would have come back up to Bernal before the finish. Whoever would have won we’ll never know, but it’s unlikely there would have been that minute-plus gap between them. Last year Chris Froome was diplomatic and philosophical when his teammate Geraint Thomas finished ahead of him at the Tour. One way or another, it seems Ineos/Sky has a lock on the TdF, winning seven out of the last eight editions. They may have changed their livery but not their winning ways.

And now we’ve arrived at the Vuelta a España, run from August 24 to September 15. There weren’t any of those unexpected “life happens” moments ahead of the Vuelta, unless perhaps we count the first and second-place finishers from last year electing not to defend their positions this year. (Simon Yates attempted the Giro-Tour double and ended up 8th at the Giro and 49th at the Tour, although he did win two mountain stages. Enric Mas (QuickStep) confined his ambitions to the Tour and finished a quiet 22nd.)

Movistar trotted out its two old warriors, Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde. They had finished 8th and 9th respectively at the Tour, so were attempting back-to-back Grand Tours. EducationFirst’s Rigoberto Uran—another old vet—was entered. He had finished 7th at the Tour so was also doing the back-to-back thing, as was Steven Kruijswijk, who had finished 3rd at the Tour. Astana’s leader was Miguel Angel Lopez, 3rd at last year’s Vuelta and 7th at this year’s Giro. Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) was entered. He had finished 6th at the Giro. And then there was Primoz Roglič, presumably a co-leader with Kruijswijk at Jumbo-Visma. So JV was fielding the 3rd-place finishers from both the Giro and the Vuelta. I can’t think of anyone else who ought to have been taken seriously at the start of the Vuelta, but as we shall see, that assessment needed adjusting by the end.

Stage 1 was one of their short (13.4 km) team time trials. Astana finished first but the top few teams were all within a few seconds of each other. JumboVisma wasn’t one of them. They had a disastrous run, including a crash that took down half their riders. Roglič and Kruijswijk lost :40 to the winning team and almost that much to all their chief rivals. Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez donned the first maillot rojo of this year’s Vuelta.

He didn’t hold onto it for long. Stage 2 had a chunky profile that was going to hurt a few people but most folks figured it would still come down to a bunch sprint. But an elite six-rider break—including Nairo Quintana, Rigo Uran, Nicholas Roche, and Primoz Roglic—went clear with about 20 km to go and never looked back. Quintana jumped off the front at 3 km and won, with the others right on his tail. Lopez, Valverde, and most of the other GC hopefuls finished :37 back. That left Roche with a slim lead over Quintana, with Uran and Roglic not too far adrift.

Stage 5 was the first mountaintop finish and that shuffled the placings a bit. Lesser lights from a break took the first three spots but then the big boys came across the line: Lopez, Valverde, Roglic, Pogacar, and Quintana, in that order. That produced an overall placing of Lopez, Roglič, Quintana, Valverde, Roche, and Uran, all covered by a minute.

Three out of the next four stages had uphill finishes so the standings were juggled almost every day. Lopez lost the jersey to a guy from a break on Stage 6, then got it back on Stage 7, then lost it again on Stage 8. Through all those stages, whether they were at the top of the standings or momentarily behind some breakaway riders, Lopez, Roglič, Valverde, and Quintana remained within a few seconds of each other, usually in that order.

Stage 9 was the biggest and baddest of the mountain finishes so far and it proved to be every bit as hard as anticipated, with a nasty storm dumping on the final climb to make things worse. The storm turned a gravel section near the finish into a stew of mud and caused both Lopez and Roglič to crash. Neither was too banged up and they finished okay. Before crashing, Lopez had launched the first serious attack of the day, at least among the GC leaders. He did this fairly frequently during the Vuelta: fired off the front early but then blew up before finishing what he started. He reminds me a bit of Joaquim “El Purito” Rodriguez from just a few years ago: lots of climbing spunk and flash but not a lot of staying power.

Anyway…in the midst of the storm and struggle, neo-pro Tadej Pogačar flew off the front of the GC group and soloed away to an impressive victory. Quintana, Roglič, and Valverde were around a half-minute back and Lopez a bit further back. That brought us to the first rest day with the standings looking like this….

1. Quintana

2. Roglič…:06

3. Lopez…:17

4. Valverde…:20

5. Pogačar…1:42

But looming on the other side of the rest day was the only full time trial (36 km). As expected, Roglič finished first. The nearest of the GC riders was fellow Slovenian Pogačar at 1:29. Valverde and Lopez were at 1:38 and 2:00 and Quintana did his usual wimpy ITT and gave up 3:06. Now the standings looked like this…

1. Roglič

2. Valverde…1:52

3. Lopez…2:11

4. Quintana…3:00

5. Pogačar…3:05

Things stayed that way until Stage 13, the next mountaintop finish: a brutal climb to HC Los Machucos. The Movistar duo of Quintana and Valverde threw the first punches on the final climb but Roglič countered with two strong attacks of his own, first dropping Quintana and then Valverde. Perhaps he was thinking of Nibali’s critique from the Giro: you can’t win by just sitting in and relying on a good time trial. This time he went proactive and it worked. The only person who could stay with him was Pogačar. The compatriots worked together over the final 3 km to put time into everyone else. Pogačar took his second mountain win with Roglič right behind him, adding to his lead over all the others. A great day for Slovenia!

More mountain finishes were ahead on Stages 15, 16, 18, and 20. The standings at the top remained essentially the same through the first two of those climbers’ days, except for Quintana losing ground and falling well out of contention. However, Stage 17, a supposedly innocuous, rolling stage, not one where anything special was expected to happen, turned out to have plenty of drama. Once again, crosswinds were the joker in the deck. Almost 50 riders got off the front early and most of them stayed away for the duration. The best of them put over five minutes into the Roglič group. Nairo Quintana, the little grimpeur, snuck into the lead group and hung in there all day, with the result that he was suddenly back at the top of the standings…well, second place anyway, 2:24 behind Roglič.

His Lazarus-like resurrection was short-lived however. On the uphill finish of Stage 18 he was dropped and lost time again. He had plenty of company. Roglič rode strong and only Valverde was able to hang with him. Everyone else lost anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. The short but steep final climb on Stage 20 was the last chance for anyone to shake up the standings and Tadej Pogačar rose to the challenge, going clear and winning, over a minute and a half ahead of his nearest rivals. His third dramatic and impressive win of the Vuelta. That was enough to boost him onto the podium…3rd place in his first ever Grand Tour at only 20 years of age. Add his name to the list of new kids on the block we’ll be watching in the years ahead.

The final standings were Roglič 1st, old warrior Valverde 2nd at 2:23, and Pogačar at 2:55. Quintana and Lopez rounded out the top five.

So…new winners at all three Grand Tours. I hesitate to call them new kids: Bernal may be only 22, but Carapaz is 26 and Roglič is 28. Ages aside, they do represent a turning of the page in the big book of bike racing. No telling what Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin will do when they heal up from their injuries and get back in the saddle, but for now, it’s new folks ruling the roost. However, rumors of the demise of Vincenzo Niabli and Alejandro Valverde appear a bit premature. No, they didn’t win, but they battled hard and finished very strong seconds. In addition to his oh-so-close 2nd at the Giro, Nibali won a mountaintop stage at the Tour. Valverde going back-to-back with a 9th at the Tour and a 2nd at the Vuelta at age 39 is really quite amazing.

Finally, a tip of the hat to some young US riders who did quite well in these races. Joe Dombrowski (EducationFirst) was a respectable 12th at the Giro and was often among the leading riders on the biggest mountaintop finishes. Chad Haga (Sunweb) won the final time trial at the Giro. At the Vuelta, Sepp Kuss (JumboVisma) won Stage 15, a tough mountaintop finish.

And a tip of the hat to you if you slogged all the way through this review…back-to-back-to-back Grand Tours!

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net

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