Three stages, three different riders in red, one sprinter standing head and shoulders above the rest. If that pretty well sums up the Dutch ‘gran salida’ then we will attempt to delve a little further into the intricacies of the first phase of the 77th edition of La Vuelta.
Our daily opinion pieces have already discussed the merits and pitfalls of the team time trial format, as well as the revival of Ireland’s Sam Bennett – who Nick Christian believes should have been selected for Bora-Hansgrohe’s Tour de France team on this showing.
Now let’s look closer at these points, plus other talking points from three quiet and largely uneventful days whose very lack of drama Dan Lloyd feels nevertheless serve a purpose in the narrative arc of the race.
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Roglic up next in Jumbo-Visma’s game of musical red chairs?

Allowing Robert Gesink to cross the line first was a classy gesture from Jumbo-Visma as the Dutch team’s TTT victory in the Dutch city of Utrecht resulted in the Dutch veteran taking the first red jersey of the Vuelta – and of his career.
A day later, Dutch sprinter Mike Teunissen took over the red jersey for one day before Italy’s Eduardo Affini took over the race lead – both on virtue of their higher placings in the day’s stage. With six Jumbo-Visma riders still tied for time at the top – Affini, Sam Oomen, Primoz Roglic, Teunissen and Gesink – it’s likely that their game of red musical chairs will continue on Tuesday.
The sextet lead seven Ineos Grenadiers riders by 13 seconds and four Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl riders by 14 seconds at the top of the standings – meaning the 10 bonus seconds up for grabs atop the ramped finish in Laguardia won’t be enough in itself for the red jersey to change teams. Of course, with the top 100 riders of the race still only separated by one minute on GC, there’s a chance that a breakaway goes the distance and we see a bit of a shake-up.
But the most likely scenario is that defending champion Roglic responds to pressure from his rivals and finishes highest of the Jumbo-Visma riders in Laguardia to become the team’s fourth man in red on Tuesday. If he does, there’s good reason to think the Slovenian could keep it all the way to Madrid. Although that would be rather premature two days before the race’s first summit finish on the Pico Jano on Wednesday.

'It's crazy' - Roglic overwhelmed by Dutch fans as Jumbo-Visma win Stage 1

Jumbo-Visma get one on Ineos before the race even starts

By announcing the forthcoming arrival of two riders from rival teams Jumbo-Visma had already taken a psychological upper hand over Roglic’s opponents before anyone had even rolled down the ramp in Utrecht.
As it happened, it was Dylan van Baarle who would have taken the red jersey for Ineos Grenadiers had Jumbo-Visma not bettered their time by 13 seconds – the Paris-Roubaix winner having agreed to join Jumbo after five years at the British team.
It’s an odd move given Van Baarle’s place at the fulcrum of Ineos’s growing classics squad – and Wout van Aert’s position at the centre of the team he’ll now be required to perform domestique duties for. Given how flawless Jumbo-Visma were during the Tour, Van Baarle presumably isn’t too keen to ride on French roads next – or any – July.
But money talks, as they say. And perhaps he just wanted a fresh challenge or cushy contract having hit what he feels may be his ceiling. Or perhaps he wants a slice of the Jumbo winning machine. After all, if Christophe Laporte can become a world-beater, an already established star like Van Baarle could come on leaps and bounds. With Ineos also losing Richard Carapaz to EF Education-EasyPost, maybe Van Baarle feels like the wheels are slowly coming off the British team’s bus…

'Dominant' Jumbo-Visma 'have everything dialled at the moment' after pipping Ineos

Jumbo-Visma also announced the winter arrival of another Dutch rider, Wilco Kelderman of Bora-Hansgrohe, who, like Van Baarle, presumably isn’t too bothered about not riding the Tour – or, to be fair, leading a team again. That said, there could be an opening at the Giro, while injuries and bad form happen. So, who knows.
Either way, Jumbo-Visma are certainly much stronger for the arrival of these two Dutch riders – though perhaps primarily through weakening rival teams rather than adding anything that they lacked or needed. And talk about a power play…

Bennett back to his best at Bora thanks to Van Poppel

Eyebrows were raised with Bora-Hansgrohe’s team selection which was seemingly a 50-50 split between Sam Bennett’s sprint train and GC plans A to C (Jai Hindley, Wilco Kelderman and Sergio Higuita), plus a domestique in Matteo Fabbro.
So far, so good. In his first Grand Tour for two years, Bennett is a man reborn with two wins in as many days. On both occasions, Danny van Poppel has piloted his man with aplomb after Ryan Mullen and Jonas Koch have done the behind-the-scenes work.

‘Boom, he has come good once more!’ – Watch dramatic sprint finish to Stage 3 as Bennett wins

It’s been a tough return to the top for 31-year-old Bennett, who fell out of favour at Quick-Step ahead of the Tour in 2021 and has been playing catch-up ever since. On this evidence, Bennett’s short-term replacement at Quick-Step, Mark Cavendish, is not the only one who can feel aggrieved at being overlooked for the Tour; there’s certainly a case for Bennett having joined Van Poppel in France this July.
As our very own Orla Chennaoui mused, the most telling takeaway from her countryman’s Dutch double was the way that it came so naturally. While there must have been an element of relief inside after two troubling years, Bennett kept on top of his emotions and reacted as if his returning to the top was never in doubt.
With four more flat stages remaining on Spanish soil, there’s surely more to come from Bennett. But for now, it’s over to the second half of Bora’s team – those GC men gunning for red not green – who have a lot to live up to.

‘A masterclass!’ – Bennett after claiming back-to-back wins at Vuelta

Scene set for Froome to deliver now Israel are out of the Woods

One of five former winners in the Vuelta peloton, Chris Froome – the 2011 and 2017 champion – arrived in Utrecht with ambitions to build on his promising Tour de France while supporting team-mate Michael Woods, who got the leadership nod from Israel-Premier Tech.
But the Canadian’s early withdrawal after suffering suspected concussion in a seemingly innocuous fall alongside team-mate Itamar Einhorn in Stage 3 has opened the door to Froome. Israel-Premier Tech still have the likes of Daryl Impey, Carl Fredrik Hansen and Alessandro De Marchi to hunt stages, but the GC burden may now fall on Froome.
Impey’s crashes during the two road stages in the Netherlands may have taken the wind from the South African’s sails, too, further paving the way for 37-year-old Froome to rewrite the next chapter in what, on all accounts, could be quite the fairy tale return from a career-threatening injury.
The past three years would have got the better of most professionals, but Froome has retained a level of humility, dignity and humour throughout his ordeal, casting the four-time Tour winner in a new light from the automaton of old and winning over many critics. A stage win on the Vuelta and a solid GC performance would be a popular development in Spain.

Let’s stick to Spanish starts for a while

If anything, a half-decent question for a pub quiz emerged from the Dutch ‘gran salida’ as Utrecht became the first city in the world to host the start of all three of cycling’s Grand Tours. Following its grande partenza in 2010 and grand départ in 2015, Utrecht and the Dutch got the gran salida they were supposed to get in 2020 before Covid ravaged the cycling calendar.
Now let’s hope that race organisers see sense and stick to their home nations for a while. The Vuelta is the third foreign start of the year after the Giro in Budapest and the Tour in Copenhagen – adding an extra day of needless travel and faff for everyone involved.
The climate crisis should be a consideration here – and necessitating thousands and thousands of extra transfer kilometres to the hefty Grand Tour race entourage is something the 2020s could clearly do without. Even without the environmental impact, there’s a solid argument that these foreign starts spark a huge disconnect between the first three days and the remaining 18 stages of these races.

Blythe and Lloyd discuss how quiet stages and early rest day can change ‘La Vuelta spectacle’

The Danish grand départ was undeniably a huge success in terms of entertainment, celebrating cycling, and showcasing the start nation. But that’s not always translated across the board. Like team time trials and cobbles and gravel – foreign starts are something that shouldn’t be barred from Grand Tours, just used sparingly. They should be there to tell a story – not for the simple sake of it.
And on a sporting plane, there’s a solid argument that the Dutch start of the Vuelta was not only a bit of a snore-fest, but also unnecessarily dangerous. A man who knows a few things about riding Vueltas, Alejandro Valverde complained that Sunday’s route passed through seven major cities or towns, describing the course as “impossible” and saying it was overly dangerous and outlining the numerous “scares” suffered by riders.
The Spanish veteran hit the deck near the finish in Saturday’s stage and had to bite his tongue on Sunday when asked to share his opinion on the myriad road furniture that blighted the race.
Movistar veteran Valverde was not the only one to raise concerns. Geert Van Bondt, the DS of Quick-Step complained of the “many small villages, with all their traffic islands and traffic furniture, [where] danger lurked around every corner”.
Perhaps it’s time to eliminate these challenges by giving the riders what they expect: Italian roads during the Giro, French roads during the Tour, Spanish roads during the Vuelta.

'You need to keep the focus and be careful' - Roglic on staying safe on Vuelta routes

De Gendt sets out store early

The Belgian breakaway specialist can’t have expected much joy from an almost pan-flat Stage 3 but he went on the offensive nevertheless. Thomas De Gendt was part of the day’s breakaway that carved out 169km in front of the peloton as the race kissed the Belgian border and passed through the baffling town of Baarle-Hertog with its intriguing and complex selection of Belgian enclaves within the Netherlands.
De Gendt picked up a couple of KOM points for his troubles and got some vital kilometres in the legs ahead of the shift to northern Spain and the Basque Country where the 35-year-old will eye the polka dot jersey and some more breakaway time for Lotto Soudal.
Now over nine minutes down in the standings, De Gendt’s strategy is quite clear: getting the requisite leeway to give him the right to do what he does best – riding clear of the pack in pursuit of trademark breakaway wins. Looking at the terrain over the next week of racing, it would bet a brave man against De Gendt picking up what would be his first Vuelta stage win in five years.
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