Good week: Richard Carapaz

If the Ecuadorian is too good a rider to be flirting below the bottom of the top 20 of a Grand Tour, then his lowly position has enabled him to get into a position where a hat-trick of wins in the second week looked momentarily on the cards.
After being in the large break on Sunday’s queen stage in Sierra Nevada, Carapaz faded on the final climb and was not able to add to his wins at Penas Blancas and La Pandera. But the 29-year-old’s brace was a timely reminder what he’s capable of – and has put him in with a chance of battling Jay Vine for the polka dot jersey in the final week.
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Riding his last Grand Tour for Ineos Grenadiers before joining EF Education-EasyPost, Carapaz is clearly one of the form riders of this Vuelta, having arrived at ‘gran salida’ in Utrecht under-raced and lacking in sharpness. Well out of the GC picture, we can expect more from him on the remaining three mountain stages – although he has 29 points to make up on Vine after the Australian put in a good showing on Sunday.

Carapaz holds on for second stage win as Roglic gains time on Evenepoel

Bad week: Ineos Grenadiers GC prospects

The British team had three riders in the top 10 after Tuesday’s time trial to Alicante but now they have a real battle on their hands to preserve Carlos Rodriguez’s place in the top five. After Pavel Sivakov’s Covid withdrawal and Tao Geoghegan Hart’s freefall to 18th place - below team-mate Carapaz - on the Alto Hoya de la Mora, Rodriguez remains the sole focal point for Ineos.
The Spanish debutant has had a good enough week – taking fourth in the TT and a promising fifth at La Pandera – but he traded places with compatriot Juan Ayuso in the top five on Sunday, and will now be looking over his shoulder at sixth-place Miguel Angel Lopez, just eight seconds down. The Colombian seems to be coming to the boil nicely while Rodriguez may well be missing the calming presence of Sivakov.
Having a single focus for the GC won’t necessarily be a bad thing for Ineos – especially with Carapaz now hunting stages to such devastating effect. But it will be a reminder for the British team that, until Egan Bernal returns to the top, they currently lack a genuine GC contender for the Grand Tours.

‘It’s pointless holding him back’ – Blythe on Carapaz and Ineos’ Vuelta ambitions

Good week: Mads Pedersen

After a string of bridesmaid’s finishes, the Dane finally got his win in Stage 13 – just as he had in the Tour de France. Fifth at Cabo de Gata the day Kaden Groves opened his account showed up Pedersen’s speed deficit against the pure finishers on flat finishes – but there is no doubting his ability on uphill ramps to the line.
If Pedersen was favourite going into Friday’s stage to Montilla then the way he tore up the 6% incline to reel in Pascal Ackermann and get the monkey off his back underlined his peerless qualities in the pack. With a lead of over 173 points on his nearest challenger in the green jersey standings, Pedersen could well already be dreaming of next year’s Giro, where he could wrap up one of the fastest – if not the fastest – Grand Tour stage win grand slams in history.

Watch Pedersen win first ever La Vuelta stage in style

Bad week: Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl tyres and soigneurs

Near-identical crashes in successive days for Julian Alaphilippe and Remco Evenepoel resulted in the French world champion leaving the race with a dislocated shoulder and the red jersey losing a bit of skin before looking to apportion blame to anyone else but the person who dropped the banana skin in the first place: himself.
There’s certainly scope for a joke about Quick-Step using slick tyres – even if Evenepoel had the last laugh by limiting his losses on both summit finishes last weekend to keep the red dream alive. On the first of those stages – where it really seemed like the Belgian could be on the cusp of imploding – a poor Quick-Step soigneur was sent sprawling by the impact of Evenepoel taking on a bidon on the penultimate climb.

‘Soigneur down, roll out of the way quickly!’ - Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl assistant falls over

It's fair to say it’s been a busy week for Quick-Step both on and off the bike. Although, at this rate, Patrick Lefevere's men may end up with the last laugh...

Good week: First-time winners

All five stage winners this past week were first-time winners on La Vuelta, with Evenepoel, Kaden Groves (BikeExchange-Jayco) and Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) all swooping to maiden Grand Tour stage wins alongside double stage winner Carapaz (a previous winner on the Giro) and Pedersen (a stage winner in this year’s Tour).
The number was up from the first week of the race, where only Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Louis Meintjes (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) were tasting success for the first time in the Vuelta, or indeed any Grand Tour. Groves’ win was immensely satisfying and the result of a great team effort from BikeExchange-Jayco just hours after Simon Yates was forced to withdraw, while Arensman’s victory – in the queen stage of the race – was arguably the stand-out solo performance.

‘It’s hard to believe’ – Arensman on ‘unbelievable’ stage win

Bad week: The old guard

Efforts from a long season – and even longer careers – are catching up with the peloton’s elder statesmen in the third and final Grand Tour of the season. No stage winner in the second week is yet to hit his 30s while all of the top except Primoz Roglic and Enric Mas – and indeed five of the top eight – qualify for the white jersey competition.
The sprightly success of youth is symptomatic of a race where the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde, Rigoberto Uran, Thibaut Pinot, Thomas De Gendt and Mikel Landa have all been rather anonymous. If veterans Nibali and Valverde have an excuse – riding in support of teammates Miguel Angel Lopez and Enric Mas in their final Grand Tours before retirement – then we may have expected a bit more from the others.
Uran and Nibali did get into the breakaway in Sierra Nevada on Sunday – and you can expect both riders, plus, surely, all the others, to try their luck at some point in the final week. But such is the groundswell surrounding the new generation of riders, even a 28-year-old like Hugh Carthy is starting to seem stale in the face of the sport’s fresh stars.

Good week: Covid

Around a dozen riders fell victim to Covid positive tests in the second week, most notably Simon Yates and Pavel Sivakov – two top 10 GC contenders – who packed their bags along with a trio of Kern Pharma riders the day after the time trial. Then there is also the additional case of UAE Team Emirates’ Juan Ayuso, the youngest rider in the race who has been allowed to ride on despite failing a test because of a low viral load deemed as low risk.
It’s fair to say that the spectre of Covid has hung over the race like the sword of Damocles, with Quick-Step manager Patrick Lefevere – on the brink of his team’s first Grand Tour victory – speaking about a “doomsday scenario” regarding a potential positive test for Evenepoel.

Covid withdrawals 'could end up being disastrous' at Vuelta

Bad week: Jumbo-Visma fans

Roglic managed to eat into Evenepoel’s lead on both summit finishes over the weekend, but Jumbo-Visma still have it all to do in the final week if they want to see the Slovenian win a record fourth consecutive Vuelta crown. With Sepp Kuss withdrawing in the first week and Edoardo Affini leaving ahead of the time trial – both because of Covid – Jumbo have been operating on a reduced platform.
Chris Harper and Rohan Dennis have shown a fair bit of pluck in the mountains to pave the way for Roglic, but Evenepoel hasn’t looked too isolated just yet – and the Belgian seems to have the answer when Roglic eventually does pull the trigger.
It may be that Jumbo-Visma and Roglic will eventually run down their rivals. But it’s still in the balance right now – and could well be a case of a missed opportunity should Evenepoel come back refreshed and reinvigorated from the rest day.

Should Roglic have attacked Evenepoel earlier?

Good week: Remco Evenepoel

The Belgian extended his lead over Roglic in the time trial and limited his losses so convincingly as to only concede 19 seconds to the Slovenian over the course of the entire week. Meanwhile, he extended his lead over third-place Mas by 49 seconds to just over two minutes.
It seems like news of the 22-year-old’s impending nosedive has been somewhat exaggerated. Far from cracking on Saturday, Evenepoel rode to his strengths – and then went on to rubbish the notion that he would struggle on the race’s highest finish on Sunday.
The only preconception remaining for Evenepoel to overturn is the suspicion that he cannot ride deep into the third and final week of a Grand Tour. Two summit finishes and a day in the medium mountains precede the penultimate stage of the race, where five categorised peaks will decide the outcome ahead of a flat finish atop the Puerto de Navacerrada.
If it was a parcours like this where Fabio Aru and Astana finally toppled Tom Dumoulin in 2015, Evenepoel has shown enough so far to suggest that he won’t falter in the same way as the Dutchman in his pursuit of glory.

‘Where’s Evenepoel!?’ – Watch moment Roglic drops red jersey in final kilometre

Jury still out: Primoz Roglic and Enric Mas

It is impossible to judge the performances of Evenepoel’s two main rivals in the second week of the race until we see how the third week pans out. That Roglic took time on the red jersey on both the major summit finishes is encouraging but demoralising in equal measures – for the gaps were slender, and the remaining tests far more manageable than those already in the bag.
Likewise, Mas edged closer to the race summit in Sierra Nevada, but he seems to lack the explosiveness of a rider who could genuinely crack a generational talent like Evenepoel. The final week will be fascinating, though, because there remain enough challenges to push the Belgian and his Quick-Step team to their limit.
Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma, Mas’ Movistar, Juan Ayuso’s UAE Team Emirates and Carlos Rodriguez’s Ineos Grenadiers have enough quality, together, to put Quick-Step to the sword. And yet, as each team pursues their own separate end-games and ambitions, we may not see a collective attempt to put Evenepoel to the sword.
Should Roglic or Mas eventually come out on top, however, we may look back at this second week and praise them for their patience and their long-game – the two experienced men with 20 Grand Tours between them getting the better of the impetuous tyro yet to even complete his first.
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