One attack on the final big climb of this Vuelta Espana was all it took for Tadej Pogacar to win the stage, leapfrog his way onto the podium, and deliver Miguel Angel Lopez a lesson in bike racing.
Where Pogacar had gone for quality Lopez chose quantity, attacking again and again to little effect. In the closing stages he was neutralised, rolling in without making inroads.
Bolt, well and truly shot.
Pogacar’s attack had seen him peg back the day’s break, scorch past, and threaten even Valverde’s second place on the podium. With a defecit on the road stretching beyond a minute and a half Valverde knew this was a distinct possibility.
The wily Spaniard got to work chasing down the young buck. Scrapping hard to protect his position. He would not catch him, but had to limit losses, and turned himself inside out (and back again) in the cause.Embed from Getty Images
Valverde, of course, is nineteen years older than Pogacar.
I’m sure I wasn’t alone in reflecting on exactly what I was up to at the age of twenty. Back then I barely possessed the required tactical acumen to turn up for an early morning lecture on time, never mind outfox an entire peloton’s worth of cyclists.
Had I focussed less on seeking out the cheapest pint in Manchester and more on seeking out improvements to my V02 max, then who knows? In fact, let’s be honest, we all know. Pogacar is a freak.
I’d like to see him fund a night out in a major city for less than twenty quid though.
Pogacar’s podium place seals this race as the Slovenian Vuelta Espana; his countryman Primoz Roglic, today, was invisible, in the best possible way. Following the moves he needed to, expending energy at judicious moments, and putting barely a wheel wrong.
Barring any mishaps on the road to Madrid tomorrow he is utterly deserving of his first Grand Tour win. Asked, post stage, how come he’s smiling for the first time in the Vuelta, he answered ‘I was smiling only in secret places.’
Which is a nice line.
Truth is, for many stages now he’s had the look of a man who knows he’ll win the Vuelta.Embed from Getty Images
All of which leaves me to reflect on two British performance on this final competitive stage. James Knox, badly injured in the crash on Stage 18, suffered. Like a dog. Chaperoned all day by Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar he was teary and emotional at the finish. The lines on his face betraying the kind of day he’d had.
He missed the top ten on GC by a handful of seconds which, on reflection, and after a few days off, might well morph from disappointment to assume the status of ‘breakthrough’ Grand Tour.
And Tao Geoghegan-Hart?
His GC ambitions disappeared early in this race. He’s shown, however, in this final week of racing, that he might just be a Grand Tour Prospect in the making. It’s a rare rider who has the strength to attack up the road time and again in the third week of a Grand Tour.
Not his race, but a stepping stone, perhaps, to bigger and better. The 84% of cycling journalists (by my rough estimation) who cannot yet spell his surname need to up their game in readiness.
But tomorrow, Madrid, for the conclusion to this most Slovenian Vuelta Espana.
(Slovenian Flag: Nicolas Raymond via Flickr CC)