Vuelta a Espana: Monster Hydro rider of the day

Road Cycling

For the second day in a row, the peloton opted not to chase down the break of the day and the stage victory went to one of the four Pro Continental teams in the race, as Cofidis’s Jesús Herrada claimed his first Grand Tour success, compensating for his elder brother José’s defeat to Burgos-BH duo Madrazo and Bol 24 hours earlier.

However, on this occasion the bunch’s decision not to commit also resulted in the red jersey changing hands, Bahrain’s Dylan Teuns moving into the lead as a result of finishing second on the stage, almost six minutes ahead of Miguel Ángel López, who for the second time this week was knocked out of first place after just one day.

When it became clear that López and his Astana team were happy to let the jersey go and relinquish the pressure of defending it, Ineos’s David de la Cruz looked the favourite to inherit it as the highest placed rider in the break, especially as the punchy finish at Ares del Maestrat would normally have suited him very well. But the Spaniard has looked some distance below his best since the Vuelta got under way, and his 11-second advantage over Teuns never looked likely to be enough once the Belgian made his attack four kilometres from the finish.

For Teuns, this was a third big success in as many months. Winner of the second stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné in June, the Bahrain-Merida rider bagged the biggest win of his career in July at the Tour de France when he outlasted Giulio Ciccone at La Planche des Belles Filles. Very talented and racing on a wave of confidence, he is now leading a Grand Tour for the first time.

Analysis: Once Astana eased off with its front-of-the-peloton pace-making to allow a rider in the breakaway to move into the red jersey, David de la Cruz and Dylan Teuns were best placed to benefit. The pair appeared well matched and were clearly keeping a close watch on each other coming onto the final climb, with 6km to the line. Teuns needed to gain 11 seconds, and made a strong attack to test out his Ineos rival with 3.9km to the line, too strong as it turned out for De la Cruz. With one swoop, the contest was over.

Stage 5 – Madrazo leads in the stars

Teams that gain a wild card selection to big races like the Vuelta a Espana always want to prove that they are worthy of their place, and Burgos-BH did that in the best fashion on the Vuelta’s new summit at the Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre, outshining the race’s major stars with a 1-2 finish thanks to rider of the day Ángel Madrazo and teammate Jetse Bol.

Burgos began the day determined to defend Madrazo’s lead in the mountains competition, Dutchman Bol joining his experienced Spanish teammate in the break along with José Herrada of Cofidis. Madrazo in the blue polka-dot jersey and Bol in Burgos’s unmistakable purple colours fulfilled this task perfectly, cleaning up the points on the climbs to consolidate Madrazo’s lead.

As none of the three escapees were any threat to the leader’s jersey, the peloton’s big guns, led by Nicolas Roche’s Team Sunweb, weren’t concerned with chasing them down. When with little than 20 kilometres remaining their lead was still close to 10 minutes, it became clear that they were away for good and that the stage win would go to one of the trio.

On the steep ramps of the final climb, Madrazo attacked once, got dropped four times, but fought back on each occasion, the last time clawing his way up to Bol and Herrada as they reached the final kilometre. Bol had, meanwhile, let Herrada set the pace, occasionally coming through, but for the most part glued to the Cofidis rider’s back wheel.

Herrada’s tactic of riding on the front suggested he was the strongest, but ultimately numbers told. Madrazo, who rode with Herrada for two years at Movistar, perhaps knew that his acceleration on the climbs would make the difference at the end. When he delivered it, Herrada certainly had no answer, and Burgos-BH had a famous win, Bol’s second place making it even more memorable.

Analysis: Madrazo, Bol and Herrada’s attack appeared to a typical kamikaze raid, the two Burgos-BH riders essentially focused on keeping the mountains jersey on Madrazo’s shoulders. Yet, once their lead reached and, crucially, stayed at more than 10 minutes, they realized the stage win was at stake. Although Madrazo was dropped several times, and was at one point almost knocked off his bike by his own team car, he kept making his way back because Herrada just couldn’t shake Bol. With two against one in the final kilometre, the Burgos pair played their tactics perfectly, Madrazo attacking, Bol tracking, Herrada beaten.

Stage 4 – Jakobsen seals a superb team effort with his first Grand Tour success

Deceuninck-QuickStep have come to the Vuelta a Espana with stage wins as their priority and substantial hope vested in Dutch champion Fabio Jakobsen for the bunch sprints, and he takes today’s honour having just managed to hold off Sam Bennett in El Puig to cap off a superb team performance.

His teammates played a vital role in his success, firstly by pacing him back to the bunch after he had been distanced on the day’s only categorised climb. Once the young Dutchman was safely back in the peloton, Tom Declercq set about chasing down the two-man break of Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal) and Jorge Cubero (Burgos-BH).

Coming into the final 6km, Remi Cavagna went to the front, ostensibly to set the pace for Jakobsen, but the Frenchman got a gap and took full advantage of it, giving all he had for the next 4km, forcing Bennett’s Bora-Hansgrohe team to commit vital resources to reel him in. Crucially, this chase cost Bennett his key lead-out man, Shane Archbold.

While Bennett had to negotiate his own way in the sprint, Jakobsen got the perfect lead-out from Zdenek Stybar and Max Richeze. He then just enough speed to make sure all that teamwork paid off.

“We did a perfect lead-out. When it was my time I went, and we went full for the line,” said Jakobsen. “I threw the bike for the line and couldn’t see [who won] because I closed my eyes and Sam was close to me. I knew when I saw the guys from the team cheering.” 

Analysis: Jakobsen wasn’t the fastest in the sprint, but, set up perfectly by his teammates, he didn’t make any mistakes and, ultimately, that gave him the winning edge over Sam Bennett. It was impressive way to take his first Grand Tour victory and give himself an early present for his 23rd birthday, which falls on Saturday.

Stage 3 – Sam Bennett smashes the sprint

On a nailed-on sprint stage of the Vuelta a Espana where, let’s be frank, there wasn’t a whole lot of action, there was only ever going to be one winner of stage 3’s rider of the day. Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) takes the honours today for a flawless sprint in Alicante.

The Irishman took his fourth Grand Tour stage win and first at his debut Vuelta, winning by two clear bike lengths from the next-fastest man, Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo).

After strong work by his team in the closing kilometres, Bennett jumped on the back of the Trek train in the final metres, starting his sprint 150 metres from the line, just as Theuns’ lead out man John Degenkolb peeled off.

What followed was an unmatchable display of power, as the 28-year-old eased to victory number 12 in 2019.

“After last week [at the BinckBank Tour] people expected this, and that brings extra pressure,” said Bennett after the finish. “And there was pressure from myself, which is the worst kind of pressure.”

As he went on to say, the pressure is off now. Bennett has his victory and he’ll be the favourite for more, starting with tomorrow’s flat stage 4.

Analysis: It has been a great opening to the Vuelta for Ireland. The country has two men on the start list and already have the red jersey and a stage win. Bennett becomes the sixth Irishman to win a stage at the Vuelta after Shay Elliott, Sean Kelly, Philip Deignan, Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche. Roche is also the first Irishman to lead the race since Kelly back in 1988.

Stage 2 – Armee rides with heart

Under most circumstances, the stage 2 award would go to Nairo Quintana (Movistar) for his impressive stage win, or even Nicolas Roche, who rolled back the years and put in a canny performance to assume the Vuelta a Espana leadership after two days.

However, the Monster rider of the day award goes to an athlete who finished 115th on the stage, Sander Armee.

The Belgian and his Lotto Soudal teammates led a minute’s silence at the start of the day to commemorate Bjorg Lambrecht, who tragically lost his life in a crash at the Tour de Pologne earlier this summer. The last few weeks have been unsurprisingly and understandably difficult for the Lotto Soudal team but through it all, they have raced with pride and dignity as they look to honour the memory of the late 22-year-old.

Armee epitomized that spirit with his ride on stage 2. He helped force the early break and then, even with the peloton breathing down his neck, still attacked solo with 39km to go and held off the charge for another 8km of racing.

It was a futile late move from Armee but that was beside the point. If he couldn’t win the race then he would at least give it everything for the cause.

Analysis: Quintana’s move was special and Roche’s dogged ride was a timely reminder that he can still ride with the best in the world on his day but the award of rider of the day has to go to Armee. The Belgian won a stage at the Vuelta two years ago but today, when the bunch was closing in, wasn’t about winning. It was simply about paying respects and putting in a ride that would have made Lambrecht proud.

Stage 1 – Lopez superb in opening team time trial

There were few realistic options to choose from but anyone of the Astana riders could have been selected given that this was a team effort. However, Miguel Angel Lopez is the Cyclingnews Monster rider of the day for the simple reason that he crossed line first and pulled on the leader’s jersey at the end of the team trial on stage 1 of the Vuelta a Espana.

Success in Grand Tour racing is based upon execution and there was little to fault Astana over their ride in the 13.4km course. Fastest at the first time check by a massive six seconds and then dominant all the way to the line, they made use of their significant horsepower with arguably a stronger team than they had at the Tour de France in July.

If execution of performance is important then so too is momentum. This is only stage 1 and the time gaps to the majority of their rivals – Jumbo-Visma aside – are relatively small but the confidence gained from an early win will filter through the Astana ranks tonight and last for a number of days.

For Lopez, who led the team home and looked comfortable doing so, this is an important marker. He now has a buffer on several key rivals and the two-time podium finisher in Grand Tours clearly has the form to contend the leader’s jersey all the way to Madrid.

The question at the dinner table this evening will be whether Astana decide to relinquish the leader’s jersey over the next few days. Sunday’s stage should end in a sprint but there are key stages dotted inside the first week that will have a detrimental effect on the GC battle in this year’s race.

Analysis: It’s early days at the Vuelta but already we’ve been provided with a possible glimpse of what’s to come. Astana and Sunweb will come away from the stage with their confidence boosted but for the likes of Movistar, Mitchelton and especially Jumbo Visma this was a bruising encounter. Astana and Lopez looked untouchable with the Colombian certainly one of the main favourites for the race. The race has only begun but this was a major marker for Astana and their leader.

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