La Vuelta Stage 16: The Beginning of the End
The Vuelta prepares to enter its endgame on the final routine sprint stage of the race
The Vuelta’s final sprint stage before the peloton enters the homestretch at the Vuelta a España was won by Fabio Jakobsen, whose Deceuninck - QuickStep once again dominated the finale and delivered Jakobsen to his third victory of the race. If there was any doubt around Jakobsen’s ability to bounce back from his horrible crash in August of 2020, it is now thoroughly in the rear-view mirror, and the Dutch rider has once again emerged as one of, if not the most, powerful and consistent sprinters in the sport.
Despite a short-lived mid-stage acceleration from UAE Team Emirates in an attempt to isolate and drop Jakobsen for the benefit of their own sprinter Matteo Trentin, there was little to write home about concerning the rest of the stage. The only thing to note was a high-speed early on the stage that brought down Enric Mas, currently in 4th place, and Guillaume Martin, currently in 2nd. The severity and extent of their injuries wasn’t clear, but with two looming mountain stages and a long time trial to come before the race ends on Sunday, the timing for the two riders couldn’t have been worse.
Stage Top Five:
Fabio Jakobsen +0
Jordi Meeus +0
Matteo Trentin +0
Michael Matthews +0
Alberto Dainese +0
GC Top Ten:
Stage 16 Race Notes:
57.7km: Mid-way through the stage, team UAE lifts the pace at the front on the hardest climb of the day.
56.7km: It is successful in breaking up the bunch, and I assume this move is to try to drop the sprinters for Matteo Trentin.
54.1km: While they do split the bunch and drop Fabio Jakobsen, the peloton is still so large and Jakobsen has his entire DQS team with him to pace him back to the front group.
9.8km: Just inside the final 10km, the breakaway is about to be caught, but Stan Dewulf from AG2R-Citroën uses this as an opportunity to jump away from the rest of the breakaway in a last-ditch attempt to win the stage. I like these moves since they can screw up the peloton’s calculations and sometimes even confuse the bunch, who tends to think they just caught all the escapees, only to have more riding away for the win.
4.5km: Dewulf’s move is strong, but is ultimately brought back by Groupama-FDJ. With Arnaud Démare no longer able to seriously compete in these bunch sprints, I can’t believe FDJ is still investing resources in the chase.
1.8km-500m: The final kilometer is extremely narrow and sketchy, and DQS uses their firepower to get to the front to displace the teams of the rival sprinters and dive into the narrow section in the lead position.
500m-400m: Notice that unlike stage 13, when they rode away from their sprinter Jakobsen, the DQS leadout man is taking the time to look back, see his sprinter is dropped, and sitting up to wait for him.
200m: DQS runs out of riders to lead out Jakobsen, but are oddly bailed out by Alexander Krieger on Alpecin-Fenix, who is giving the perfect leadout for Jakobsen, even though his own sprinter Sacha Modolo is nowhere near the front.
100m: Jordi Meeus launches his sprint first but Jakobsen coolly comes around him for an easy win, while Matteo Trentin beats Michael Matthews for third place.
1) Fabio Jakobsen is proving to be simply unbeatable in straight-up sprints.
This is his 3rd win of this Vuelta out of five bunch sprints, which raises his bunch sprint win rate to a peloton-best 50% from 2019-2021.
The bad news for the rest of the sport’s sprinters is that Jakobsen appears to be getting stronger as the race goes on.
He wins today on his birthday, and I was shocked to see that he is only 25-years-old, which means if he can continue on this form, he could dominate the grand tour sprinting world for a few seasons to come.
2) Teams like BikeExchange, Trek, Groupama-FDJ, and DSM were working to pull back the breakaway when they should have been trying to get into and drive moves away from Jakobsen.
Out of the last 12 grand tour bunch sprints, DQS has won eight of them.
DQS is playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers. Despite winning an absurd percentage of bunch sprints, they have somehow Jedi mind-tricked teams with no interest in putting in work at the front to help them control the break into pulling.
They do this by refusing to work and letting the breakaway ride away if other teams won’t share the work.
Essentially, they are willing to sacrifice stages in order to gain leverage in future stages.
3) Ciccone leaves the race after crashing early on the stage, which leaves Trek in a very difficult spot.
They seemingly went all-in on his GC camping at the expense of stage wins, and now with him crashing out of his second-straight grand tour, the absurdity of building a grand tour team around a rider fighting, but not quite succeeding, to stay high up in the overall is exposed.
Ciccone was 12th place overall when he dropped out of this Vuelta and 10th overall when he dropped out of the Giro earlier this year.
Trek keeps riding to support in the GC despite him never finishing in the top 15 of a grand tour and not having finished a grand tour since 2019.
This is an extremely high risk, low reward strategy, versus chasing stage wins like DSM, which allows a team to have a ‘great’ race with a relatively low hit rate.
4) These mid-stage attacks are more garnish than a serious main course.
For example, while today’s mid-stage move looked like it could imperil Jakobsen, in reality, there wasn’t enough firepower in the lead group to hold off a very organized second group, only 30-seconds back, over 50-kilometers of racing.
While the very best riders at this Vuelta are world-class, there is a steep quality dropoff in many teams, which means these long-range, mid-stage moves have little-to-no chance of sticking.
5) Enric Mas went down in a high-speed crash earlier in the stage, and while it isn’t clear the severity of his injuries, it certainly couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The risk of crashing in the north of Spain is higher due to it being more densely populated areas with much more road furniture compared to the south, which is full of wide-open roads.
Stage 17 Preview & Predictions:
Stuff starts to get real as the Vuelta’s endgame begins tomorrow. A series of hard stages kick off with a 186km-long mountain stage through the Asturias region, which is capped by a summit finish at the iconic and stunning beautiful Lagos de Covadonga.
Many fans and pundits are predicting an all-out GC assault from Roglic’s rivals, but I think we will see more of the same; nothing.
With so many riders with limited overall grand tour success in contention for the podium, there is simply too much at stake to risk it all with a long-range attack.
And, with two relatively short climbs before a hard, 13km-long, 7% final climb, all the GC contenders will want to keep their powder dry for the final climb.
Also, the long valley between the penultimate and final climb will deter attacks.
Jumbo’s director has said it is time to start taking Martin and Eiking seriously, which potentially means they will keep the break in check and plan on unleashing Roglic on the climb, which suits him incredibly well.
Many of the sport’s great climbers have won at Lagos de Covadonga, so it would be fitting for whoever goes onto the win the overall to contest this stage instead of a rider from the breakaway.
Prediction: A strong break gets up the road, but Jumbo, eager to put Eiking and Martin under pressure, increases the pace on the final climb. Roglic wins the stage, with Mas, Haig, Bernal, and Lopez a few seconds back. Eiking is dropped but holds onto the race lead while Martin falls out of contention.