La Vuelta Stage 21: Pure Dominance
A final stage time trial breaks from tradition but sets the stage for a dominant win
The Vuelta a España’s final stage broke from tradition, and instead of the usual procession into Madrid, served up a challenging time trial in the famous pilgrimage site Santiago de Compostela tucked amongst the hills of Galicia. Primož Roglič drove home his overall win by ripping over the 33-kilometer course to win the stage and wrap up his third-consecutive Vuelta victory. His win was so dominant that he put a further two minutes between himself and second-place overall Enric Mas, who ended the stage 4’42 behind Roglic in the overall standings. After a slow start, Jack Haig rallied and finished the stage 26-seconds ahead of Adam Yates to seal his first-ever grand tour podium finish.
Magnus Cort, who won three stages at this Vuelta, just missed out on a 4th due to Roglič’s screaming ride, but the Dane will walk away from this Vuelta feeling as though he has taken a major step up in the sport’s hierarchy and into the upcoming World Championships with incredible form and heaps of confidence.
Final GC Podium:
1) Primož Roglič +0
2) Enric Mas +4’42
3) Jack Haig +7’40
Stage Top Five:
Primož Roglič +0
Magnus Cort +14
Thymen Arensman +52
Top Ten Overall:
Link to detailed stage results & checkpoint breakdowns
Stage 21 Race Notes:
The TT course starts on a slight climb, and Adam Yates starts incredibly fast and we can see him climbing out-of-the-saddle.
We can see at the first checkpoint at the top of the climb that he is 29-seconds ahead of Jack Haig. While this means he is technically on pace to overtake Haig and take third place overall, we can see that Haig is using a much-more measured style and at least appears to be pacing his ride much better.
And this is supported by the fact that Yates falls apart shortly afterward and Haig comes through the end of his ride over 30-seconds ahead of him, which means he easily holds onto his podium spot.
Roglic rips through the second intermediate time check 17-seconds ahead of Magnus Cort. He has lost 3-seconds from the 1st and 2nd time check to the current stage leader, but we can see he looks incredibly smooth in his aero position.
Later in the stage, Roglic courts disaster by nearly riding off course. He is able to correct course without losing too much time, but had he been forced to make a quicker correction, or gone through the tape, he easily could have crashed. This shows why pushing it on the final time trial when you already have the overall wrapped up can be risky.
On the climb before the finish, Roglic is absolutely flying and explodes past Mas, who started two minutes ahead of him.
The distance he puts into Mas in just the short straight away after the climb is somewhat shocking and he crosses the line 14-seconds faster than Cort to win the stage.
1) Primož Roglič wins his 4th stage at this year’s Vuelta with an absolutely crushing ride in this time trial.
His ability to sustain a steady yet massive output of power over such an extended period of time, while also having a compact, aerodynamic position, makes him one of the best time trialists in modern cycling.
This time trial ability, combined with his world-class climbing, makes Roglic almost the perfect template for the modern grand tour winner, and these skills make him incredibly difficult to beat if he doesn’t crash out.
Roglič’s decision to blow by Mas in the final few hundred meters got some criticism from the cycling media, but in my opinion, this is absurd. Roglič races to win, and it is crazy to suggest he needs to hold back to avoid winning stages and ‘embarrassing’ other riders.
It would have been more embarrassing for Mas, a star in his own right if Roglic would have slowed down and ridden just behind him to avoid passing him in the final straight.
Also, Mas, who started two minutes before Roglic, could have avoided this by riding harder.
2) Roglič’s stage win also saw him take the overall win with a massive 4’42 gap over second-place Enric Mas.
This gap is more than the time gaps of his first two wins combined and the largest winning margin at the Vuelta since 1996.
Only four riders have ever won the race three times, and Roglic becomes only the third rider ever to win the race in three consecutive years. His worst-ever career finish at the Vuelta is 1st place overall.
This is a stunning run and means he has won more grand tours in the past three seasons than any other rider.
After Tadej Pogacar dramatically beat Roglic at the 2020 Tour de France, it would be hard to argue that Roglic is the better grand tour racer, but at the very least, we have to consider him a close second.
And after we finally got to see the third rider to win multiple grand tours since 2019, Egan Bernal, finally face off and lose against Roglic, it is clear we have two grand tour stars simply a cut above the rest.
3) Magnus Cort, who took second to Roglic on the final stage, put in a great ride and just missed out on his 4th stage win of this Vuelta.
If we look at the time splits from the stage, Cort lost 20-seconds to Roglic in the first 13kms of the stage, but was able to slowly chip back time over the course before finishing 14-seconds down on Roglic at the finish.
Cort has not traditionally been a great time trialist, but he has slowly been improving in the discipline. For those watching closely, he got 9th place at the stage 20 time trial at the 2021 Tour de France.
This result on such a difficult time trial course shows that Cort is on amazing form and should be a darkhorse favorite for the upcoming World Championship road race.
4) Enric Mas ties his best-ever finish in a grand tour with second place overall, and, despite the major time gap to Roglic, gets the best result of his career.
Getting second to Roglic, the second-best grand tour rider in the world is a much better result than when he finished behind Simon Yates at the 2018 Vuelta.
Also, outside of stage 17, when Bernal and Roglic went clear on the penultimate climb and built up a large gap before heading into the final climb, he was able to counter Roglic’s signature Roglic-surges on the final climbs and appeared to be able to match him pedal-stroke-for-pedal-stroke.
But, this all changed during today’s time trial and we see once again that unless a rider has a world-class time trial, it can be difficult to win a grand tour.
5) Egan Bernal puts in his best-ever grand tour time trial performance to cap a very up-and-down race.
At times, he appeared to be the second-strongest rider in the race, while at others, he struggled to hold pace.
Even with his struggles, his time trial was good enough that had he gone to the line with Haig yesterday, he would likely have finished in third place overall after today’s stage.
Knowing what we know now, it seems like Ineos’ tactics yesterday, even though they ended Lopez’s GC run, ended up costing them a podium finish.
It is worth noting that this was Bernal’s first race since getting COVID after winning the Giro in May, and it was undeniable that he didn’t look quite as strong as he did before the virus.
6) Adam Yates finished over three minutes behind Roglic on the stage and almost 30-seconds behind Jack Haig, who took the final podium spot.
Yates went out incredibly fast but faded as the stage went on. This hail-mary tactic is surprising coming from an Ineos rider since the team has traditionally placed a massive emphasis on time trial pacing.
This has to be massively disappointing for Ineos, who seemed to give Yates free reign all race long, only to have their highest-placed rider finish off the podium by nearly two minutes.
7) Bahrain Victorious went to both the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana with Mikel Landa as their GC leader. Landa DNF’d both races, but Bahrain still podiumed at both races, with Damiano Caruso getting 2nd at the Giro and Haig getting 3rd here.
This is incredible and hints at a great organization inside the team.
It also isn’t a great endorsement of Mikel Landa, who will struggle to find his place in the team when he returns. His decision to drop out of the race mid-stage after one of his attacks failed instead of sticking around to help Jack Haig and Gino Mader ride to the best GC results of their careers certainly won’t endear him to his team.
It is notable that they lost their rock-star performance director Rod Ellingworth in the offseason when he went back to Ineos. Their performance bump since then could be completely unrelated, but it certainly isn’t a great look for Ellingworth that Bahrain’s fortunes seem to be on the rise while Ineos has hit a rough patch.
8) Jack Haig’s 3rd place overall is massive for him and his career.
But, it is obvious that the time trial will be his major limiter going forward.
Adding to the difficulty, it is extremely difficult for tall riders without a natural time trial ability to retroactively become good time trialists, since their height gives them a massive aerodynamic disadvantage.
BikeExchange has to be kicking themselves that they let him go at the end of 2020.
9) Sepp Kuss lost over five minutes on his teammate Roglic on the stage to finish 18’55 back in 8th place overall.
This is a good finish positioning, but it is an obscene amount of time to lose in a single stage and shows potentially disqualifying weaknesses in his GC resume.
10) We see once again that time trials are the most underrated discipline in grand tour racing.
I will do a full breakdown of where riders won/lost time early next week, but at a glance, Roglic took 2’22 from Mas and 3’13 from Haig in the 40-kilometers of time trials.
And having time trials stacked at the end of the race gives a massive advantage to superior time trialists, since although less-proficient riders should act as though they are racing from 2-3 minutes down, they almost always fail to, and chose instead to take their chances in the final time trial, where they almost always get blown out.
Programming Note: Thank you for reading and following along during this race. Due to the US holiday on Monday, I will be sending out the full Vuelta breakdown (with a fantasy league breakdown) and takeaways on Tuesday, September 7th.
Somewhat surprising that Mas got blown out that badly, especially towards the end. He was standing and churning 75-80rpm when he got passed by Roglic. That looked like a mechanical issue which would be very unfortunate.