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The final WorldTour race of the 2020 season is officially in the books, and what a whirlwind of a season it ended up being after pro road racing resumed with a much condensed calendar in August.
The Vuelta a España closed things out with an excellent, narrow GC battle in Spain as multiple riders were in position to challenge for red even into the final few days of the race.
When all was said and done, pre-race favorite Primoz Roglic had triumphed, with Richard Carapaz and Hugh Carthy securing hard-earned spots on the final podium.
All three riders came into the race with an opportunity to answer questions about where they stood in the hierarchy of today’s Grand Tour bona fides. Although there was only one winner, all three riders can walk away from their final racing appearance of this unusual season with head held high knowing that they proved something in Spain. That seemed like the kind of thing worth exploring a little more deeply …
Primoz Roglic proved (again) that he can close out a Grand Tour.
Before diving too deep into this, I should point out that the way I see it, the winner of the 2020 Vuelta a España did not really have that much to prove. He was the Vuelta’s defending champ, after all, and as stunning as his defeat at the Tour de France earlier this year may have been, it had much more to do with Tadej Pogacar’s brilliance in the final time trial than any kind of collapse for Roglic (who finished fifth in the TT).
All that said, given the way last year’s Giro and this year’s Tour worked out, there was still plenty of talk about whether Roglic would hold on in the final week of this race. Whether or not that was deserved, Roglic put those concerns to bed over the last week, delivering a solid ride in the time trial to cushion his advantage and then withstanding a late push by Carapaz on the Alto de la Covatilla.
Sure, Movistar helped keep the gap to the former Movistar rider small, but that’s how racing works sometimes. In the end, Roglic put together a strong performance through the whole race, and let’s not forget: He did so after very nearly winning the Tour de France. Chris Froome’s big 2017 may have helped normalize it but winning a Grand Tour after finishing on the podium in one in the same year is pretty darn rare in the modern era. And, by the way, if winning red wasn’t enough to impress you, Roglic also dominated the points classification, winning four stages over the course of the race.
In other words, Roglic wasn’t just strong through nearly three weeks of Vuelta racing; he was strong through nearly six weeks of Grand Tour racing on the year. Looking ahead to 2021, there’s little question that Roglic and his powerhouse Jumbo-Visma squad (what a race from Sepp Kuss, again, by the way) will be a major obstacle for the rest of the peloton to overcome at the Grand Tours.
Richard Carapaz is not going anywhere.
2019 Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz won’t have been thrilled that he couldn’t quite overhaul Roglic in the final week of this Vuelta, but I’d imagine that once the disappointment wears off, he will be happy to have ridden a very close second place behind Roglic.
Carapaz may have won the Giro last year, but there was some uncertainty about just how good he might be as a consistent GC contender after that one big result, and that uncertainty was amplified by his quick departure from contention at the Tour this year. At the Vuelta, however, there was no question from day one that he was a strong contender for the overall crown.
Although he did lose red to Roglic in the TT, Carapaz put in a good ride against the clock to stay in the battle for the overall title. He was unflappable on most (though not all) of the climbs in the race as well, which helped solidify his very solid second place performance in the end. Not all Grand Tour runner-up rides are the same (Jean Christophe-Peraud was a whopping seven minutes behind Vincenzo Nibali at the 2014 Tour, for example). Finishing just 24 seconds down after 18 days of racing is pretty darn good, and Carapaz did it without most of Ineos’ top Grand Tour support riders, in a race without much high-altitude climbing.
Carapaz’s Vuelta was the latest chapter in what proved to be an intriguing roller-coaster ride of a year for the Ineos Grenadiers. Carapaz was out of the running early at the Tour, and then Egan Bernal left the race altogether, leaving the squad without a GC contender for the first time in years. Then, Geraint Thomas crashed out of the Giro d’Italia. But the team rallied and won the Giro with Tao Geoghegan Hart, and then Carapaz battled Roglic down to the final climb of the Vuelta.
Looking ahead to next year, it’s going to be fascinating to see how the team arrays its multiple Grand Tour stars across the different races. To recap, even with Chris Froome moving on, the team has two Tour de France champions on its roster and two Giro d’Italia champions. It’s not easy staking your claim to Grand Tour leadership surrounded by talent like that, but Carapaz did so with his strong Vuelta.
EF has a Grand Tour contender in Hugh Carthy.
Hugh Carthy has been seen as a promising climber for a few years, but bona fide results in big races were hard to come by — until now. Given a chance to lead the way for EF at the Vuelta, the 26-year-old Briton delivered in a major way.
As was the case with Carapaz, Carthy’s podium performance wasn’t your run-of-the-mill third place. He looked like a legitimate contender to win this race heading into the final stages, and he finished the last mountain stage a mere 47 seconds off the lead (his final margin was 1:15 after he rolled across the Madrid finish line behind a split). He rode a very consistent race, he picked up a stage win along the way, and he was particularly impressive in the time trial. Not known for his prowess against the clock, he finished as the fourth fastest rider in the whole race.
In other words, this was not a ride with the trappings of a one-off performance. Carthy proved that he’s a legitimate GC rider. Plus, he’s only 26. It may be easy to forget in the era of Tadej Pogacar and Egan Bernal, but 26 is still relatively young for a Grand Tour contender; Carthy has time to continue to improve.
Even as Rigoberto Urán has not yet been officially re-signed for EF, the team now knows it has an ace climber and an apparently decent TT rider coming off a close battle with two Grand Tour winners. Carthy’s strong Vuelta should give EF team manager Jonathan Vaughters some confidence about his squad’s GC prospects for 2021.