It must appear to Fred Wright that only acts of God stand between him and his first professional win, and so it was once again on stage 7 as he was beaten in a sprint from the breakaway by Jesús Herrada.
The five escapees were kept on a short leash all day as Mads Pedersen’s Trek-Segafredo balanced burning their riders on the category one climb plonked halfway through the stage to try and drop the pure sprinters and saving men for the chase on the sloping run to the finish line in Cistierna.
While the sprinters snuck back on after the summit and the likes of Sam Bennett’s Bora-Hansgrohe, Kaden Groves’ BikeExchange-Jayco and Dan McLay’s Arkéa-Samsic contributed to chase efforts, they eventually proved no match for a strong break who outfoxed and outraced the peloton.
“10 km to go when they had 1-15,” was when Mads Pedersen knew victory was going to elude him once more.
“My guys tried everything they could and there was not enough today,” he continued. “It was a pretty strong breakaway today so congrats to them, they played it well. It’s a pity when we had such a good climb and the boys did everything today, sometimes it goes our way, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Instead, it was up to Harry Sweeny (Lotto-Soudal), Jimmy Janssens (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Samuele Battistella (Astana-Qazaqstan), Cofidis’ Herrada and Wright to fight it out for the stage win.
Wright found himself on the front as the metres before the finish line ticked down, Janssens jumping early with around 500 m to go and forcing a response from the Brit who also began his sprint. As Janssens faded, Herrada surfed the slipstream of the Belgian before latching on to Wright’s wheel and then kicking again, a rare sprint victory for the Spaniard who doubles the home nation’s tally this Vuelta after the drought of 2021.
Battistella was also coming up quick but ran out of road, left to thump his handlebars in frustration as he took second place ahead of Wright, the 32-year-old Herrada’s experience trumping his breakaway counterparts youthful exuberance.
30 seconds later Bennett led the peloton over the line ahead of Groupama-FDJ’s Jake Stewart, followed by Groves, Pedersen and McLay. The GC rider arrived without incident, a comparative day-off compared to the two summit finishes that follow this weekend where Remco Evenepoel’s grip on the red jersey will be tested.
“We’ll see,” Evenepoel answered coyly as to whether he had plans to extend his advantage on the two coming mountain stages. “I have a nice advantage now, I will also be happy if I can just keep this time gap over the rest…”
However, Remco Evenepoel is Remco Evenepoel: “…but of course if there is an opportunity I will not let it go. Going into the time trial with an advantage is better than being behind.”