Cycling fans who like a bit of symmetry in race results will have been pleased by the Vuelta a España this year. When Primož Roglic won, it meant that the three grand tours of 2021 were won respectively by Egan Bernal, Tadej Pogacar and Roglic. There’s no doubt that these are the three pre-eminent grand tour riders of the age, and so it’s pleasing that each took home a winner’s jersey.
But was the Vuelta a good race? As the race unfolded, I wasn’t sure. From day one, I got no sense that there was any jeopardy in the GC beyond the minor placings. Roglic won the stage 1 TT, and though he let the red jersey go for a couple of mid-race spells, his rivals couldn’t lay a glove on him. Of course, I was as inspired as any right-thinking cycling fan by Fabio Jakobsen’s stage wins, and the uphill finishes of week one were entertaining enough, but it was reminding me a little of the Tour, which I don’t think was a vintage edition either.
However, stages 17 to 20 were as good a phase of racing as any in the entire season. Bernal and Roglic’s long break to Lagos de Covadonga was epic, and the next day, it was every rider for themselves on the misty and atmospheric (and very steep) Gamoniteiru climb. Stage 19 had little to do with the GC, but EF-Nippo and Magnus Cort’s brilliant and desperate breakaway win was more akin to the final stages of a classic. Stage 20 was the best of all, and probably my favourite GT day of 2021 - a full-on GC assault by Bahrain Victorious (which cost Bernal and Miguel Ángel López their overall ambitions) then a brilliant come-from-behind ambush by Clément Champoussin on the GC group for the stage win.
In the end, my memory is that the Vuelta was a great race, even if I knew who was going to win from early in the first week. It helps that it picked up in the final week, but it reminded us that stage races aren’t just about the GC.