The dust has settled, the final cerveza has been sipped and the Vuelta a España is over for another year.
The year’s final Grand Tour wound up in Madrid on Sunday with Jumbo-Visma’s Primož Roglič finally netting the big result he’s been promising for a few years. Following his dominant performance in the time trial on stage 10 he never really looked under threat, teammates George Bennett and Sepp Kuss acting as more than competent wingmen all the way to the line. But as with all Grand Tours, there was a lot more going on beside the race for the GC.
With three stage wins to his name, the third of those coming in the race's penultimate day and propelling him onto the podium, it's hard to overstate just how successful this Vuelta has been for Roglič’s fellow Slovenian, Tadej Pogačar. The UAE rider is, of course, the reigning champion of the Amgen Tour of California, so his stage racing skills were never in question. Nevertheless, the 20-year-old was considered an unproven quantity when it came to three-week racing.
He answered those questions handsomely in Spain though. His stage wins all came in the very toughest terrain, the final one deep into the third week of a super-tough edition of the Vuelta when the entire peloton was on its knees. His third place on the main GC was also enough to secure him the white jersey for best young rider.
Cycling fans are now faced with the tantalizing prospect of seeing both the 2018 and 2019 Amgen Tour of California champions going toe-to-toe next year at the Tour de France. Young Colombian Egan Bernal was taking a deserved rest this month but is sure to be back on the grandest stage of all in France next July to prove he’s no one-hit wonder. Bernal versus Pogačar in the high Alps next summer? Expect fireworks.
Rémi Cavagna's victory from the break on stage 19 will have brought back memories of his – slightly shaky – win into Morgan Hill earlier this year in May.
His win on the flat run to Toledo – if you can call a stage with 4,500ft of elevation as flat – was a little more straightforward, the Frenchman netting the fourth of five stage wins for the all-conquering Deceuninck - Quick-Step team. Also chipping in with a couple of those victories was Fabio Jakobsen, who won in Morro Bay earlier this year. The Dutchman proved that he’s one of the brightest young stars in sprinting when he outstripped Sam Bennett on the downtown Madrid criterium circuit on Sunday night.
Young stars continue to rise
It was a good Vuelta for former California favorites and US riders, particularly the young guns.
Sepp Kuss' stage win puts his torrid trip to the Giro d'Italia to bed well and truly. The American Jumbo-Visma climber shot clear of the breakaway on stage 15, making the most of a rare opportunity to ride in his own interests after spending most of the Vuelta working in the service of his team leader. Kuss proved that he’s a class act with that win, and we think it hints at even greater potential.
Neilson Powless, the young American teammate of Kuss and Roglič, announced he'd be signing for US WorldTour squad EF Education First midway through the Vuelta, but that didn't seem to affect his performance while still wearing the yellow and black of his old team. We can't wait to see him develop into a key member of the grooviest squad in world cycling as the years go on – he's still only 23 don't forget.
Soon-to-be teammate to Powless, another prodigy taking the cycling world by storm is Sergio Higuita. The pocket-rocket from Medellín flew to a win on stage 18 into Becerril de la Sierra, adding a maiden Grand Tour stage to his second place at this year’s Tour of California to cap a superb season for the 22-year-old Colombian. Back in May it was Higuita who pushed Pogačar all the way to the line, eventually losing by just 16 seconds to the Great and Powerful Pog.
Texan Lawson Craddock finished his first Vuelta since 2015 in a creditable 58th place, though that doesn’t tell the whole story. His EF Education First team suffered more than most from crashes in this year’s race, with leader Rigoberto Urán and Hugh Carthy forced to abandon after a huge crash on stage 6 and 2013 California champ Tejay van Garderen quitting the next day. But if anyone knows how to battle on to the end it’s Craddock, who in last year’s Tour de France made it all the way to Paris despite fracturing his shoulder blade on the 1st stage.
Attention now turns to the World Championships in Yorkshire, England at the end of September. The US team is set to feature Powless and Craddock in the men’s road race alongside Alex Howes and Chad Haga. Craddock and Haga will also hit out in the time trial. That’s some way to finish the season!