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Vuelta Stage 21: Don’t leave me confused!

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Fuenlabrada - Madrid (107km)

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Writing regularly is challenging, as anyone who’s tried it to deadlines can attest. Writing about cycling for a group as knowledgeable and thoughtful as the PdC crew is downright intimidating. I work hard to learn as much as I can, to follow the sport diligently, and to plan columns and seek insight. I also miss things, make mistakes, and am generally frustrating to read or listen to. The community can be relied upon to gently (and, sometimes, not so gently) point out my errors and lead us closer to a collective view of the professional sport that is nearerto the truth, and with fewer typos.

That’s when I’m fully focused and feeling smart. Right now? I’m not even at the races. For the best of reasons – I’ve just become a dad. Our son’s thriving, his Mum’s doing brilliantly, and I’ve watched about ten minutes of the Vuelta – and I wasn’t concentrating then. So, here’s what I’m proposing, in lieu of a sensible preview from someone who has a semblance of knowledge: first, a lightning quick look at an irrelevant final stage, and then some bullet points on what I think I’ve missed based on quick perusals of this site, PCS and cycling twitter. Then you guys can help me to fill in the blanks and explain why this was a better race than I think it was.

Before any of that, though, sincere thanks to Conor and to everyone else who chipped in to cover a busy few weeks during which I’ve done nothing whatsoever to keep this site humming.

Sunday’s stage

The Tour is certain to hold a processional final stage. The Giro is all over the place. The Vuelta tend to have a processional finish, but it isn’t a given. This year, though, we’re very much in processional mode. Look – a tour of Madrid’s suburbs leading in to a finish, just 106km later, right in the middle of town.

It is pretty flat.

The finish looks like it might be uphill, but no, it is also pretty flat.

Nope, sorry folks (especially if, like me, you had a “Knox in the top ten at 7/1 bet and can’t quite believe how you lost out” moment on Saturday), there’s not much here to impact the general classification. Nothing, that is, apart from the weather. From what I’ve heard, there’ve been a few crashes so far. I’m hoping we won’t see many more, and that we’ll get a clean sprint, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on everyone surviving unscathed if the forecast storms arrive as we approach business time. At least the winds aren’t expected to be too strong.

Who wins? Well, the sensible bet is probably to find someone on Quick Step, but I’ll be old-fashioned and say that Sam Bennett takes it, as the fastest sprinter in the field. He’s stuck around for a reason, and I think this is it.

What did Andrew miss?

Here’s what I think I missed while I wasn’t paying attention – feel free to let me know what I missed missing.

  • A battle for the ages on the roads of Britain, with Matteo Trentin burnishing his credentials for the Worlds and Mathieu van der Poel proving to everyone’s satisfaction that he is absolutely bloody incredible. (Oh, and in hitting the Northumberland coast they started in Berwick, where I used to live and where a bit of my heart will always dwell).
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  • Michael Matthews and Peter Sagan tuning up for the Worlds on a Quebec course that is very pretty and produces a reliably good race, but probably needs an injection of something to stop it being a bit samey.
  • The nascent women’s Tour of Scotland got all the Scottish summer weathers, some good crowds and good racing, and a decent winner. I’ll turn up next year but I was in the hospital, battered by storms and holding my son, as the race hit my hometown. Sorry.
  • Pavel Sivakov, Remco Evenpoel and (of course) Egan Bernal joined MvdP in showing that you really can win stuff with kids. More on that story later.
  • The transfer market demonstrated that an ability to get along with others remains a skill valued by professional cycling teams. Except Arkea Samsic.

Meanwhile, in Spain:

  • Tadej Pogacar gave the best sign since Egan Bernal that the future is happening now. Unless you count MvdP. I mean, honestly, 2019 has been the year of the absurdly young cyclist, hasn’t it?
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  • Bora’s three sprinter plan played out perfectly, with wins at each grand tour.
  • Valverde did Valverde things, Movistar’s press team took a leaf from the Julian Castro “call that an apology” playbook, everyone lost their mind, and he still won’t be close to winning...
  • ... Because Primoz Roglic dominated a weak looking Vuelta through a combination of good climbing, good finishing, and an excellent time trial. He really stuck the landing (that’s funny, guys, because he used to be a ski jumper. Did you miss me?).
  • But, from a distance, the whole thing felt pretty meh. If it wasn’t for the continued emergence of Pogacar, I don’t think there will be much here to remember. It was a race, as Conor predicted, that was sadly lacking a famous climb, iconic stage, or big-name duel.

For all that, congratulations to all the riders finishing, and congratulations to Roglic on a well-deserved first GT win. It’s good to be back.

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