The winning and losing of Saturday’s stage 17 – and also the 2020 La Vuelta itself – was a simple case of teamwork. Everywhere you looked, up and down the slopes of the Alto de La Covatilla – and indeed, on the slopes of the day’s penultimate climb, the Alto de Garganta as well – you saw examples of this most vital of skills being put into practice. Or not, as the case so crucially was for Richard Carapaz.
First, the stage win, which was delivered by a dynamic, swashbuckling French duo of a calibre to make Jacky Durand shed a single tear of pride. After both making it into the breakaway, Bruno Armirail put in some heroic turns to set up his de facto team leader David Gaudu for a second stage win of La Vuelta.
Gaudu was effusive in his praise for Armirail as soon as a microphone was shoved in his face at the summit.
Bruno did a fantastic job for me. Right now he’s got to be one of the best teammates in that role on the planet, and in the finish he was absolutely fantastic today.
At 24 and 26 respectively, Gaudu and Armirail are a double act we can look forward to watching in action for years to come – so long as they don’t get bogged down in domestique drudgery for a certain someone also on Groupama FDJ.
Marc Soler attacked from the peloton on the Alto de Garganta near its foot and found near the summit a waiting teammate in the form of Imanol Erviti, who dropped back from the breakaway. The pair zoomed down the other side of the Garganta and joined the race leaders. Erviti’s job was done selflessly and to perfection.
In the end, Soler was not strong enough to keep up with the attacks that decided the stage victory, but he was where he needed to be to help Enric Mas (and to certain extent, Roglic as well) when the paella hit the pan late on on La Covatilla. Soler pulled with around two kilometres to go, securing Mas’ white jersey and fifth overall in the process.
And that brings us onto the red jersey’s saviour himself, Lennard Hofstede. Like Erviti, Hofstede made the early break and just like Erviti, Hofstede sacrificed any personal ambitions for a tilt at the stage to help his teammate. When Carapaz ripped the GC group apart on the slopes of La Covatilla and powered away toward the summit alone, and Carthy seemed on the verge of doing the same, it was Hofstede who came ‘over the hill’ (or in this case, back down it) like a cavalry battalion in a western movie, just in the nick of time. The Han Solo to Roglic’s Skywalker.
Hofstede was able to give Roglic just enough of a turn, at a point when it looked like the Slovenian was likely to experience yet more final-day anguish with another spectacular crack, for his leader to recover and secure his lead in the red jersey competition. Of course, the bulk of the credit should rest with Roglic for the phenomenal strength of will he showed in fighting back from the precipice of defeat – but plaudits too for Hostede, for making that task just a little bit easier.
And finally, one man who found himself without a teammate when that was all he needed to change the course of the entire race; Richard Carapaz.
The Ecuadorian proved he was the strongest today when his excoriating acceleration shook Roglic from his back wheel and he powered onwards to the summit.
However, he just wasn’t stronger by enough. He was isolated with 30km and two climbs remaining, and Ineos were one of just three teams to miss the morning move entirely, sharing that questionable honour with the luckless Total Direct Energie (who have been as bad as we’ve seen any invitee team at a Grand Tour this year) and CCC Team who are just one day away from ceasing to exist altogether, and racing with the enthusiasm of a team that already has.
This lack of a man in the move, and further lack of any to help during the buildup, left Carapaz to do it all alone. He was so nearly capable of the task, too. He will wonder in the coming days if things would have worked out differently had he had his own Han Solo up the road. If Hofstede helped make the difference for Roglic, then the same could equally be possible of a hypothetical Ineos teammate in the move. Or perhaps another rider in the red jersey group might’ve helped Carapaz break Roglic sooner, giving him more road with which to try and eke out a gap.
These are the known unknowns of the 2020 Vuelta’s final day. What we do know, is that Primoz Roglic’s victory has been a team sublime performance from start to finish.