In recent editions the Vuelta a Espana hasn't really gone in for sprints, seemingly doing its best to discourage the speedsters from even showing up. A modern Vuelta profile looks more like the teeth of a bread knife than a bike race, and subsequently the top sprinters in the world tend to stay away from Spain in their hunt for Grand Tour stage wins.
If you take a quick look at the winners of the green jersey (the one awarded for winning the points classification) you won't see many sprinters. Alejandro Valverde has had it four times in the last decade, while Chris Froome, Bauke Mollema and Primoz Roglic also feature in the winners from the last 10 editions.
This year, finally, things are shaping up to be a little bit different.
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As of 2021, La Vuelta has revamped its points competition, making it less likely that the green jersey will be won by a general classification contender. No longer will mountain stages carry the same number of points as a flat stage, so the chance of the best climbers dominating the points contest is significantly reduced. A stage win on the flat garners 50 points, while a mountain top finish gets you just 20. An intermediate sprint will bag you 20 on its own, throwing the dynamic significantly in the favour of fast-finishing riders, breakaway-istas – but crucially not mountain goats.
Today's stage was a fantastic illustration of the new potential ways riders of varying skillsets might pursue the maillot verde.
First, you have stage winner and new green jersey, Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin Fenix). He won the sprint and bagged 50 points for his efforts. Philipsen is repeatedly described as a 'a little bit too slow' to beat the best sprinters in the world, and yet he beat everyone put in front of him today with the possible exception of Arnaud Demare (Groupama FDJ).
Demare was notable today for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the big favourite going into the stage didn't bother to contest the intermediate, presumably focusing all his energy on the final. This tells us a bit about how he intends to chase the green jersey, if indeed he does have designs on riding all the way to Santiago de Compostela. He will pursue green with sheer power and speed in the high-scoring bunch gallops. That being said, it didn't really work out for him today when his leadout appeared to evaporate in the belting high-summer sun on the Burgos finishing straight.
Tied with Philipsen with 50 points at the top of the classification are Alex Aranburu (Astana PremierTech) and Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck QuickStep). Aranburu started the day in green, wearing the jersey for Roglic as second-placed rider in the opening prologue. His route to 50 points was much different to Philipsen's. He has scored at every opportunity the Vuelta has so-far presented: TT, intermediate and finishing sprint. This is much more the vein that Peter Sagan won all of his green jerseys at the Tour de France, a cannibalistic approach that stays true to the idea that the points jersey ought to be won by the most consistently high-finishing rider throughout an entire Tour.
Jakobsen is the last of the three tied on 50 points, and his approach is probably going to look more like Demare's than Aranburu's. He'll go for the intermediate points that are winnable from the peloton, but don't expect to see him up the road in as many breakaways.
When you include the likes of Tour de France green jersey winner Michael Matthews and outsiders like Jon Abestaurri, this year's contest for the green jersey could prove to be the best we've seen in years.

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