Vuelta a Espana 2021: Plenty of life in the GC yet as race goes into second rest day
It's not over until the fat lady sings, and there are plenty of reasons to doubt that Primoz Roglic will secure a third consecutive Vuelta title. From a resurgent Egan Bernal, to punchy and determined signs of intent from Adam Yates and Miguel Angel Lopez, to the oddly-impressive performances of the current race leader and his team.
'He looks as fresh as a daisy' - Magnificent Majka's solo effort from 90km secures Stage 15 victory
Looking only at the general classification top ten after today's stage, it would be reasonable to assume that this race is done and dusted, and Primoz Roglic all-but-guaranteed to take his third consecutive La Vuelta title.
He sits third, behind two riders not expected to last through the savage Asturian mountains that are coming up next week, with most of his major rivals well behind him.
And yet, a closer reading of this weekend's action does provide a few glimmers of hope for those who crave an exciting spectacle in the race's final week.
First of all, there was the small attack from Adam Yates at the end of today's stage. Rafal Majka was the worthy winner of today – a result that seemed all-but-guaranteed with 40-or-so kilometres still to ride – so the general classification contingent seemed pretty content to roll it in easy after a punishing weekend of back-to-back mountain stages.
The truce was shattered when first David de la Cruz, and then Adam Yates put in some testing attacks on the day's last categorised climb. Just a category 3, the Puerto San Juan de Nava didn't provide the sort of springboard from which a rider could hope to win La Vuelta, but it did allow Adam Yates a chance to put some distance between himself and the other top competitors. At the line, Yates stole 15 seconds back on his rivals. It's not the sort of time loss that will send Roglic spiralling into paroxysms of panic, but it's an encouraging sign that there's still some life left in Ineos.
Staying with the British team, Egan Bernal has also mentioned he is feeling better after a subdued performance thus far in the race. His performance here so far has been one of grim determination, clinging onto the coat tails of Primoz Roglic and the other GC men. It's a far cry from the pugilistic version of Bernal we saw at the Giro earlier this year, who attacked at every opportunity and seemed to want to bludgeon the life out of his rivals. Now – if we take him at his words that he's on the mend – we could be about to see him back to his best in the final week. Let's hope so.
Vuelta a España: Stage 15 highlights as Majka's solo effort from 90km secures victory
Stretching our minds backs to yesterday, there have been positive signs from Movistar too. Miguel Angel Lopez succeeded in attacking for them and getting a handful of seconds yesterday on the summit finish in Extremadura. Once again, it wasn't the sort of time loss to seriously concern Roglic, but it was another indication that the teams immediately behind Jumbo-Visma are still in this race, ever watchful for opportunities to nick a few fractions of a minute here and there.
And finally there is the man actually occupying the top spot on GC. Odd Christian Eiking appears to be growing into this race, and while he joked this morning about having lost track of how many days he's now led La Vuelta, his performances this weekend have been assured. As have those of his team, Intermarché Wanty Groupe Gobert.
'He's right there now' - Wiggins on Yates' impressive Stage 15 performance
Today they controlled the breakaway as much as they needed to, and brought the GC group to the finish without getting flustered by the late-flying attacks. The team also seems to be balancing extremely well the expectations of Louis Meintjes – who at the start of the race was expected to be their main GC man and sits currently 14th – and the need to honour the red jersey with Eiking.
It is still hard to picture Eiking in red after the Lagos de Covadonga stage on Wednesday, but most people took it as read that he would be out of the race lead by the end of this weekend. And there he is, still leading the race 54 seconds ahead of Guillaume Martin and 1'36" ahead of Roglic.