Looking Back at Stage 16 of Vuelta a España
With five stages left in this year’s Vuelta a España, the early rumblings of stage 16 saw a catastrophic pile-up just as the riders began the 180km cycle. Among the crash was Giulio Ciccone of Team Trek-Segafredo, who suffered a similar fate earlier in the season at Giro d’Italia, when he crashed out at stage 17. With history repeating itself for the Italian, it would seem his aggressive approach to staying high on the standings early on in this season’s Grand Tour may have proven costly.
Elsewhere, the crash also saw Groupama-FDJ’s Rudy Molard suffer a tour-ending injury with a suspected collapsed lung. Despite peddling through the pain for more than 100 kilometres, the Frenchman has since been treated at Santander hospital. In a statement released by his team, it read; “The rider of the Groupama-FDJ cycling team tried to continue the race towards Santa Cruz de Bezana.”
The medical examinations carried out this evening have diagnosed a pneumothorax. Rudy Molard will remain at the hospital of Santander where he will be monitored.”
Molard’s teammate Arnaud Démare, who was widely tipped to be one of the prominent figures in this year’s Vuelta, also suffered another disappointing finish at stage 16. Despite finishing second place at Molina de Aragon in the first week, the Frenchman again failed to make an impact as we enter the third and final week of the tour.
Having won more races than any other rider last year, it was another underwhelming performance from the 30-year-old, having also struggled at the Tour de France earlier in the summer. While not all hope is lost for the Groupama-FDJ team, a rider with the calibre of Démare will be bitterly disappointed with his standing going into the finale, where he found himself in 16th place. Despite this, his team found themselves in a strong position at the front of the main field during the final stages of the day.
However, looking further up the standings, it was another emphatic sprint victory for Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen. It was his third sprint stage victory of this year’s Vuelta a España, meaning he tightens his grip on the green jersey.
It is interesting to note that a newly revised system has been implemented in this year’s tour, with points seemingly weighted in favour of sprinters, as opposed to general classification (GC) riders. GC riders have won the Vuelta every year since 2014, with John Dagenkolb the last sprinter to win the points classification.
In what appears to be a successful attempt to level the imbalance seen over the past seven years, the subsequent four in the top five are also made up of sprinters, with Matteo Trentin of the UAE team moving closest to Jakobsen at stage 16, although the Italian trailed by a huge 127 points.
While stage 16 signals the end for sprint riders given the gradient of the climbs to follow, all Jakobsen has to do is complete the race. He will be hoping to finish within the time limit, although he may struggle if there is a particularly fast-paced peloton.
With five stages remaining, four in the mountains and the final day time trial in Santiago de Compostela, it will be time for the GC riders to come into their own. With the previous three stages being particularly sprint-focused, it could be an explosive final week in the mountains. The infamous Covadonga ascent will be of particularly importance, and has historically thrown the race into a sparse uphill slog. Looking back at the 2018 Vuelta a España, the first 20 riders crossed the line five minutes apart, highlighting the brutal, unpredictable nature of this upcoming stage in what promises to be a fiercely contested final week for the GC cyclists
While there is to be an expected breakaway as the stage progress, there is yet to be a clear cut in the field as they enter the 50km mark of stage 17 at the time of writing.