Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) had a short but succinct explanation for how he ended out of the leader’s jersey of the Vuelta a España after what was, in theory, a transition stage 10, where nobody expected the GC hierarchy to change at all.
“The best rider won,” was his analysis of how he had been overhauled by Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in the closing metres of stage 10, with the victorious Slovenian opening up a seemingly unimportant gap of three seconds by the finish line.
But at the end of the day – and it was only confirmed after 20 minutes of deliberating by the race commissaires – that minute gap mattered. A lot.
A 10-second time bonus for first place, combined with the three-second gap, left Roglič and Carapaz tied on time and la roja teetering on a knife-edge between the two. But as a tiebreaker, after the placings in previous stages had been taken into account, suddenly, with three stage victories for Roglič, there was only ever going to be one leader at this point in the Vuelta game.
Losing the jersey so unexpectedly – to the point where he did his usual post-stage warm-down in the winner’s podium area – was surely not an easy blow to take. But despite this being such a painfully narrow setback, Carapaz put a brave face on proceedings.
“The stage seemed like it was going to be calm but the final was very nervous, particularly the end,” said Carapaz, who ended up placing 14th on the day.
“A lot of teams were interested [in going for a good result], including us. It was a very explosive finale, the team did a great job, but then, the best rider won.”
In the rollercoaster closing kilometres, Carapaz was ably kept close to the front by his all-purpose top domestique on the Vuelta, Andrey Amador.
Then the Ecuadorian, perhaps recollecting how he won on a similar short but steady uphill finale in the Giro d’Italia’s first week last year, surged to the front.
However, his effort faded in the last few hundred metres, near enough to keep him in the top 20 on the stage but just outside the limit when it came to preventing Roglič from opening up a late gap.
The race goes on, regardless, and in Carapaz’s case the weekend’s double-header of mountain stages arguably offer his best chance of taking back la roja from Roglič prior to the crucial time trial next Tuesday.
“Tomorrow and the day after are very decisive and we’ll see what happens,” Carapaz concluded. “We’re still in the fight, and that can only be good.”