Storer wins smartly and the favourites come in hand in hand
A very large early breakaway formed a winning breakaway. It was a very large breakaway with a large number of experienced riders. On top of it, a new breakaway set up Storer's victory. Verona was very close to the win and to get the first Spanish victory, which is still resisting.
Start of stage 7 and a very numerous breakaway
Stage 7 started with an early breakaway, but as soon as it broke away it was caught. Jetse Bol, from Burgos BH is giving war this first week. He was joined by 6 other riders, who in just 10 kilometres were caught when UAE was pulling the peloton.
The second attempt was Tusveld's, but with the same result. He did, however, partly break the race and made things easy for the good breakaway. A breakaway of 6 riders became a breakaway of 29 riders when a chasing group caught them. From then on, it was a tight tug-of-war between this large group, with the presence of all the leading teams, and the peloton. Jumbo tried to manage the peloton's eagerness, but there was no truce at the front.
The group of almost 30 riders was made up of such big names as Kuss of Jumbo, Alex Aranburu of Astana, Bardet of DSM, Elissonde of Trek and Jan Polanc of UAE, who at that moment was the virtual leader with a lead of more than two and a half minutes. Best of all, the group, being so numerous, was pulling at the same pace as the peloton, which was trying not to allow any more advantage. But the advantage increased, and with 75 kilometres to go it was more than 3 minutes.
This meant not only problems for Jumbo or an extra effort to catch the escapees, but also a game of ambitions in the breakaway because it was seen with many options to reach the finish line escaped, so there was already talk of a stage victory. The pace was such at the front that many riders were dropping out of the group, such as Bouchard, Lastra and Arensman. And the smell of blood was such that the personal wars began. It was a stage that was ideal for this.
Valverde's crash and Storer's victory
The first to attack at the front was Hamilton. DSM, with him and Bardet, saw many options to win the stage and make a remarkable role in this stage 7. That was in front, but behind, everything was going to get complicated.
Firstly, because the red jersey group was going to break up on the steep slopes. And because on the downhill, Valverde suffered a very bad crash. Very ugly. And very bad how: on the downhill, Valverde was taking a curve on an apparently firm road, but a huge pothole in the middle of the turn destabilised him and the rider from Murcia could not save the situation even though he tried. The Spanish rider crashed and abandoned the race. A very important loss for Movistar who had in El Bala a tremendous asset to help Mas and López.
In that daze, López himself, out of rage and honour, attacked on the next uphill. Roglic and Carapaz were the only ones on his wheel, but the peloton was not far behind. These were the first movements of the favourites. Valverde, who had attacked and who looked strong, tried to get back on the bike, but his arm was not in a natural position and, after a few kilometres, he decided to abandon. A setback for him, for the team and for the Spanish fans.
Ahead, the knife-edge attacks continued, with Hamilton and Craddock, for example. None of them came to fruition. The attacks increased the advantage, but the relaxations and previous vigilance, maintained the gap of almost four minutes at 40 minutes to the finish. While waiting for the mountain stages marked in red in the calendar, today there could be some modification in the advantages. These changes of pace led to the break-up of the leading group. A trio went off, Storer, Sivakov and Craddock. The Ineos rider was the one pulling and calling for relays, with little luck. He was getting nervous because he knew that the stage victory was in the air. In one of those attempts, the chain went out and the attempt was over. Storer took advantage of the sigh to go solo while the group was watching him from afar but Sivakov caught him again. The red jersey was going to change hands today.
The Balcón de Alicante was already on the horizon. 10 kilometres to the finish line and an area and a climate that all cyclists are probably familiar with. It is a training and pre-season area for most of the professional cycling teams. The leading duo tried not to lose their 30 seconds on the downhill, to reach the foot of that balcony with a chance of victory. These two were joined by Verona and Kron. Ahead, another unprecedented climb in this Vuelta 2021.
The wind was sideways, but favourable. This helped on the previous flat, but not on the last climb, which was full of pine forests and where this weather factor was not going to play a role. Only that climb, of just over 8 kilometres with an average of 6.2% but with ramps of up to 14% and peaks of 20%. The top four knew that they were going to fight for the victory, because the chasing group was already losing a minute and was letting go. Verona was strong. He attacked and broke up the bunch and, although he was chased, he gave a good feeling. But the best attack was made by Storer. It's a pity that the climb had no public due to the risk of fire, because that point could have been provided by the fans.
Behind, Yates changed the pace and broke the group. But the favourites held on very well. While Storer was winning, the interest was behind. Yates kept pulling and pulling. On his wheel, Roglic, Mas, De la Cruz and Bernal. The Slovenian saved the red jersey by seconds.
- Storer, M. (Team DSM) | 4:10:13
- Verona, C. (Movistar) | +21
- Sivakov, P. (Ineos) | +59
- Roglic, P. (Jumbo Visma) | 25:18:35
- Grossschartner, F. (Bora Hansgrohe) | +8
- Mas, E. (Movistar) | +25