GCN Stat Attack: Cillian Kelly crunches the numbers from the Vuelta a España's opening weekend

EF Education-EasyPost led the Vuelta for the first time, fresh youngsters emerge and Remco Evenepoel makes more history

Clock12:00, Wednesday 30th August 2023
This week's World of Cycling episode is out now on GCN+


This week's World of Cycling episode is out now on GCN+

Shambolic, chaotic and farcical were words associated with stage 1 of the Vuelta a España, as riders slipped out on a treacherous team time trial course, struggled to even make it down the starting ramp and some even finished under the darkened skies of Barcelona. Most came away from the opening day glad to see the back of it and with more than a sour taste in their mouths, that is except for one team - dsm-firmenich.

The Dutch squad made the most of the favourable conditions early on to set a benchmark time that would not be beaten, with their commendable performance in the opening team time trial not only sealing their second Grand Tour stage victory of the year, but also putting Grand Tour debutant Lorenzo Milesi into the leader’s red jersey.

Milesi’s stock has risen dramatically over the past couple of weeks, having won the U23 men’s time trial at the recent World Championships in Scotland. In following the rainbow bands up with the red jersey, Milesi rode in the wheel tracks of another great Italian time trialist, becoming the first rider to take the leader’s jersey of a Grand Tour on their first ever Grand Tour stage since his compatriot Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) did so in the 2020 Giro d’Italia.

Read more: Lorenzo Milesi claims U23 time trial gold for Italy

Making his Grand Tour mark at the Vuelta a España, Milesi’s emergence to the grandest stage also saw him become the youngest leader of the race since Miguel Induráin led the race for four days in 1985 at the tender age of 20.

Rather surprisingly, this would be the Spaniard’s only spell in the lead of the Vuelta, with the five-time winner of the Tour de France only finishing on the podium of his home Grand Tour on one occasion - when he finished second to Melcior Mauri in 1991.

The 21-year-old Milesi would not enjoy multiple days in the red jersey, instead finding himself - expectedly, might we add - dropped from the peloton during stage 2’s undulating parcours between Mataró and Barcelona.

On another day of controversy in the Vuelta, Milesi sadly became acquainted with the concrete as the rain cascaded down on a miserable peloton, with Lotto Dstny’s Andreas Kron emerging from a series of crashes and unease to take the stage victory with a well-timed attack towards the summit of the Alto del Castillo de Montjuic. The 3.7km-long solo effort earned the 25-year-old his first Grand Tour stage victory and capped off a fantastic year for Danish cycling.

Read more:

For the first time ever, Danish riders have won stages at all three Grand Tours in a single season, with Kron’s success at the Vuelta preceded by Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek), Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Kasper Asgreen (Soudal Quick-Step) at the Tour de France, and Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) and Pedersen again at the Giro d’Italia in May.

Unfortunately for Kron, the victory did not come with the added benefit of the red jersey, as that honour was reserved for EF Education-EasyPost’s Andrea Piccolo due to the GC being neutralised at the 9km mark over fears of rider safety in the torrential rain. Piccolo had been at the head of the race and whilst he was unable to match Kron’s final accelerations, it had already been job done for him and his team.

Notably, when he pulled on the red jersey under the scattered Spanish rain, Piccolo became the first rider in EF Education-EasyPost history to lead the Vuelta a España. Astonishingly, under all of its guises, the American team had never before held the red jersey and in fact, last enjoyed the lead of a Grand Tour through Ryder Hesjedal, when the Canadian won the Giro d’Italia in 2012.

That remains Jonathan Vaughters’ team’s only Grand Tour victory, but they had previously led the Giro through Ramūnas Navardauskas, David Millar and Christian Vande Velde, whilst Thor Hushovd held the yellow jersey at the Tour de France for a spell in 2011. Fast forward to 2023, and Piccolo’s success signalled a fantastic start to the Vuelta for Italian cycling.

In taking the red jersey after stages 1 and 2, respectively, Milesi and Piccolo marked the first time that we have had consecutive Italians lead the Vuelta. Of course, there have been editions where multiple Italian riders have pulled on the leader’s jersey - Filippo Pozzato, Daniele Bennati and Alessandro Ballan in 2008, and Fabio Baldato and Biagio Conte in 1996 - but never had they done so back-to-back.

Like Milesi, Piccolo would only wear the red jersey for one memorable day, with Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) stomping to victory in Arinsal on stage 3’s first summit finish of this year’s race. Sitting up pretty in his Belgian national champion’s jersey - albeit moments before disaster - Evenepoel became the first Belgian road race champion since Freddy Maertens in 1977 to win a stage of the Vuelta.

Read more: Remco Evenepoel sprints to victory on first summit finish

Maertens was also the reigning world champion at the time and so was adorned by the rainbow bands rather than the national champion’s jersey. As such, the last rider to win a Vuelta stage looking resplendent in the Belgian tricolore was Roger Swerts in 1975, an achievement also clinched by Guido Reybrouck in 1967 and Rik Van Looy in both 1964 and 1957. Remarkably, on all of these aforementioned occasions - just like Evenepoel - by winning the stage they also swapped their jerseys for the lead of the Vuelta overall.

In dropping the likes of Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič (both Jumbo-Visma), Evenepoel laid down a marker on stage 3 and rode himself into the lead of a Grand Tour for the second time this season, after having also enjoyed a spell in the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year.

Whilst Johan De Muynck - at the 1978 Giro d’Italia - was the last Belgian before Evenepoel at the 2022 Vuelta a España to have won a Grand Tour, Soudal Quick-Step’s young prodigy is the first Belgian since Maertens in 1977 to have led two Grand Tours in the same season.

Evenepoel’s second stint in the pink jersey at the Giro lasted only for the time he was on the podium, being forced to abandon with Covid shortly after winning the stage 9 ITT to re-take the lead - but this in itself may be a good omen for the defending Vuelta champion…

Maertens also led both the Giro and Vuelta in 1977, and that year he abandoned the Giro but crucially won the Vuelta. If we put aside the scheduling of days yore that meant Maerten’s Vuelta victory had actually preceded his Giro abandonment, perhaps Evenepoel can sense a whiff of destiny in the air.

Can he too win the Vuelta in a case of history repeating itself? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

This week's World of Cycling episode is out now on GCN+, click here to watch!

If you head to our Vuelta a España landing page, you will find everything you need to know about the race, including our race preview, the route, start list and individual stage previews. Check it out for all that and more.

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