The 2023 Vuelta a España was hit by a second successive stage of chaos, crashes and appalling weather on Sunday, but with the main difference that a large proportion of the riders and organizers largely agreed on at least the necessary damage-limiting measures.
On Saturday, when rain and creeping darkness turned the team’s opening time trial into what some saw as a near-risky farce, the GC riders took matters into their own hands and chose to race as firmly as possible on the streets of Barcelona.
On the other hand, on Sunday, when the riders and organizers faced even more brutal weather conditions, they agreed to a partial suspension of the last part of the stage in favor of the GC favorites during the final nine twisting kilometers of Montjuïc Parc.
That agreement ruined the chance of seeing the favorites battle it out on the steep Category 3 climb that had formed the main challenge in the final part of the 181-kilometre stage.
But it also allowed those who want to fight for the win today to stay ahead and for the GC competitors to focus on staying upright and staying safe for the all-out battle ahead – which begins on Monday at the race’s first summit finish in Andorra.
The agreement didn’t stop the torrent of accidents that swept the peloton over the last 70 kilometres, either. Several of the main favourites, notably Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep), waved to the riders to slow down when Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) crashed at one roundabout, but there were many other falls.
Roglič could return to the main peloton, but race leader Lorenzo Milesi (Team dsm-firmenich), who also crashed badly to lose all hope of retaining the red jersey, was one notable casualty, while fellow young Briton Oscar Onley abandoned.
Amidst the haze of uncertainty surrounding a race in which a large percentage of the peloton was literally moving, some surreal situations emerged.
Among the scenes was the sight of all the major favorites calmly cruising through the last 10km to the finish, minutes after a much smaller group of riders had passed the points, fighting desperately for wins and titles today.
But the unofficial prize for the Vuelta’s quirkiness was when race commissioners resorted to asking roadside fans for video footage on their phones of the first runners up the Montjuïc climb to try to determine who took the time bonuses, which, inexplicably, remained in place despite neutralization.
Aside from the second day in a row of extreme weather conditions and accidents, more pressure on the riders was caused by a ‘fan’ splashing onto the road with about 100km to go, puncturing several tires including UAE team favorite Juan Ayuso, Vingegaard, Geraint Thomas (Enos Grenadiers) and Evenebuel.
“The whole thing was a bit messy, I punctured at one point because someone put those screws in there, right after the turn,” Ayusu said before rhetorically asking. “What were they trying to do? Kill us? Thank you very much whoever.”
However, he praised the organization for its decision to partially suspend the theater, saying: “Today was the right decision. There was a lot of tension because of the roads. But today the organizers did the right thing, it was very slippery and this was a skating rink. If we had come all the way to the end it would have been really dangerous.
His compatriot Enrique Maas (Movistar) was not as clear about the partial suspension, saying, “I don’t think anyone was against it.” He also said that the initial decision to suspend the times for the main race with 3.6km to go “wouldn’t have solved much, given the need for safety”.
However, in an atmosphere of severely frayed nerves after two very grueling days, Cofidis sporting director Gorka Gerrikagoitia blasted the final part of the stage two course even before Montjuïc.
“There were a lot of accidents, and the road wasn’t good enough for cycling. We knew it was going to be a massacre today,” he told Spanish television.
“I must have seen dozens of riders come down,” Joxin Fernandez Matxin, sporting director of the UAE team, added. “What matters is trying to stay upright.”
Confusion to reach the traffic order at the good point. The race recommendation raises questions for enthusiasts if they take the cyclists’ title. #LaVuelta23 pic.twitter.com/CMca3ASPJyAugust 27, 2023