AUSTRALIAN riders have important jobs as the last of the big bike races is set for a five-way showdown, writes JOHN TREVORROW:
THE third and last of the cycling Grand Tours, the Vuelta a Espana, heads into it’s final five days with five riders still in with a chance to take the overall victory.
Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma) is the short priced favourite despite suffering on the monster Angliru climb. The race leadership has swapped between the Slovenian defending champion and Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) for the entire Vuelta and the two are likely to continue that duel right through to the finale in Madrid on Sunday.
But there are still three other riders lurking in the wings. Brit Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) has gotten stronger as the race has progressed and looks the most likely to upset that personal duel. Young Spaniard Enric Mas (Movistar) has been one of the most aggressive on the steep climbs and will be desperate to finish on the podium in his home Grand Tour. The third contender is Irish veteran Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) who is a proven three-week campaigner and looks to have recovered from the injuries that have held him back for nearly two years.
I don’t believe the final podium positions will be known until Saturday’s penultimate stage 17. The 178 km stage finishes with a 12km assent of the Alto de La Covatilla which will provide a perfect platform for all the contenders to make their final play.
There are 10 Australians still in the race after Jay McCarthy (EF Pro Cycling) crashed out early. Although none are in contention to challenge for overall they all have vital roles to play in their various teams.
Three Aussies will have important parts to play in the make-up of the final podium. Tasmanian veteran Cam Wurf (Ineos grenadiers) has a vital role to contain any moves on the flat lands for his team leader Carapaz. Wurf is a fascinating story. He competed at the 2004 Athens Olympics as a rower in the men’s lightweight double skulls, before moving to cycling and made it to the world Tour with Cannondale. He retired in 2015 and competed in Ironman Triathlon at the top level. Then out of the blue the 37 year old was convinced by the world’s number one team to make a surprising comeback.
Rory Sutherland is Road Captain for Israel Start-up Nation and he will be setting the strategies to get Dan Martin on to that podium. This will be the final race for the lanky 38 year old from Canberra as next year he will move into a managerial role with the team.
Mitch Docker is another who will be important on the flatter roads for his EF Pro Cycling team leader Hugh Carthy.
Mitchelton Scott have four Aussies Nick Schultz, Rob Stannard, Callum Scotson and Alex Edmondson that should all have plenty of opportunities to go in the breakaways and try for a stage win in these final days as their leaders, Spaniard Mikel Nieve and Colombian Esteban Chaves, are not in contention for a podium spot.
West Australian’s Rob Power and Michael Storer also have plenty of freedom as their Sunweb team do not feature in the GC battle. They have both been on the attack over the last week with Storer grabbing a very impressive third on stage 11.
Ben Dyball the 31 year old from NSW was a late starter into the world tour ranks finally getting his opportunity with South African squad NTT this year. Dyball is a classy climber and a solid time trialler and has been making a concerted effort to get in the breakaways in this past week. He will be keen to make himself noticed in the next few days as his team is not continuing next year.