Tuesday finds the 74th Vuelta a España on its last rest day with Primož Roglič on top and in control. Roglič padded his lead over Alejandro Valverde on Monday and boasts a 2:48 gap back to the venerable Spainiard, which is the biggest gap of any of the 2019 Grand Tours going into their final rest days and 2:22 bigger than the gap Simon Yates had over Valverde on the rest day of last year’s Vuelta.
One of the intrigues to play out in the final week is whether Valverde can hold off two-stage winner and Roglič’s Slovenian compatriot Tadej Pogačar (+3:42). Third place Pogačar is the revelation of the season; everyone already knew how good Wout Van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Remco Evenepoel were, but UAE-Emirates rider surprised first by winning the Tour of California before heading to Spain where he leads Angel Lopez, Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves on the second rest day of his Grand Tour debut. Clearly he’s gunning for Valverde’s runner-up position and should be able to defend against Angel Lopez’s podium aspirations.
Stage 9 ✔️
Stage 13 ✔️
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) September 6, 2019
If we trickle down to seventh on GC we find Nicolas Edet (+10:27), the highest placed Frenchman and highest placed wild card team rider by 19 positions. Having plied his trade with Cofidis since 2011, the Frenchman has never finished a Grand Tour above 43rd in nine attempts. Edet was in a breakaway on Stage 8 that came in nearly 10-minutes ahead of the GC group, taking the red jersey for a day. Cofidis is in dreamland, having won a stage through Jesus Herrada and lead the race and is sitting pretty for a top-10 spot.
To keep seventh Edet not only has to fend off Wilco Kelderman (+10:34), who, along with Bauke Mollema, has become the Jurgen Van den Broeck of Grand Tours, but also Carl Fredrik Hagen (+10:40) of Lotto-Soudal. Like Edet, the Norwegian rose into the top-10 via a breakaway, but unlike Edet this is his Grand Tour debut at age 27. You have to go back to Van den Broeck in the 2012 Tour de France for the last time Lotto-Soudal had a rider finish in a Grand Tour top-10.
Right under Hagen, taking up the final spot in the top-10, is fellow unknown Hermann Pernsteiner (+12:05). The Austrian from Bahrain-Merida is also in his late-20’s, but unlike Edet and Hagen, Pernsteiner didn’t benefit from a large breakaway gap, just chipping away at the riders in front of him. His best day was Stage 9, where only Pogačar, Roglič, Nairo Quintana, Valverde and Marc Soler were his betters on the summit finish in Andorra. Patrick Konrad was the last Austrian to finish in a Grand Tour top-10 in last year’s Giro d’Italia.
If Pernsteiner wants to give Bahrain-Merida its second 2019 Grand Tour top-10, he’ll have to stave off James Knox (+13:26). The Wolfpack’s Brit didn’t finish his Grand Tour debut, this May’s Giro, but he’s making an impression in Spain. In his second year with Deceuninck-Quick Step the man from Cumbria has earned two World Tour stage race top-10s in the UAE Tour and the Tour of Poland.
Knox moved up to 11th on Monday at the expense of Sergio Higuita (+14:24), who had a lousy day. Like Pogačar and Hagen, the Vuelta is the Colombian’s Grand Tour debut. The EF Education First rider surely remembers Pogačar from the Tour of California, where Higuita was runner-up in his first World Tour race and first race for his new team.
Egan Bernal, Julian Alaphilippe, Van der Poel, Van Aert, Evenepoel, Pogačar, Knox and Higuita . . . the future is now.