Taaramäe wins and takes the lead. The favourites keep their strength
The Estonian was the strongest on the Picón Blanco and took the third stage of La Vuelta 2021, which made it clear that the favourites are very close in terms of strength and that only Carapaz, who dropped off the final part of the climb, was beaten.
Promising start and a breakaway on stage 3
Stage 3, the first stage marked in red on the calendar, the first of the key mountain stages. Roglic arrived at this stage as the leader and the strongest man, as the red jersey, and as the winner of the first stage.
Faced with his situation, the rest: the attempt of a fruitful breakaway that would try to reach the foot of the Picón Blanco with options to try to save the uphill, win a stage and who knows if something more. Picón Blanco is not new for riders like Mikel Landa, who already knows what it's like to reach the summit solo, as he did it in La Vuelta a Burgos 2017. Miguel Ángel López and Romain Bardet did too.
That's why, after several failed attempts, the breakaway formed quickly and, as a result, took more than 9 minutes throughout the morning. The 8 brave riders of stage 3 passed the Puerto del Manquillo together, with a gap of more than 5 minutes over the peloton: Bayer, Amézqueta, Soto, Taaramae, Dombrowski, Calmejane, Bol and Elissonde. No favourites among them, hence their 3 minutes tripled in 100 kilometres.
Meanwhile, in the peloton, Jumbo Visma controlled the situation without any problems. They were aware that Roglic would lose the red with those times, but they were also aware that the Picón Blanco is very hard, and that on that climb alone, the breakaway's big lead could be reduced to ashes. If they were not caught, at least it would not be enough to steal the red from the Slovenian, who was riding up this climb for the first time. With 25 minutes to go, the gap was 8 and a half minutes and everything was still to be decided.
Picón Blanco, the judge
At that moment, Enric Mas had a flat tyre. These are the kind of nuances that can destroy you, that can ruin all your work in a stage race. A bad situation that the Mallorcan had to solve with an extra effort and some help. Crashes, cuts or breakdowns are the keys during this first week. Avoiding them is vital.
Everyone stuck in front of the television waiting for the battle. A lot of roosters in that ring eager to be seen, including three Olympic gold medallists.
With 12 minutes to go, the breakaway began to get nervous. The gap to the peloton was about 4 minutes, and it was still going down and down fast. If anyone wanted to play their cards, if they wanted to have the remote possibility of winning alone, it was time to attack. It was Calmejane who made that decision and found those legs. He got 15 seconds on the rest of the group, but the headwind was against him and it seemed crazy to assume that he was going to emerge victorious from that quixotic fight.
In this situation they reached the village of Espinosa de los Monteros, where the pass could already be glimpsed. The Picón Blanco was going to be the judge, especially the final part, with an average of 18%. A wall. The first thing to become clear was Calmejane's situation: trapped on the first ramp. It was obvious. The group was made up of 5 riders, who were looking at each other, sometimes to control, sometimes to share the suffering. No one was attacking, there was no strength and very possibly they had studied the pass beforehand and knew what was ahead of them. In the peloton, the Jumbo increased the pace and was making the sieve. The group was getting smaller and smaller.
If the pass is already very hard, with a headwind it must be a torment. Taaramae pulled and pulled, Dombrowski couldn't stand the pain in his legs. The stage was in jeopardy. Behind, something similar, although Poels was pulling the peloton, there were attempts: the most notable, the one of David De la Cruz. There were only 2 kilometres to go and these changes of pace were doing a lot of damage. We were chewing our fingernails waiting to see who was going to start this Vuelta 2021 strong, who was going to stand up to Primoz Roglic. Richard Carapaz dropped a little. Taaramae was riding solo in the lead and was fighting for the stage win but also for the lead of La Vuelta 2021.
The last kilometre and here nobody was trying anything. It gave the impression that everything was going to be a fake, that the favourites didn't want to measure their strength yet. Taaramae was going to win alone, that was already evident, but little else. The Estonian won and became the leader of this Vuelta 2021. Huge prize. Behind, Valverde pulled in the last kilometre and Enric Mas 100 metres from the finish line to gain a few seconds, but little more. We will have to wait to see if this equality is a mirage, but equality is looming in La Vuelta 2021.
- Taaramae, R. (Intermarché) | 5:16:57
- Dombrowski, J.L. (UAE) | +21
- Elissonde, K. (Trek Segafredo) | +36
- Taaramae, R. (Intermarché) | 9:25:44
- Elissonde, K. (Trek Segafredo) | +25
- Roglic, P. (Jumbo Visma) | +30