The battle for the red jersey in the opening stages of the Vuelta

Stage two was not the day Team DSM-Firmenich would have hoped for after their victory in the opening stage of the 2023 Vuelta a España

The race to win the leaders’ jersey at a Grand Tour is a marathon, but also within it are lots of shorter races to get a chance to wear it. For the overall contenders, the only day they need to wear the jersey is on the rostrum of the final day of the race, and wearing it any time earlier is often perceived as more of a disadvantage than an advantage, coming as it does with the pressure to defend it and the obligation to talk to the media every day. A consequence of their disinterest in taking the lead in the early stage is that there are plenty of opportunities for other riders to have the honour of wearing the leaders’ jersey throughout the three weeks, and there are many sub-races between rivals vying to do so.

During stage two of this year’s Vuelta a España, those two separate contests clashed, as the ambitions of the overall contenders and those chasing the red jersey were at odds.

For the overall contenders, there was a consensus that the race should be neutralised amid the rain and preferably as early as possible. They’re not prioritising trying to make the minor time gains on offer this early in the race and actually don’t want the responsibility of defending the red jersey. With conditions being the way they’ve been these two days and the threat they pose to potentially ruin everything they’ve trained for in a mere moment, these riders are more interested in staying out of danger and putting safety first rather than risking anything for just a handful of seconds.

Some of the riders came close to succumbing to that fate today. About 33km from the finish, as they were navigating a roundabout, both Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) were taken out as a UAE Team Emirates rider fell in front of them, with Roglič in particular hitting the deck hard. It was a worrying moment, especially considering the pair’s history of crashing out of Grand Tours, but mercifully, both managed to remount immediately and make it back into the peloton. The aftermath of incidents like this can linger, however, and we won’t know for sure whether they both managed to completely avoid injury until they race up stage three's mountain top finish in Andorra.

It is clear why the GC riders are anxious about racing in the wet and wanted any chance to minimise risks like these, and therefore, why they lobbied the organisers to neutralise the GC race today. But by contrast, for those eying up the red jersey, there was a race to be had, and for them, the rewards on offer made some of the risks the others were worried about worthwhile.

Read more: A Vuelta of chaos continues

Lorenzo Milesi began the day as the unlikely custodian of the red jersey after Team DSM-firmenich’s surprise victory in the team time trial in the opening stage. It was an early career highlight for a 21-year-old making his Grand Tour debut during what is his first season as a professional and has brought him under the spotlight and to the world’s attention like never before. Even for DSM, having the jersey was a big deal. They come into the Vuelta without much of a GC ambition, with a top ten (or, at a push, a top five) for Romain Bardet being the best they can realistically hope for.

Having the red jersey gave the team something serious to race for, and they set about defending it by controlling the peloton all day. So they may well be indignant at the decision to take the general classification times of all the riders 9km from the finish, as it meant that Milesi handed over the jersey to Andrea Piccolo (EF Education-EasyPost). Piccolo was one of the two riders along with Javier Romo (Astana Qazaqstan) in the day’s break, and though they were reeled only a kilometre into the neutralised end of the stage thanks to DSM chasing, Milesi still leapfrogged to take the overall lead.

This was only one thing to go wrong for Team DSM-Firmenich, in what was a deflating day for the team after such success yesterday. Milesi actually crashed himself 19km from the finish. In the knowledge that the jersey could remain inside the team, given how five of their riders were tied with Milesi following the time trial, DSM didn’t send riders back to help him, so the Italian slid down the classification from the very top to almost the very bottom.

Read more: Vuelta a España 2023 stage three preview: the first summit finish

Worse still for the team, Oscar Onley also crashed, badly enough to have to abandon the race. Having been in the mix for some stages and made the top ten at the recent Tour of Poland, the 20-year-old was one of the most exciting Grand Tour debutants riding, and it will be a shame not to see what he can do at this level.

DSM’s loss is EF Education-EasyPost’s gain, and they now have the red jersey to defend. It might not be for long, given the severity of stage three's mountain top finish and how elite climbers like Enric Mas (Movistar) and Romain Bardet (who has a chance to reclaim the jersey for DSM-Firmenich) are breathing down Piccolo’s neck at just 13 seconds. But it will be a great honour for the team anyway, and they’ll make the most of their day in the spotlight.

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