The first week of the Vuelta a Espana is done and many of the stars are shining — Primož Roglič wears the red jersey, while Jasper Philipsen and Fabio Jakobsen have collected two stages apiece. Here are the riders that entered the race without huge expectations, but have managed to catch our eye over the first week of racing.
Alberto Dainese (Team DSM)
Alberto Dainese (left) finishes third on stage 5 (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
After making the step up to the WorldTour ranks in 2020, Alberto Dainese is racing his first Grand Tour at the Vuelta a España. The diminutive sprinter hasn’t won since the Herald Sun Tour in 2020, but his pedigree has been on full display over the first nine days.
Dainese finished 12th in Burgos — the first chance for the sprinters. Since then he’s come to the fore, finishing fourth, third and second on stages 4, 5 and 8, respectively. Dainese doesn't have the luxury of a dedicated lead out train, making his performances even more impressive. Nico Denz has assisted the Italian in the final kilometres, but this is the only help he has received from his teammates.
His most impressive display came in La Manga on stage 8, where he split Fabio Jakobsen and Jasper Philipsen to finish second. After the stage, Dainese said, “The confidence is getting better. Before the Vuelta started I didn’t think that I’d be getting these results so I can be happy.”
Dainese added, “It’s nice to get a podium again, but of course as a sprinter I would like to be winning.” With sprint stages rapidly running out, Dainese must be clinical if he is to claim a victory on his Grand Tour debut.
Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo)
Juan Pedro López at the 2020 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
24-year-old Juan Pedro López is yet to win a pro bike race. However, the Spaniard has been a critical cog in Trek-Segafredo's Vuelta a España machine so far.
López's strength was on full display on Picón Blanco — the 7.6km long climb which concluded stage 3. He finished 14th, just 12 seconds behind the main GC group which featured his teammate Giulio Ciccone. Four breakaway riders finished ahead of the GC group, making López the tenth best finisher from the peloton. López backed up this display with good rides on the Alto de la Montaña de Cullera and the Balcón de Alicante.
López has been so strong that prior to stage 9 he starts just three minutes off the race lead. There is no indication that he’ll be used as joint-leader alongside Giulio Ciccone just yet, but if Ciccone wants to claim a strong GC result, López's support in the mountains will be crucial.
Michael Storer (Team DSM)
Michael Storer (Image credit: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
We mentioned Michael Storer in our under the radar riders article prior to La Vuelta, and he has delivered on his promise already. The Australian was a super-domestique for Romain Bardet at the Giro d’Italia earlier this year. He then won the Tour de l’Ain in his return to racing — his first pro victory. Now, Storer has his first victory at WorldTour level.
In the supercharged stage 7 breakaway, which featured the likes of Sepp Kuss, Pavel Sivakov and DSM teammate Romain Bardet, Storer was the strongest on the cruel gradients presented by the Balcón de Alicante. After the stage, Storer said, “I knew I was in good form and I knew that I just had to have a go, but I’m really happy and surprised that I managed to do it today on a really difficult stage.”
Romain Bardet’s crash on stage 5 ended his GC hopes, but it may have been a blessing in disguise. It allowed the team to place five riders in the breakaway two days later. Team DSM can continue to attack stages without threatening the general classification, though Storer will be marked closely from now on.
After Pavel Sivakov finished third on stage 7 behind Storer, the Ineos Grenadiers rider said, “Maybe I underestimated Storer a little bit, he was going really well.”
Storer has signed a two-year contract with Groupama-FDJ, which begins next season. Keep an eye out for Michael Storer, who is improving with every race he rides.
Antonio Jesús Soto (Euskaltel - Euskadi)
Antonio Jesús Soto finished 49th on stage 1 (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Euskaltel - Euskadi are one of the Spanish ProTeams that have been granted a place on the start line by La Vuelta organisers. Of their squad, Antonio Jesús Soto has stood out to us over the first nine days of racing.
The 26-year-old is one of four Euskaltel - Euskadi riders making their Grand Tour debut, but Soto stands apart due to his skills on varying terrain. Soto has been as high as 11th on sprint stages, before he finished a respectable 26th on stage 6. The stage concluded with the Alto de la Montaña de Cullera, which averages 9.4% over 1.9km. The pure sprinters rode as easily as possible up the wall and preserved their strength for future stages, but Soto battled to stay with the climbers and punchers admirably.
Soto possesses skills in mass sprints and hilly finishes, making him a rider to watch as the second half of the Vuelta beckons.
Cover image: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images