On a clear day, the Pyrenees unfurl beneath the summit of the Col du Tourmalet and, after a 1-2-3 finish for Jumbo-Visma on the mountain, Jonas Vingegaard, Sepp Kuss and Primož Roglič stood at the finish in the French sunshine with seemingly the whole world at their feet.
It was an utterly dominant showing from a team that has already won the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia this year, as Vingegaard won the stage, Kuss retained the Vuelta a España's red jersey and Roglič rounded out the podium on the stage.
Vingegaard kissed his hand as he crossed the line, his voice cracking with emotion afterwards as he said it was his daughter’s birthday. Kuss finished 30 seconds later, allowing himself a smile and small punch of the air before Roglič rounded out the formidable trio another three seconds back.
Jumbo-Visma began the race with the stated goal of winning all three Grand Tours in a single year. And, almost two thirds of the way through the Vuelta a España, it seems increasingly likely that they will achieve their goal but with different riders winning each race.
Kuss remains in the red jersey he has worn since Stage 8 while Roglič moves up to second on the general classification, 1:37 behind his long-time lieutenant and Vingegaard completes another Jumbo-Visma 1-2-3 in third place at 1:44.
Remarkably for a team with three riders who seem capable of winning this race, there were no signs of tension at the finish line in front of the camera as they all congratulated each other.
Jumbo-Visma’s dominant performance was accompanied by the early implosions of Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick-Step), the only rider with the pedigree and form who has seemed likely to challenge them, and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates).
The exact moment that Evenepoel’s GC challenge crumbled wasn’t caught on camera. It was an inconspicuous point in the race, on the wooded slopes of the Col d’Aubisque and almost 90km from the finish, when the news filtered over the radio that Evenepoel had been dropped. Cameras panned back and found him surrounded by teammates, his head bowed as he began shedding time, already a minute behind his overall rivals. By the end of the stage, he had lost more than 27 minutes and tumbled out of contention, for no other reason than just a bad day, he said.
Almeida, who was dropped shortly before Evenepoel but yo-yoed off the back, finished almost seven minutes behind Vingegaard and dropped to 10th place in the general classification at 8:39.
In their absence, it fell to Juan Ayuso and Enric Mas to challenge the Jumbo-Visma triumvirate. Mas launched a short-lived attack once Vingegaard had disappeared up the mountain but he was easily marked by Kuss and reeled back in by the group. UAE Team Emirates, the other team with three riders in the top-10, seemed powerless to launch any collective challenge on the Tourmalet.
Jumbo-Visma’s dominance, by contrast. was on full display throughout the stage. At one point, with 59km still to race, there were briefly just 12 riders left in the peloton and four of them belonged to Jumbo-Visma.
It’s too early to say whether his team can win the Vuelta, Kuss said, somewhat modestly, after the stage, but the languid ease with which all three riders rode away from their rivals would suggest differently.
No one was able to launch a sustained attack against Jumbo-Visma all day, as even several attempted breakaways were unable to establish a meaningful gap, and lasted no longer than a few kilometres. The action instead largely unfolded at the back of the race, as riders simply couldn’t maintain the pace set by Jumbo-Visma and were dropped.
There are still several mountain stages to race, with another summit finish in the Pyrenees tomorrow, a summit finish on the Angliru and a tough mountain test on stage 18 perhaps the most difficult obstacles left, and there are still questions whether Kuss will retain his sparkling form to the end of the race, given that he has completed two Grand Tours already this season. But even if one Jumbo-Visma rider falters, their collective strength seems virtually impregnable.