As it has been from the start of this year’s Vuelta, the race for the green jersey continues to be defined by the riders who are not in the race. With both Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan absent because of injuries they suffered in the Tour de France (in fact, in the same crash), the points competition was always going to be an open race.
It eventually turned into a two-man competition between Fabio Jakobsen of Deceuninck QuickStep and Alpecin Fenix’s Jasper Philipsen. And it remained a close race with both riders winning two stages until Philipsen bowed out before stage 11 with a mild fever “so as not to jeopardize the rest of his season,” his team explained.
That left the 24-year-old Jakobsen with the inside track for the green jersey win. After stage 12, he leads with 180 points, well ahead of the rider in second place, Magnus Cort Nielsen of EF Education-Nippo, at 114. Two-time Vuelta GC winner Primož Roglič stands third at 106 and in fourth comes another sprinter, Michael Matthews of Team BikeExchange, at 92 points.
Matthews missed a golden opportunity in stage 12 to take more points as the stage unexpectedly ended in a mass sprint finish, thanks mostly to his team’s efforts to reel in a four-rider breakaway. But the 30-year-old Australian missed the break and so never had a chance, finishing a well-beaten third.
It now seems that, barring accident or illness, the green jersey is Jakobsen’s to lose. There are three stages left in the race suited to a mass sprint finish, and Matthews would have to win at least two, with Jakobsen out of the points in every stage, to win the green jersey. It’s not impossible but not very likely. And since the winners of mountain stages receive only 20 or 30 points (compared to 50 for the winner of a mass sprint), Jakobsen’s only worry appears to be whether he can make it over the very difficult mountain stages still to come.
If he doesn’t make it, Roglič may win the ŠKODA Green Jersey again, which would be a blow to the efforts of the race organizers to ensure that this year’s green jersey will be won by a sprinter. Roglič won the green jersey in 2020 with 204 points, well ahead of Richard Carapaz of Ineos Grenadiers and Dan Martin of Israel StartUp Nation – with not a single real sprinter among them. As for Philipsen, he said on Twitter that he was “very, very disappointed” that he had “to leave the Vuelta earlier than I thought.” He went on to say, “It was a successful Vuelta with two stage wins and five days in the green jersey. But I will come back for more.”
He and Alpecin Fenix will have deep regrets that he had to leave a race in which he had an excellent chance to win a major competition. But at 23 years of age, he will surely have many more opportunities to ride away from a Grand Tour with a big prize.
For us green-jersey aficionados, his departure from the race is also disappointing because it deprived us of a real mano a mano between two young riders who will be entertaining us for quite some time to come. But the Vuelta has always been unpredictable so anything is still possible.