With a rest day on Monday and a sprint stage on Saturday it was Sunday’s action that was the most decisive of the weekend, though in reality all it served to do was bunch up the leading contenders even more ahead of today’s individual time-trial. Just 30 seconds now separates the top six riders with Nairo Quintana taking the red jersey from the shoulders of his team-mate, Alejandro Valverde.
I didn’t see Sunday’s big stage live but was following updates on Twitter and each time I seen messages about one of the breakaway contestants, Winner Anacona, I assumed he had won the stage only to then see updates about 10km left to ride. All very confusing. Even when he’s second he’s a winner, though on this occasion his name lived up to his placing and the Colombian took his first ever Grand Tour victory and almost the red jersey at that.
It’s been a stunning season for Colombian cycling what with Quintana’s victory in the Giro to go with a spell in pink and a stage win for Rigoberto Uran as well as multiple stage wins for various others from Colombia and it seems to be carrying into this Vuelta. Following Anacona onto the podium for his stage win was Quintana to take the red leaders jersey, seized after he gained enough time on his team-mate Valverde…perhaps a little payback for Valverde distancing him a few days before?
The leadership roll at Movistar is fascinating right now. Clearly both believe they are deserving of the roll and both determined to strike out against the other. So far there doesn’t appear to be any outward animosity, though we are only through the first week. Today’s time-trial could well go a ways to seeing who really is in charge.
One man who will be looking to today’s time-trial to get himself back on track is Chris Froome, the Kenyan born, South African educated, British licensed, Sky rider. When Alberto Contador showed the world that he is in far better condition than he had suggested after his broken leg suffered at the Tour de France by attacking late on, it put Froome into trouble. The Spaniard distanced everyone, though in the final metres the chasing duo of Joaquim Rodríguez and Quintana were able to get back across to finish on the same time, right on the line. Froome however lost 23 seconds to his big rival proving that perhaps he was right when he said he didn’t quite have his usual form after his own injury at the Tour.
Today’s time-trial should be fantastic as a result. Froome on paper should be better than the rest and perhaps even 28 seconds better — the time gap that would put him into red — but how is his form exactly? We’ve seen him steal time on his rivals in this Vuelta only to lose some on Sunday. Can any of the others find something to match Froome against the clock, or will they accept that they will lose time today but have the beating of him in the mountains to come? That would be a dangerous tactic because while Froome clearly isn’t at his best, you figure that by the time the high mountains come he might well have ridden himself into top form. But likewise Contador, who should only get better, and Quintana who has a knack for getting stronger the longer a Grand Tour goes on.
We’re one week down and there is still so much unanswered. Five men still in contention (Anacona is in the top six due to being in Sunday’s break and winning the stage as much as being a contender to win this race overall), and all the best stages still to come.
This is shaping up to be a Vuelta for the ages.
Overall standings after first rest day/9 stages:
1. Quintana (MOV) in 35h58’05”
2. Contador (TCS) +3″
3. Valverde (MOV) +8″
4. Anacona (LAM) +9″
5. Froome (SKY) +28″
6. Rodriguez (KAT) +30″