The third Grand Tour of the season, The Vuelta a España, got underway today. And if it seems like no time since the Tour ended, that is because it isn't. A quick vacation for myself, a week or so to get back to normal and bang, another big race.
I say it like it's a bad thing, which of course it isn't. It's not like I am riding it or anything. My only effort over the next three weeks, with regards to the Vuelta, will be trying to find a reliable stream to watch it from. Unfortunately Canadian television isn't showing it at all. And that is a real shame. Midweek mornings on the likes of TSN or Sportsnet will contain repeated loops of sports news or coverage of poker. But they can't find a few hours to throw in a brilliant bike race? Can anyone complain when folk stuck with nothing turn to these online streams? It would be nice if the official race site offered a paid streaming service, especially for those unable to watch it on television.
That's my rant for the day. I'm sure there will be others as this race goes on. Not least when Twitter goes into meltdown as Chris Froome zeroes in on a Tour-Vuelta double. I hope Twitter has built in the added support systems for such overload when that moment arrives. And I assure you, it will arrive. I don't know if Froome will win this race, but assuming he stays upright, he will be in the mix.
I would like to see him do it through. Seeing these historic achievements in sport is always good. Like when Tiger held all four majors at one time, albeit it across two seasons. Should Froome complete this double, is it conceivable that he would go for the Giro next year? It might be an opportunity that is hard to pass up. Then again, the thought of a fifth Tour de France will also be in his mind.
I am getting ahead of myself though. We're only one day in to this race. A team-time-trial in the French city of Nimes. A spectacular setting as the race went in one side of the Roman Amphitheatre and out the other. It was a bit like the final time-trial in Marseille at this years Tour only it didn't start and finish in the arena. This one was smaller in size but full of character. Marseille represented the sleek modern look that is the Tour; Nimes, had that rustic charm that is the Vuelta.
That said, I'm not one of those who buys into that modern popular social media trend that the Tour is crap and that the Vuelta is better. It can be but, and to roll out that old cliche one more time for 2017, the Tour is the Tour. You must always remember the scope and size and global impact of the Tour by comparison. Evident by the fact that the Tour got blanket coverage here in Canada and the Vuelta isn't on. And the fact that the majority of the contenders for this Vuelta had the Tour as their primary target in 2017.
But it can still be brilliant because of that. The beauty of the Vuelta is the unknown. What shape is everyone in? At the Tour you know that everyone – from the contenders to the mere domestiques – are in the best condition possible. At the Vuelta, for those that rode the Tour, we don't know who has recovered better. Who made best use of their time between?
And then for someone like Vincenzo Nibali, who targeted the Giro back in May, we look to see what form he has managed to build for this race. The fact he didn't ride the Tour should give him an advantage of fresh legs, but as this race goes on, having the miles of the Tour in the legs could actually help. As I say, it all depends how each rider has made use of their time over the last four weeks. But Nibali will be a threat, or that there is no doubt.
Froome remains race favourite though. Enhanced after todays team-time-trial when he put time into each of his rivals, albeit small margins. But as we seen at the individual time-trial on stage one of this past Tour, those seconds advantage can matter a lot over the balance of the race. With a 40.2km time-trial on stage 16 of this Vuelta, Froome will fancy his chances. It's clear the Sky man came into the Tour with the Vuelta in mind. He was short on his usual form in the tune up races for France and used the early stages of the Tour, with all those sprint days, to find his form. His rivals failed to crack him when they had the chance and by the third week he was the strongest rider in the race. This is the first time Froome has been stronger in the third week than either of the other two. In past years he has still gone on to finish second at the Vuelta. Last year he did it with a trip to Brazil for an Olympic medal thrown in. This year, with everything going to plan thus far, it's hard to look past him.
But then there's the three pronged attack from Orica-Scott. Esteban Chaves and the Yates twins. Chaves had a poor Tour but it could mean he has the legs for this race. Simon Yates won the white jersey at this years Tour and his brother the same prize the year before. None of them are on a par with Froome, but combined? They could work together and try work Sky over one by one. Whatever happens they'll be a fun team to watch.
And then there is Alberto Contador. He announced his retirement while I was away. Everyone has been celebrating his superb achievements and trying to ignore the elephant in the career. But he's a long way removed from those days. Then again, he is also a long way removed from dominant Grand Tour success. His age exposed him at the Tour. He was a shadow of his old self. His determination to try make something of the race, either to fight his way back on GC, and later go for a stage win, was admirable. It showed the champion within. But he doesn't want to be a stage hunter and knowing his Grand Tour winning days are behind him he announced the end. But anytime he shows up at a race he's a dark horse. He isn't here to make up the numbers and while he won't be able to win the conventional way, you can be sure he'll try make life difficult for Sky. He'll try split the race up and he'll attack at strange times. Someone like Contador is the kind of wildcard this race will need.
And so we're under way. Rohan Dennis is the first red jersey courtesy of his BMC team winning the team-time-trial. Tomorrow is a stage that will go the way of the sprinters but right away on stage three the they hit the mountains as the race heads into Andorra. Expect an early sorting out of the GC and the first test of Froome. With an advantage in place the others will look to attack him and test his metal.
It should be a great Vuelta right from the off.