It would be quite the achievement to win a Tour de France and a Vuelta a Espana in the same year. It would be all the more remarkable to do it without winning a stage in either. The former is still on for Chris Froome, but any hopes of the later, not that he would have held any, vanished yesterday on the summit finish to Cumbre del Sol. It was there that Froome kicked hard inside a horrid final 500m to shatter the last man hanging onto his wheel and take a fine victory. Not even Alberto Contador, so often his match in recent days, could hang on.
The time gaps were not huge, but they were meaningful. It has been that way throughout the race thus far. After a horrid first week of hard racing, everyone has earned the first rest day. If the first week of the Tour, belonged to the sprinters, by and large, then this first week of the Vuelta has belonged to climbers. Is it any wonder next to no top-rank bunch sprinters showed up in Spain? And is it any wonder Froome tried to peak late at the Tour and carry his form into the early days of this race?
It could be he is trying to grab as much time now as possible with so many attacks. It’s an aggressive form of racing that was missing from him at the Tour. But he has tailored himself to each in different ways, with the intention of winning both. He has ticked off the Tour and is currently leading the Vuelta. It is a testament to his well rounded ability that he can approach both in different ways but achieve the same end product. Thus far.
The question remains is has he gained enough time after a big first week effort? How much has he still got in the tank? It would need to be quite a lot, but is he going to continue to attack or move to a more defensive approach? His lead over Esteban Chaves may only sit at 36 seconds after a week of hard efforts, but Froome will know there is a time-trial to come. Likewise so will his rivals. Eight are within 2 minutes of him; Contador, thanks to one bad day, is three and a half minutes back. It will be up to them to take the fight to him now, rather than the other way round. The time-trial will act as a buffer, though Froome will also know that it is better to go into that time trial looking at the time, rather than looking for it.
Mechanical’s, crashes, or plain old bad days, could be around any corner. This Vuelta is brutal in its climbing and there is enough of it that it will be difficult for anyone to go through it all without a bad day somewhere. Contador has already had his. Froome will hope to limit any that come his way and, if possible, keep it at bay altogether. How he races in the days ahead will dictate that. But he has also put himself in a position to now control it.
I hope for the sake of the race he doesn’t play it too defensive. It would be understandable, but an aggressive Froome will make for more of a spectacle. That is until the gap goes out far enough that the rest give up on red and focus on the podium. You would like to think there’s enough contenders still in the mix that they will continue to hunt Froome.
And with one victory now in the bag; his first of 2017, you can bet he is looking for more.
Someone looking for one is Canada’s Mike Woods. He has been terrific in the race thus far. Mixing with Froome, Contador and Chaves on several summit finishes he has climbed his way up to 8th on GC. But at 1 minute 52 seconds behind Froome he will get little leeway to go looking for a stage win. As such he might need to sneak one, like he almost did yesterday.
Some might suggest he should lose time on purpose, but I don’t agree. Woods is new to pro-cycling, despite being 30 years of age. He was a runner before injuries cut that career short. He wants to make his mark. And with his Cannondale team being in a precarious financial position, it’s important he puts himself in the shop window. As someone who can climb so well, placing well on GC will do that for him. There is no guarantee of a stage win should you give up GC time; but mixing it day in day out in the mountains of a hilly Vuelta, will serve him well.
Yes, it was sad to learn of Cannondale’s financial woes. Great though to hear that they have turned to crowd funding to try fill the gap in finances that will allow them to race in 2018. They’re a great team with a wonderful ethos. They have some superb riders who deserve to race on next year and not have their careers thrown into doubt. Cannondale may be considered a ‘minnow’, but they don’t race like it. It would be an awful shame to see them leave the sport. I hope something comes through for them.
Speaking of first wins, beyond Froome getting one and Woods looking for one, let me not go without remarking on Friday’s stage win by Matej Mohoric. A former Cannondale rider, might I add. It has been a long time coming for the Slovenian rider on the UAE team. Four years, in fact. To some that might not seem a lot, but when Mohoric won the World U23 title aged 18, big things were expected of him. The problem was turning pro so early. By 19 he was racing at World Tour level and it may have been too much too soon. But full credit to him for sticking with it, for continuing to believe in himself when others may have been beginning to doubt him. The man of his victory here was impressive. He rode some big names of his wheel to win solo on a difficult course. It is the kind of win that will be the making of him. A win that will give him a huge boost in confidence and ignite his career to a new level. It may seem like he has been around for a long time; an established pro, but remember, he is still only 22 years of age. Twenty-two and a Grand Tour stage winner. Twenty-two with four years of pro behind him. The best of Mohoric is still to come.
Vuelta GC after stage 9:
1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 36h33’16”
2. Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) + 36″
3. Nicolas Roche (BMC) +1’5″
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) + 1’17”
5. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) +1’27”
6. David de la Cruz (Quick-Step) +1’30”
8. Mike Woods (Cannondale) +1’52”
13. Alberto Contador (Trek) +3’32”