When Peter Sagan came to the front of this race for the first time, it was but metres from the finishing line. And that’s when it matters after all. The Slovak won again and took his third straight World Championship. The first man to ever achieve the feat. More history for the brilliant Sagan.
When I last wrote about this Vuelta, almost a week ago, everything was looking good for Chris Froome. He had crashed twice in as many corners that day but his lead stood at 59 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali and nobody had put him in trouble. Indeed, everyone else was starting to fall out of touch. Fast forward six days and you could say that everything still looks good for Froome. But it hasn’t all been easy in the days between.
The stage had everything you don’t wish to see and everything you do, all at the same time. It was a stage full of drama but which, when it came down to the details of the standings, didn’t have a dramatic impact. Cycling can be funny that way. It was the incidents rather than the results that told the story. Cycling can be so often that way.
They say a solar eclipse can do funny things to animals. Which might explain the reports today of a shark attack in the mountains of Andorra. Over 100km away from the nearest body of salt water as the moon crossed the sun.
The sharks name was Vincenzo Niabli, and it was a predatory attack of stealth precision.. I am speaking of his victory on today’s stage at the Vuelta, of course. Dropped on the final climb he used the descent to make the catch. And once among them he didn’t hesitate. He chewed them up and spat them out, crossing the line with a visible gap; his had mimicking a sharks fin.
It all went to script today. You know the drill if you've seen this before. The champagne pictures on the roll in to Paris for Team Sky. The yellow, green, polka-dot and white jersey wearers photographed together. A pretend attack by Mikel Landa on Romain Bardet, but never any intention of anything real. And then a criterium around the streets of Paris to decide the unofficial sprinters world championship.
And it was Dylan Groenewegen who won it. Close on several sprint stages already, he got the biggest sprint win of all today. Second was Andre Greipel. His long streak of winning a stage at every Grand Tour he had entered, dating back to the 2007 Vuelta, was over. A disappointing Tour for the big German who came fast in the sprint but left it a little too late.
Romain Bardet did it. By a single second. No, he didn't win the Tour with the time trial of a lifetime, but rather clung on to a podium position after a ride to forget. We got the drama we were hoping for today, only it didn't come in the manor we expected.
As Bardet rolled down the start ramp inside the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, the crowd roared in hope. Two minutes later, the cheers turned to boos for Chris Froome. That may seem unfair, but given he was the man standing in Bardet's way, you could understand it. Froome himself could have expected nothing less. But when Bardet returned to the stadium a half hour later, the roars were cheers of nerves. He hit the line and retained his podium by a single second from the surging Mikel Landa. Following him into the stadium, only seconds later, was Froome. The boos had quietened. Reality had set in. The dream was over for the French; the Englishman had won a fourth Tour de France.
It was the last chance saloon for the climbers. A last opportunity to try and take time from Chris Froome before Saturday’s time-trial. A final battle between Louis Meintjes and Simon Yates in the white jersey contest. One last chance to stop Warren Barguil’s claim on the polka-dot jersey. And the little matter of someone winning the stage.
This was a stage race within the race in which there were many mini-races taking place. Once they hit the final climb of the Col d’Izoard, you didn’t know where to look. There was always something going on. It was the first time the race has finished up this Alpine Giant and you have to wonder why it took so long? It was a brute and it wore the very best down to exhaustion.