Tag Archives: Vuelta a España 2014

Contador ensures there’s no last minute drama

Because I was in Montreal over the weekend watching the big race up there, I missed the last minute drama at the Vuelta, or the lack thereof. I’m led to believe that Saturday’s final mountain stage was still a superb days racing as Chris Froome buried everyone else and sealed his second place finish overall but couldn’t get rid of Alberto Contador who then in return buried him and won the stage (and the Vuelta), but it seems Contador was therefore never really troubled and any hopes that Froome might somehow take the outcome of this Vuelta into the final days time-trial never materialised.

A stunning performance by Contador…not just winning this stage, his second stage win of the race, but the fact he returned from a broken leg suffered at the Tour de France little more than six weeks ago to win here.

Chris Froome may not have been in tip-top form when he arrived at this Vuelta, but then again, was Contador? And Froome had surely found his form by the final week and yet still couldn’t change the outcome. We never got to see the pair battling it out on the roads of France in July, and so attention turned to this Vuelta once both made it clear they would be riding. And they delivered a superb show.

You can never say whether this was how the Tour would have turned out had both stayed in because, as I said, their form was surely different going into the Tour than it was the Vuelta. And would either of them have beaten a healthy Nairo Quintana at this Vuelta? Or indeed the Vincenzo Nibali we seen at the Tour? Put it this way: Nibali beat Alejandro Valverde at the Tour this year by almost ten minutes and Contador was only able to put a little shy of two minutes into what was surely a more worn down Valverde at this Vuelta.

That of course is all speculative because no two races are the same never mind two Grand Tours held in different countries in different months and on entirely different routes. We’ll never know how each race might have went had Contador, Froome, Quintana and Nibali all raced one another in the same Tour, or at least we’ll have to wait until next year to find out when I can only hope we get all four of them lining up at one of the three Grand Tours and targeting it as their goal for the season.

What we can say with complete certainty is that the men who won their respective Grand Tours from Quintana at the Giro to Nibali at Le Tour to Contador this weekend at the Vuelta: They all deserved it; nobody wins a Grand Tour and doesn’t deserve it, and Contador has shown that there’s still plenty of life left in him yet.

Final overall classification:
1. Contador (TCS) in 81h25’05”
2. Froome (SKY) +1’10”
3. Valverde (MOV) +1’50”
4. Rodriguez (KAT) +3’25”
5. Aru (AST) +4’48”
6. Sanchez (BMC) +9’30”.

This Vuelta ain’t over yet, not by a long stretch

Chris Froome has looked like a man improving by the day at this Vuelta and so when he came into the second rest day little more than a minute and a half behind Alberto Contador for the race lead, it was clearly to see that this Vuelta was far from a done deal despite how strong Contador had been looking in matching and beating Froome on virtually every climb thus far.

Froome had been getting dropped when the pace went up among the three amigos of Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde, but thanks to their games of cat and mouse the steady riding Froome, who keeps one eye on the power metre on his handlebars and one eye on the road below him, was able to limit any potential losses. Froome should have been out of contention by now, but instead he remains in the mix and with every passing day finds his best form.

Coming into this Vuelta many tipped him to be the man to beat Contador; Froome had left the Tour earlier than Contador and only done so with a broken wrist whereas Contador had badly damaged his leg. He was down for longer, closer to the Vuelta and it was one of the key components on the body of a cyclist that he had damaged. Yet surprisingly Contador was the one soaring when the roads went up and it was Froome struggling. But what was obvious, as far as I could see, was that Froome was getting better whereas Contador was merely maintaining his good form.

And then today, Froome struck. With three mountain stages left (though one has its hills a long way from the finish) including today he went on the attack and stole back 12 seconds on Contador, which coupled with the 8 second time bonus on the line was enough to put him only 1 minute, 19 seconds behind the Spaniard on GC. Safely into second ahead of a Valverde who Froome has now caught and passed for form and who will surely regret not helping Contador put the Sky rider to the sword several days ago.

With only one summit finish left, on Saturday, plus a short 9.7 kilometre individual time-trial on the final day you get the sense that Chris Froome might now be on terms with Contador for form and ready to reduce that lead further. Whether he can take enough time before he runs out of stages will be tough but not impossible and will be fascinating to watch.

Another rider who is gaining in form the longer this race goes on is 24 year old Italian, Fabio Aru who took the win today, riding to the line with and beating Froome. The next Vincenzo Nibali as they like to call him and you can see why. He’s similarly built to Nibali, he’s also from an Italian island — Sardinia to Nibali’s Sicily — and anyone who watched the Giro this year and seen him win stage 15, finish 2nd in the mountain time-trial only 17 seconds behind Nairo Quintana and finish 3rd overall will know there is an exceptional young talent within; the future of Italian cycling. Suffice to say when Nibali was the age Aru was when he finished 3rd in this years Giro (age 23) he only managed 11th.

Aru won’t win this Vuelta, but sitting 5th overall, 46 seconds behind Rodriguez for 4th and 1 minute, 43 seconds behind Valverde for 3rd you get the sense he is sniffing a move up in the standings and perhaps even at a long shot a podium position. And why not? A Grand Tour victory can only be a matter of year or two away for the young man from San Gavino Monreale.

Result:

1. Aru (AST) in 3h47’17”

2. Froome (SKY) +1″

3. Valverde (MOV) +13″

4. Rodriguez (KAT) s.t.

5. Contador (TCS) s.t.

6. Sanchez (BMC) +17″

Overall:

1. Contador (TCS) in 71h38’37”

2. Froome (SKY) +1’19”

3. Valverde (MOV) +1’32”

4. Rodriguez (KAT) +2’29”

5. Aru (AST) +3’15”

6. Martin (GRS) +6’52”

Fisticuffs and Bike Racing

You go to watch a fight on the side of a Spanish mountain and a Vuelta breaks out in which Contador wins and gain and Froome moves up to third overall. What more could you want?

Living in Canada and being a fan of hockey the first thing I thought of when I heard there was an in-race fight in which the two combatants, Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff Saxo) and Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma Quickstep), were disqualified, was whether they dropped their mitts first and why they weren’t both just assessed five minute road side penalties?

Seriously though, when was the last time you seen something like this, in-race and on bikes? Trading blows, albeit backhanded slaps, but enough to shock and enough to get them both thrown out of the race? We don’t know what exactly was said but when Rovny put his arm around Brambilla to have a word, the Italian swung his arm at Rovny catching him in the face. Moments later Rovny came back at Brambilla, flinching at what he thought was going to be an elbow by Brambilla before throwing his own punch at the face of the Omega Pharma Quickstep rider. They traded blows, or shoves for another few seconds before gesturing towards the race referee who, after a short time, kicked both of them out of the race.

No doubt it’ll be a big talking point tonight but Alberto Contador and Chris Froome done their level best to try and ensure that it was still they that took the headlines with Froome’s brutal attack on the final climb of the day in which both Joaqium Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde were distanced, before Contador himself attacked to win the stage and put further time into everyone.

Froome’s effort was enough to move him into third overall just 3 seconds behind Valverde and surely tonight the pair of Spaniards that trailed Contador, Froome and De Marchi (the only man remaining from the days break after the rest had been swept up or disqualified for fighting!) home will be regretting not trying to ram home a greater advantage over Froome yesterday.

It was obvious that Froome would not struggle the entire three weeks of this race and that if anyone was going to come better, it was going to be him and so yesterday was a huge chance for Valverde and Rodriguez to work with Contador to open a gap. They didn’t; they played cat-and-mouse games and Froome was able to limit his losses and tee up his effort today.

It’s hard not to see Froome going on to secure at least second now, but the win isn’t entirely out of the question. Sure Contador looks the strongest rider at this Vuelta — he put a further 14 seconds into Froome today — and he looks to be in control but the 1 minute, 39 second lead he has on Froome is far from enormous and one bad day or a couple of big days for Froome could easily pull that in.

The sensible money is on Contador now; history and form suggests he will be OK, but later this week they’ll hit the mountains again and the suffering will continue.

Result:

1. Contador (TCS) in 4h53’36”

2. Froome (SKY) +14″

3. De Marchi (CAN) +50″

4. Valverde (MOV) +55″

5. Rodriguez (KAT) +59″

6. Aru (AST) +1’06”

Overall:

1. Contador (TCS) in 63h25’00”

2. Valverde (MOV) +1’36”

3. Froome (SKY) +1’39”

4. Rodriguez (KAT) +2’29”

5. Aru (AST) +3’38”

6. Martin (GRS) +6’17”

Scintillating weekend of summit finishes at the Vuelta

What a weekend of racing that was at the Vuelta and as I sit here writing this on a Monday morning I know that the best is yet to come…perhaps today as they tackle what some see as the Queen stage of this years Vuelta.

Saturday was especially exciting for the Canadian viewership as Ryder Hesjedal got himself into the days break yet again and this time was able to make it stick. Every since his GC ambitions faded, Hesjedal has been on the attack anytime we’ve seen a stage with hills. This time they gained enough of a lead to stay clear on the final climb — a short but brutally steep rise — and when Oliver Zaugg attacked it looked as though the big Canadian was going to fall short. But as we seen in this years Giro when Hesjedal’s diesel engine kept him coming back to the wheel of a flying Nairo Quintana on stage 16 in which Hesjedal just lost out, he once more hauled his way up to Zaugg and then blew past for his first individual Grand Tour stage win since stage 12 of the 2009 Vuelta.

Later that day, in Hafjell, Norway, Canadian Catherine Pendrel won the woman’s mountain bike world championships with another Canadian, Emily Batty, finishing in sixth. With the Tour of Alberta also in full swing and full of Canadian riders, it was quite the day for cycling in the Great White North.

The following day it was Przemyslaw Niemiec who won the stage, like Hesjedal, emerging from the days break but further down the road — and not much further — it was Alberto Contador who remained in control of the overall lead, though only by 31 seconds and nobody looks heads and shoulders better than the rest. Someone, if not all of them, are due a bad day along the way but nobody looks like they’re ready to surge clear and destroy their opposition.

Right now it’s between the Spanish Armada trio of Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Joaqium Rodriguez, with the Kenyan-British contingent of Chris Froome hanging on for dear life. And it’s Froome who looks like he might get better in this final week more so than the rest. He came into this Vuelta clearly off form and it has shown as recently as this weekend when he was often hanging off the back of the final selection of GC contenders, following his power metre and riding steadily.

The rest might come to rue not taking the chance to bury the Sky rider when they had the chance yesterday but while they played a cat and mouse game of attacking and then slowing to watch one another, Froome dangled off the back, clawing his way back on when the Spaniards sat up. It only cost him 12 seconds to Valverde and Rodriguez, and 7 seconds to Contador, on the line when a more sustained effort might have seen him lose a lot more.

People will say it was Froome’s reliance on the power metre that allowed him to do that, but it was as much the others watching one another and Froome riding it steady that kept him in contention. That said, there is the possibility that the rest couldn’t maintain a sustained effort and that Contador’s attacks over a 20 metre stretch of the climb before sitting up were the best he could muster in the hopes to crack his rivals. Did Froome know their surges couldn’t be sustained and that if he kept his cool he wouldn’t lose too much by the top? With a 1 minute, 20 second gap to Contador overall you get the feeling that Froome, if he can find his best form, is still very much in the mix with the toughest stages still to come.

A quick look at the top six on general classification shows just how close the racing is, especially between the top four, after those two summit finishes on the weekend:

1. Contador (TCS) in 58h31’35”

2. Valverde (MOV) +31″

3. Froome (SKY) +1’20”

4. Rodriguez (KAT) s.t.

5. Aru (AST) +2’22”

6. Uran (OPQ) +2’57”

The usual winner in a stage with surprising implications for the GC

As expected Tony Martin won today’s individual time-trial, but what was not expected was the performance of some of the general classification contenders. Nairo Quintana had a heavy crash and lost more than three minutes to his biggest rivals while Chris Froome, clearly without form, lost 1’32” to the stage winner and 53 seconds to Alberto Contador who moves into the Red jersey having finished just 39 seconds off the time set by Martin.[

Of the main contenders to win the Vuelta it was Rigoberto Uran who posted the best time, 15 seconds shy of that of Martin but 24 seconds better than Contador. Not a big loss for Contador who started the day 1’23” up on the Colombian though Uran’s time does move him up into the top three in the general classification, 59 seconds behind Contador.

Below is a look at how the favorites stacked up against one another in the time-trial:

Uran in 47’17”
Contador +24″
Sanzhez +33″
Valverde +46″
Froome +1’17”
Anacona +1’30”
Rodriguez +1’32”
Quintana +3’52”

Winner Anacona — Winner being his name, not the stage winner, though he did win Sunday’s stage — had very solid ride losing little more than a minute to Contador and retain his top five placing overall.

It was a day many thought Froome would gain time on his rivals forcing them to attack him come the mountains, but it the opposite scenario that played out and now we’ll head into the big mountains with Froome having to quickly find his form and go on the offensive against Contador among others. He now trails Contador by 1’18”, far from an insurmountable gap and one that will make for exciting attacking in the days to come, but a tough one nonetheless.

The condition of Quintana will also be of concern. Losing almost three and a half minutes to Contador thus putting him 3’25” behind the Spaniard in the GC is nothing short of a disaster. Not only that, but Quintana lost 3’06” to his team mate Alejandro Valverde who will surely now lay claim to team leadership and with it the help of Quintana. Of course, how badly Quintana is injured will be the big question and whether he can recover enough to be a factor in this race, or indeed finish it?

Should he be OK we’ve seen as recently as the Giro just how Quintana can improve as a Grand Tour goes on and how he can overcome a huge deficit. That said, Contador will be no pushover and regaining that kind of time on him in the mountains, while also hoping the handful of other contenders fall by the wayside, won’t be easy.

Overall standings after stage 10:

1. Contador (TCS) in 36h45’49”

2. Valverde (MOV) +27″

3. Uran (OPQ) +59″

4. Anacona (?) +1’12”

5. Froome (SKY) +1’18”

6. Rodriguez (KAT) +1’37”


11. Quintana (MOV) +3’25”

Winner wins; Quintana back in red; Froome loses time; all eyes to the time-trial

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″

Sagan and Bentancur: Two men missing in action at this years Vuelta; plus combatitive De Marchi takes solo stage win

I hate to draw any comparison between the pair of Sagan and Bentancur. The former I would hope has defined goals for this race while the later is clearly spluttering away his huge talent, but I mention both because both had the ability to make something of this race yet both have been conspicuous by their absence through the first week.

Firstly Sagan. He, as is becoming tradition, dominated the points competition at the Tour de France in July before announcing he would tackle the Vuelta in August. He also announced he was leaving Cannondale at the end of the year and signing a big deal with the Tinkoff Saxo team. Immediately he was penned in as favorite to win the points competition at the Vuelta and nab a couple of the early stages that appeared tailor made for him.

Indeed in watching the first couple of stages there is no reason why Sagan could not have been in the red leaders jersey for a couple of days had he pushed himself for it. Michael Matthews siezed that opportunity on those short, sharp little finishes that allowed him to grab a handful of seconds here and there and take the race lead, and Matthews is very much in the Sagan mould. The Slovak could have won out on some of those sprint finishes and took the first Grand Tour leaders jersey of his young career.

Instead it looks as though he’s either preparing for the Worlds in September, using this Vuelta as a training exercise to get long, fast miles in his legs rather than racing for results, or, with the knowledge that he’s leaving his team soon has been sent to this race as the team look to squeeze whatever exposure out of him that they can and he’s simply mailing it in. The later theory is a little too cynical for my mind but it’s disappointing that the huge talent that he is, hasn’t been up front dominating the first week of this Tour.

Then there is Betancur. Seen as one of many young talents coming out of Colombian cycling this past couple of years, highlighted by a 5th place overall at the 2013 Giro and the overall victory at this years Paris-Nice, and yet he currently sits second last in this years Vuelta having lost an hour and a half through just seven stages.

Considered someone who could win a Grand Tour one day, Bentancur seems a bit of an enigma. A talent that at 24 years of age is already showing signs of squandering it. Following his Paris-Nice win this year he went AWOL on his team back to Colombia. He was one of their hopes for this years Tour de France and himself had said it was one of his season goals, but he didn’t show up. He claimed a viral infection but I’m not sure his team even had access to him to confirm this.

He did return in time for this years Vuelta, the race he went on to say he was now targeting, but he arrived overweight. Defiant that he would be OK, he clearly isn’t. Huge amounts of time lost on a daily basis thus far has him miles out of contention. His target may be a stage win later in the race, but given his attitude this season, that’s the very least he owes his team and he’d better come through with it.

Bentancur’s time defects to the stage winner each day:

St 1:    +33″
St 2:  +1’15”
St 3: +20’19”
St 4: +16’55”
St 5: +13’32”
St 6: +19’30”
St 7: +20’42”

194th +1h30’44” (2nd last)

As for today’s stage, it was yet another flat-ish one with a a short little kick up at the finish — the Vuelta seems to love those stages when they’re not in the big mountains — but this time the days break stuck and it was Alessandro De Marchi, the most combative rider from this years Tour de France, who lost his companions in the run in to the finish and came home for the solo victory.

Ryder Hesjedal was in the days break but crashed with 15km to go and lost out on the chance to win the stage. The big Canadian’s luck has never been the same since he won that Giro back in 2012. He did manage to finish second but more than a minute and a half  behind De Marchi.

Under a minute behind them came home the peloton, led in by Philippe Gilbert with Dan Martin and Chris Froome on his wheel. There was a three second gap to the rest meaning Froome stole back a little time on his rivals which was good going given that earlier in the day he had crashed and off the back for a while. Those seconds aside there was little shake up to the GC and Alejandro Valverde remains in the red jersey.

Stage 7 result:

1. De Marchi (CAN) in 4h01’52”

2. Hesjedal (GRS) +1’34”

3. Dupont (ALM) +1’35”

4. Tschopp (IAM) s.t.

5. Gilbert (BMC) +2’17”

6. Martin (GRS) s.t.

Overall standings: No major changes.