Tag Archives: Vuelta a España 2014

A serious sorting of the GC contenders; Valverde makes his stand

It only took a 3.5km climb, or in the case of those at the very sharp end of this race, the final kilometre of that 1km climb, but it was a steep one and with the pace high it took its toll on almost everyone in the bunch and it sorted out the contenders from the pretenders to win this years Vuelta.

Gone from contention are the likes of Cadel Evans, Dan Martin, Ryder Hesjedal, Andrew Talansky and Rigoberto Uran, and left are a collection of about five, headed by Alejandro Valverde who not only set the pace for his team-mate Nairo Quintana but who was able to react to a Joaquim Rodriguez attack and win the stage ahead of other expected contenders, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador who finished with the same time as the Spaniard. Rodriguez took forth, 8 seconds back, while Quintana limped in fifth, 12 seconds behind his team-mate.

Michael Matthews, as expected, lost his race leaders jersey, though perhaps unexpected by some was the man he lost it to: Valverde was expected to go well enough in this Vuelta, but given his efforts at the Tour and the fact many felt he would be riding for his team-mate Quintana, I didn’t expect to see him in red today. Not even with 1.5 kilometres to go when he continued to set a pace that was shelling rider after rider off the back.

Everyone was watching Quintana to make his move, but he couldn’t. The man who won the Giro and who has been targeting this Vuelta ever since, while the rest were off at the Tour, was caught out by the vicious final kilomtres, though does still sit second in the GC thanks to his teams strong showing in the team-time-trial on stage 1. He’s 15 seconds behind Valverde overall and with over two weeks and all the big mountains still to come, you’d imagine he’ll find a way to recover. Anyone who doubts him only need look at the gap he overcame to win this years Giro in the third week.

That said, a marker has been thrown down and if he thought Valverde might ride for him in this Vuelta, he may think again. Both Froome and Contador looked strong given they had to abandon the Tour in July with injuries and it was Contador who came into this Vuelta saying he wasn’t targeting the GC, but rather stage wins. I’m not sure if many believed that…a champion of his stature doesn’t do ‘stage wins’ only, and he confirmed his intent today.

45 seconds separate the first six overall now with Contador 18 seconds back and Froome at 22 seconds. Today merely showed us who wouldn’t win the Vuelta and for those left at the top of the order it was merely about gaining a psychological edge or simply stretching the legs.

Result:

1. Valverde (MOV) in 4h35’27”

2. Froome (SKY) + s.t.

3. Contador (TCS) + s.t.

4. Rodriguez (KAT) +8″

5. Quintana (MOV) +12″

6. Aru (AST) +18″

Overall:

1. Valverde (MOV) in 22h48’08”

2. Quintana (MOV) + 15″

3. Contador (TCS) +18″

4. Froome (SKY) +22″

5. Chaves (OGE) +41″

6. Rodriguez (KAT) +45″

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Early Vuelta very much like the early Giro

The Vuelta is underway. Three stages in now and already there are echo’s of this years Giro. It too started with a team-time-trial and then seen Michael Matthews grab a stage win and the race leaders jersey. The only real difference between the two is a lack of Northern Irish rain and the Garmin team not crashing in that team-time-trial.

Things are still fairly packed in the GC; Dan Martin finished second to Matthews today with Chris Froome and Alberto Contador in the same group. Alejandro Valverde lost 7 seconds but maintains a strong placing out of those considering themselves favorites over this three week race. Thibaut Pinot was someone I thought might contend despite tired legs following the Tour, but he lost 4’21” on today’s stage and must surely be here for stage wins alone.

One man missing from when I wrote about how packed this Vuelta field was, is Chris Horner. He withdrew in the days leading up to the start, not because he’s still suffering from an illness, but because he took medicine to combat it. Horner had been suffering with bronchitis and the medication of cortisone he took to get better in time required a TUE, which was fine by the UCI, but because his Lampre team are a member of the MPCC — the Movement for Credible Cycling — they would not let him race so close to using those drugs.

Never mind a years training washed out because he needed medicine when sick, we’re now deprived of seeing how this aging defending champion would get on against the likes of Froome and Contador. I don’t think Horner would have been able to beat that pair, but now we’ll never know for sure. Horner will not lose his Vuelta crown on the road.

I admire what the MPCC teams are trying to do, but sometimes the logic makes you wonder. Sure there is a drive to return credibility to the sport, but at what cost? Can you imagine flying to Spain to watch Barcelona play only to find out that Messi wasn’t in the lineup — not because he wasn’t fit — but because he had been ill last week and had to take some medicine?

Granted Horner is no Messi and perhaps nobody has flown to Spain specifically to see him ride, but he’s the defending champion nonetheless. The MPCC has good intentions, but this is the drawback to it.

The Vuelta continues however and we’ve still the potential for a brilliant race. I’ll continue to hope that neither Froome or Contador find a way to crash before we hit the big mountains where this race will, as ever, be decided. And it’ll be intriguing to see if anyone else can put themselves in the mix and beat this pair who so far seem more interested in their ALS Ice Bucket Challenges with Froome recently nominating Contador.

Standings after stage 3:

1. Matthews (OGE) in 9h27’53”

2. Quintana (MOV) +4″

3. Valverde (MOV) +11″

4. Uran (OPQ) +15″

5. Caruso (CAN) +17″

6. Caves (OGE) s.t.

12. Contador (TCS) +23″

23. Froome (SKY) +31″

Stop the presses!!

Too late, you say? Yesterday’s article is already online praising the potential of this upcoming Vuelta but disappointed that it will be going without an injured Alberto Contador? Well, then, it’s out of date already: The Spaniard has announced he WILL be riding the years final Grand Tour as he looks to make up for his lost Tour de France.

Speaking in a video message he released today, the two time winner of the Vuelta said that he has “been riding my bike for last ten days, and yesterday was the first day I could climb a mountain pass without knee pain, and that excites me, motivates me and led me to take the decision that I will ride the Tour of Spain.”

What his condition is given the time he has had off and the fact he is coming back from an injury will remain to be seen, but having Contador there is a big boost for the race. He mentioned his target for now is merely stage wins but known the talent that Contador is, if he can remain somewhat in the mix over the first half of the race there is little reason to doubt he cannot find good form in the later half of the race to take it to his rivals.

Nairo Quintana will remain the favorite given he is healthy, fresh and has been targeting this race for some months, but right now only perhaps Vincenzo Nibali is missing from making this the ultimate showdown of the sports top names with a potential eight former Grand Tour winners taking to the start line: Alberto Contador, Chris Froome, Cadel Evans, Nairo Quintana, Damiano Cunego, Ryder Hesjedal, Alejandro Valverde, and defending champion, Chris Horner.

Vuelta a Espana: The potential for an epic

One look at the provisional start list for this years Vuelta, starting in just a week and a half’s time and you cannot help but get excited for the potential for the three week race. Aside from perhaps Vincenzo Nibali, an injured Alberto Contador and a self-retired from Grand Tours Bradley Wiggins, we’ve everyone we could want lining up determined to win the thing.

Chris Froome and Andrew Talansky, both of whom had their Tour dreams derailed by crashes, will line up. Also, Nairo Quintana who having won the Giro and sat out the Tour will be targeting his second Grand Tour of the season. Defending champion Chris Horner is back, Alejandro Valverde is there (presumably to help Quintana), Thibaut Pinot, fresh off his Tour podium, will race, along with Cadel Evans who skipped the Tour presumably to target the Vuelta.

And the list goes on: Ryder Hesjedal, Dan Martin (Giro redemption?), Fabio Aru (young Giro star), Waren Barguil (another French prodigy and winner of a Vuleta stage in 2013), Carlos Bentancur, Laurens Ten Dam, Bauke Mollema and the Yates brothers, Simon and Adam.

Beyond that there’s Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Nacer Bouhanni for the sprints along with Fabian Cancellara and Philippe Gilbert for various other stages.

The prospect is mouth watering.

How everyone’s form is will be fascinating to see, either those coming off the back of the Tour, or those having crashed out of the Tour, or indeed those who skipped the Tour. The Tours loss when Froome, Talansky and Cavendish crashed out was the Vuelta’s gain.

Nairo Quintana must go in as the favorite given his ride in the Giro and the time he’s had to exclusively prepare for this race, but someone like Chris Froome will be determined to make up for his lost Tour de France.

The whole thing starts on Saturday 23 August with a team-time-trial and all eyes on the Garmin team as they look to avoid the disaster that befell them at the team-time-trial that started this years Giro. If they can get Dan Martin around this time the Irishman has got to be contender for a top ten finish…though so too are Hesjedal and Talansky.

So just when you thought post-tour withdrawal was reaching fever pitch, this race is about to come along and excite us all. It ought to be spectacular…let’s hope no crashes get in the way.