Tag Archives: Vuelta a España 2016

Van Avermaet’s revenge in Montreal

It was a 986km round trip to watch 205km of bike racing, but it was worth every metre, as always. This was my fourth year going to the GP Cycliste de Montreal. It has become a bit of a annual tradition (one that I hope to soon include the Quebec race into!) and call me biased, but this race must be one of the finest one-day races on the calendar outside of the five monuments.

It’s just a shame in many ways that it clashes with the final day of the Vuelta, as well as the Tour of Britain. It should be a stand alone event to further boost its prestige and give it more viability to those who maybe haven’t see it, as the great race it is. Not that the field has suffered as a result of the other races, such is the depth of the talent in world cycling. We had the World champion in Peter Sagan and the Olympic champion in Greg Van Avermaet present. And it was that pair who illuminated the racing in Quebec and here.

If Friday was all about Sagan out sprinting Van Avermaet, then Sunday was the Belgians revenge. Both leave Canada deadlocked with a win and second place each and the fans leave entertained.

It was an absolute privilege to watch the finest athletes in the world do their stuff. The crowds were as big as any previous year I had been up there, and why not? A day of action and for free. It was a wonder the entire city hadn’t come up to take a look. In few other sports can you get that close to the athletes. Action that lasted five hours over 17 laps of a 12.1km circuit that included two tough climbs. The total climbing of the 205.7km race was a brutal 3893m.

And it’s the climb of Camillien-Houde at 1.8km and 8% average gradient was were most spend their day. It comes right at the beginning of the lap and tops out 10km from the finish of the lap. so It can prove decisive in late selections but not the race winning move. That is often saved for the shorter 780m, 6% climb of the Cote de Polytechnique that summits 5.6km out. Or for the final kick out of the hairpin up to the finish line on a drag that lasts for 560m but at a tough 4% grade. It’s those climbs repeated, especially the Camillien-Houde, that provide the gradual weeding out process. The slow exhausting of the legs as they climb it 17 times.

You get a good idea of the kind of race it is when you look at the list of past winners. Since I started going in 2013, Sagan, Simon Gerrans, Tim Wellens and today, Van Avermaet. Yes, it’s a proper one-day classic.

And there’s no better way to watch a bike race than this kind of circuit. It’s long enough for the course to have plenty to it but with laps taking about 20 minutes or so, there’s plenty to see. I’m not sure I’d drive that far to watch it if it were a point-to-point race and I would only see them come past the once. With this kind of a course you can see the race develop as it ebbs and flows and takes shape. I like to pick out a rider or two, especially one who might feature come the end, and follow their progress each lap. It’s interesting to see how they read the race, how they position themselves and build towards the crucial moments.

It’s not easy to do when there are so many riders in a pack in team jerseys. I often think that for these kind of races the team leaders should wear different jerseys. The winner of a grand tour should wear that race winning jersey throughout the season, much like the world champion does. Speaking of whom, the one jersey you can pick out with ease is the rainbow stripes and this year it was on the back of the brilliant Peter Sagan.

He had won on Friday and was an obvious favourite for Montreal, so it was fascinating to watch him each lap to see how he went about it. Sagan spent a lot of time in the final third of the pack. I remember a few years ago when he won he would enter the main climb near the front and drift to the back thus saving energy on others. I seen no evidence of this time, though granted I spent a lot of my day up near the top of the hill. At one stage on the descent Sagan came past behind one of the team-cars near the back of the cavalcade. I’m not sure if he had a mechanical issue, but it was still a long way out and by the next race he was back in the field.

When Geraint Thomas forced the pace on the climb with about four laps to go, his move that split the field. The surge also reeled in the final four men of what had been six-man day-long break that included two Canadian riders. Sagan missed the move, but he didn’t panic and remained further back in the bunch while his team worked on the chase. There’s a coolness about the way Sagan races. Almost an understanding that the race will come to him. Had the Thomas move gotten away, you feel the laid-back Sagan might have shrugged his shoulders and said, well there’s always the next race. The was no panic and a lap later he was back in the mix.

Only with the crucial moves made in the final two laps did Sagan turn up. I’d like to have picked out Van Avermaet too, but wearing the BMC jersey like his team-mates it wasn’t always easy. Before I’d have through it too hilly for Van Avermaet, but his climbing has improved, highlighted by his Olympic win on a hilly circuit in Rio.

Late on Rui Costa attacked hard, on the final run up Camillien-Houde. He held a lead going into the final kilometre but it was a small group that got clear on the Cote de Polytechnique that brought him back. The group contained Sagan and Van Avermaet.

By then I was sitting up in a grandstand just 30m from the finish line. As I watched the chase blitz past on the opposite side of the road and under the red kite, I turned to the big screen to see what would come back up the road. Costa got swept up as they swung out of the final hairpin and made the drive for the line. It seemed made for Sagan. Having watched him all day I was desperate to see him pull it off, but it also had become clear that he had led the chase a little too much. He once again tried to close down a late move in the final straight and this allowed Van Avermaet to get onto his wheel. Into a heavy wind Sagan was in trouble and the Olympic champion cane around the world champion late to take the win.

So both took a turn beating the other and I was just glad to have been there for the Montreal race to see it come together. Safe to assume I’ll be back again next year, and I hope those two are also.

Result:

1. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) in 5h27’04”

2. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

3. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida)

4. Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange)

5. Nathan Haas (Dimension Data)

6. Gianni Moscon (Sky) all s.t.

Top Canadian finisher: Ryder Hesjedal, 19th (Trek-Segafredo)

King of the Mountains: Ben Perry (Canada)

Quintana wraps up the Vuelta

Saturday’s stage was a giant with potential for mayhem. It contained several hills leading into a final 22km climb with a summit finish. As it turns out Quintana responded to everything Froome threw at him and rode into Madrid yesterday as the worthy winner of this race. The only major shakeup was the bad day for Alberto Contador and a great ride by Esteban Chaves that allowed the Colombian to join his national compatriot Quintana on the podium.

Could Froome have won this Vuelta had he not been part of the Olympics after his Tour win? I think so. People will say Quintana won this Vuelta last week when himself and Contador forced the split that caught Froome out. Which regards to the race itself is true. But I also think it was when Froome attended the Olympics. That isn’t to say this was a mistake – he did win a silver medal after all – but there’s no doubt he showed up in less than top form. Froome was not himself in the early going. It also perhaps limited his ability to shake Quintana from his wheel in the later stages.

Froome has said next year he will target both the Tour and the Vuelta with his Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford saying he believes the double is possible. From what I’ve seen I tend to agree, but Quintana will also believe it possible himself with the confidence gained from this victory.

Final classification:

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 83h31’28”

2. Chris Froome (Sky) @ 1’23”

3. Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) @ 4’08”

4. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) @ 4’21”

5. Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac) @ 7’43”

6. Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) @ 8’33”

Tour of Britain musings

What with the Vuelta being on and then me being up in Montreal, I seen none of the Tour of Britain. That said, everything I’ve read and heard, it sounds like some brilliant racing. Steve Cummings of Dimension Data took the GC win by 26sec over Rohan Dennis and 38sec ahead of Tom Dumoulin. Both are time-trial specialists, but who could not overhaul the defecit to the Englishman after his time gains on a brilliant stage two ride. It wasn’t until stage six when Cummings finally took the race lead and from there he held it into London.

Rider of the week

I couldn’t split Sagan and Van Avermaet given both took a win and a second place in Canada. I couldn’t quite go for Froome despite his time-trial win and gritty effort to pull back his loses on Quintana. And I didn’t go for Quintana because he won the week before in what was his best week of the Vuelta. As a result it’s Steve Cummings and his brilliant Tour of Britain win.

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Quintana finds a way to shake Froome in the most dramatic of stages

What an incredible week at the Vuelta, accumulating in an extraordinary weekend in which the balance of the race ebbed and flowed before dropping right into the lap of Nairo Quintana, as Chris Froome was finally isolated when Alberto Contador threw all his cards onto the table as he is always apt to do when struggling to make up time by conventional methods.

For several days it seemed though Froome was going to survive what Quintana had been throwing at him and would limit the Colombians lead to around a minute before the stage 19 time-trial in which the Sky rider would then surely overhaul that deficit and set up the first Tour-Vuelta double of the decade.

On Saturday Froome had stayed on the wheel of Quintana in the kind of way the Movistar rider had done to the Sky man the entire Tour de France last month, but managed to lose no time on a grueling finish, one that seen Alejandro Valverde crack and make this Vuelta a two-horse race.


But then came the kind of stage yesterday that should have seen red flags go up before the starters flag had even come down. At just 118km in length but with three hard climbs including a summit finish, all eyes should have been on Contador and what he might try. He was far enough back overall not to panic about too much but when he launched his move and Quintana followed, Froome needed to react.

He was left with a split second decision to either put his team on the front and slowly bring the move back, or to go with it. He chose the former, but the only problem was that his team were nowhere to be seen, or at least no longer had the legs required to do their jobs. So Froome suddenly found himself with only a couple of team-mates and a group of others unwilling to do much work. Quintana and Contador in a group of 14 disappeared up the road and Froome’s GC ambitions began to shatter.

For the final 50km it was a giant pursuit…or a race of damage limitation. Astana chipped in for reasons not quite clear, and Froome may thank them for it, as the damage could have been much worse. Froome limped home 2min 53sec behind Quintana, who finished second on the stage behind Gianluca Brambilla after earlier cracking Contador himself, and while he remains second overall the Sky rider is now 3min 37sec behind. The onus is now on him to try do something similar to Quintana in order to bring down the deficit before the time-trial.

The odds of that seem unlikely given it is clear Froome is not the man he was at the Tour, though those odds may be increased slightly by the fact that he still has a team around him at all. You see, the gruppetto ambled home a massive 54 minutes behind the stage winner and all outside the time-limit. Indeed, Froome was the only Sky man to make the cut and in theory everyone should have been eliminated, reducing the field of this Vuelta to little more than about 70 men. Traditionally however race organizers will overrule the time cut if it means the field would be dramatically reduced and did so in this case though it has created a stir of controversy given the kind of men involved.

In theory, Sky’s domestiques have been given a day off and an entry back into the race, and with fresher legs could yet help Froome to hurt Quintana on a later day. Should that happen you get the sense there might be uproar.

It’s hard to know where to come down on this? Lose more than half the peloton on one stroke and you do make a mockery of the race, but should Sky put the hammer down in the days to come it could equally make a mockery given all but Froome technically shouldn’t be there. There is president for eliminating large groups outside the time limit, but not to this extent. It would seem that race organizers made the common sense decision but it has to have been awkward and it must surely lead to some kind of shakeup on how the time limit is set up and interpreted.

Then again, wouldn’t it have been fascinating to see how it might play out with just 70 or so men line up for the start today with Chris Froome by himself? I get the impression sponsors, TV and others with financial interest might not have been so impressed however. Not to mention fans who are planning to go watch their heroes on a stage this week if they suddenly find out half the field is now missing.

The only way around it, that I can see, is to change the time-limit margins on certain stages so that it isn’t quite as tight as it was today (albeit even relaxing this, the 54min coughed up today still may not have gotten this group inside a more relaxed limit) and then make it a hard and fast limit with no exceptions so that everyone knows were they stand. It seems clear that when the hammer went down on yet another brutal day of hilly racing in this most brutal of Vuelta’s (a level of extreme difficulty that must also surely be factored in when setting time limits), that a large group gathered at the back and decided to take it easy in the knowledge that the race officials wouldn’t have it in them to kick them all out. You can’t blame the riders given how hard this race has been…the organisors in many ways asked for a day like this when they unveiled such a route…one that we all love, mind you, and one that they themselves might even have been delighted with given the spectacle regardless.

But we’ll see how this impacts the race in the days ahead.

And what of Quintana’s form in general? What do we make of his sudden upturn in form from the Tour to the Vuelta? He’s clearly improved dramatically whereas Froome has fallen away. Yes Froome won the Tour, but he only beat Quintana by 4min 21sec, or by just 0.08% of the total time. Of course, Froome then went to a couple of post-Tour criteriums, he completed the Ride London classic, and then flew to Brazil to compete hard in both the road race and individual time-trial, whereas Quintana took a break and turned his focus entirely on the Vuelta. That in itself is possibly the difference.

Or, the Colombian was never targeting the Tour all along despite what he said. Perhaps deep down he knew that he wouldn’t be able to beat Froome when Froome was on top form and instead decided winning the Vuelta held the greater opportunity for a return on his efforts over the season?

We’ll never know what has made the difference for sure, but one thing is certain: Froome is having to dig very deep and hope desperately that his form arrives late just to keep a new and fresher Quintana within sight.

It’s going be a fascinating final week.

As it is, the general classification after 15 stage is as follows:

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 61h36’07”

2. Chris Froome (Sky) @ 3’37”

3. Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExhange) @ 3’57”

4. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) @ 4’02”

5. Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) @5’07”

6. Samuel Sanchez (BMC) @ 6’12”

Rider of the week

He’s been in fine form throughout this Vuelta and yesterday he put several nails into the coffin of his final rival and baring disaster will surely go on to win this Vuelta. So who else but Nairo Quintana.

Rider of the month

This was hard. Nobody has dominated the month. The Vuelta is still very much on going and still to be determined what direction it might take whereas different people have stepped up to win single day races. As a result I’ve looked at the most prestigious of the lot in August, the Olympics and gone with Greg Van Avermaet for his superb win on a course that nobody expected to suit his style of riding…so much so that Peter Sagan skipped it altogether. Yes the British athletes were superb on the track this month, but Van Avermaets road gold was the standout individual performance.

Quintana takes control of Vuelta after a week of jersey swapping

Up to and including today, the Vuelta a España has seen its red leaders jersey change hands seven times between six men. From Peter Kennaugh back on day one to Nairo Quintana today after the Colombian won the first high mountain stage to retake a lead he had coughed up a day go and put time into his closest rivals heading into the first rest day.

Until today this Vuelta had been one of multiple hills, with a handful of short-sharp summit finishes. The kind of steep climbs that suit you one day and punish you the next. The kind that some climbers love and some hate. It seen opportunities for breaks to survive (hence the race leadership changes) and for small chunks of time to be exchanged among the leaders while those left in contention are whittled down daily.

So much so that after this first week and a bit of racing, only a handful were left in contention. Even Alberto Contador found himself minutes adrift to the likes of Chris Froome, Alejandro Valverde and the Colombian pair of Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves. Froome looked good one day gaining a few seconds, Valverde would lead the group in a sprint another day, and then Quintana set off and took time on both of them over the weekend. And this was after Quintana himself had looked frail on one of the short hard climbs earlier in the week.

The upshot however, was that coming out of the weekend and into the serious mountains today, from which a new picture would emerge as to who truly was on form, the four contenders were separated by less than a minute. David De La Cruz was the morning leader having taken the jersey off Quintana on Sunday, but at 19 seconds to the Colombian was his team-mate Valverde with Froome at 27sec and Chaves at 57sec. Alberto Contador was 1min 39sec back and looking a shadow of his former self, but these longer climbs bring out a different kind of rider and with a season of racing in all their legs, it was still a journey into the unknown despite what we had seen through the first nine stages of racing.

And as it turns out Quintana still looked sharp. He won the day and retained his race leadership with Chris Froome being best of the rest among the GC men. For a while though it looked as though the Sky rider was in deep trouble when, with about 6km to go, he dropped off from a hard pace being set by Movistar before Quintana and Contador reduced the lead group further with respective attacks. Was this the Contador we all know; better suited to these longer climbs? Was this Quintana staking his claim to bury Froome from contention? Or was this Froome measuring his effort in a way that only he seems capable of, before reeling in the gap?

Froome has made a habit of that in recent years and seems to know his body and his limits more so than anyone else. Call it the computer on his bike giving him out wattage readings, but the rest have one too and yet he often seems to know where his red zone is best. The gap went to almost a minute at one stage before slowly coming down again. And then Contador dropped away from Quintana and soon Froome had him caught. Contador with a power metre on his own bike must surely have seen the signs and known that he was overextending himself. Froome’s catch only confirmed it and you could almost sense it happening before the Spaniard cracked. Then Froome was off in pursuit of Quintana, though the the younger Colombian wasn’t going to fall apart so easily. The road ran out and he took the victory and Froome was left limiting his loses, rolling home third a second behind Robert Gesink from the early break and 25sec down on the new red jersey.

Contador for what it was worth lost a further 1min 5secs overall to Quintana in those closing kilometres and is essentially left now having to resort to one of those wild exploits he has become famous for to try and shake up the race and get himself back into it. I cannot see it, but expect him to thrill us all by trying. Such tactics are often what the greats turn to when legs alone can no longer sustain them and we’re seeing it more and more often from Contador. Still, I must give him credit for at least trying to distance Froome today when he sensed blood in the water but surely Froome’s rivals must know by now that the Sky man losing a wheel, or even half a minute, isn’t a sure sign of his demise.

Also losing time was Chaves who limped in three seconds ahead of Contador but who drops to more than two minutes down on Quintana. As such this Vuelta is now a race for three. Froome and the two Movistar men. Valverde lost only a few seconds to Froome today and is second overall. Both himself and Froome are 57sec and 58sec behind the Colombian respectively.

A rest day tomorrow, but already looking ahead there is so many questions to ask. Quintana has less than a minute on Froome now, but how much effort is the Movistar rider putting out? Can he sustain it? Can he build on it? Will Froome slowly find his legs, or at least, not continue to lose them at the same rate as others? And most of all, how much time does Quintana require on Froome before the 37km time-trial on stage 19?

Between now and that time-trial there are four summit finishes and a number of other mountain stages and Quintana may need to work Froome over on all of them to build enough an advantage to feel safe for the race of truth. This Vuelta is a week and a bit old and it’s already a race for three, perhaps even two, but it’s going to be a fantastic battle to watch.

Overall standings after stage 10:

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in 38h37’07”

2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) @ 57″

3. Chris Froome (Sky) @ 58″

4. Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) 2’09”

5. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) @ 2’54”

6. Leopold Konig (Sky) @ 2’57”

Rider of the week:

I’ve got to go with Darwin Atapuma. He didn’t win a stage last week at the Vuelta but he got in the right move and survived to the finish to take the overall race lead from Ruben Fernendez and retain his jersey for four days before his countryman, Nairo Quintana took over. A solid stage racer who has a knack for getting in good moves, don’t expect this to be the last you see of him in this Vuelta, though it would be a big ask to expect to see him again in red.

Sagan’s MTB saga; and the opening weekend of the Vuelta

I’m not sure what the expectation was for Peter Sagan when he entered the Olympic mountain bike race down in Rio, but a medal was always going to be a big ask. Mountain biking is a niche sport that requires a certain type of rider and for the average road rider, road riding isn’t overly beneficial towards it except on the stamina side. Of course, Sagan is no ordinary rider and comes from a mountain bike background and it appears has often gone back to it in his off-seasons, but while the Slovak turned to the mountain bike after finishing the Tour de France, it was still a short time to try and master the event like those doing it year round…those that eventually took the medals.

That said, in the end Sagan didn’t lose out on a medal because he wasn’t capable, but because of a string of mechanical issues including two punctures. And before he had the first of those flats, Sagan had been in the lead group of four and riding well. He had moved up from last place at the start (gridded according points acquired in the World Cup over the course of the season) to a top three position within thirty seconds. A blistering start and suddenly the possibilities were there.

But even then you could see how smooth the likes of Nino Schurter was through the technical sections by comparison and how Sagan would lose half a wheel on the steepest little ramps. He himself admitted afterwards that he didn’t think he could hold on to win a medal, but the fact he was racing in that company before his punctures only highlighted the talent he has. And it would have been nice to have seen him go through the race mechanical issues free to see just how he finished up. I’d like to hope that this isn’t the last we’ll see of Sagan at top level mountain biking…that perhaps he’ll do the World Championships sometime or even a few world cup races if his schedule allows. His team, his sponsors and money might have other ideas of course, but no doubt with a little additional effort towards the sport he could well challenge the best.

It’s no coincidence however that punctures and other mechanical issues come less frequently to the best riders and while others went backwards, Schurter only pushed on from the front. Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) was the last man to crack under his relentless pressure, though he clung on for the silver behind the fine Swiss rider who certainly now assumes the mantle of the worlds best. In bronze was Carlos Coloma Nicolas (Spain) and down in 8th, Julian Absalon. The Frenchman had been expected to challenge Schurter here in one last hurrah before retirement, but it wasn’t to be. Still it’s his mantle that Schurter assumes and Absalon will go out of mountain biking with a palmares of achievements that make him its finest ever rider.

It was a decent race and yet another good advertisement of the sport of cycling as a whole down in Rio.

Vuelta gets underway

Just when you were looking around for something to do now that the Olympics had come to an end, up pops the Vuelta to offer you more viewing pleasure. Just how many people who latched onto cycling over the course of the Olympics will now turn to the Vuelta remains to be seen, and depends on how much television coverage it gets outside the big markets, but for me it’s come at the perfect time.

The race began on Saturday with a team-time-trail in which Team Sky perhaps a little surprisingly took the win and put Peter Kennaugh into the red race leaders jersey. Finishing on the same time and separated only by fractions of a second was Movistar meaning that the likes of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde remain on a par with Chris Froome. A big(ish) loser was Alberto Contador whose Tinkoff team (perhaps to be his weakest point in this race) came in 52 seconds down.

Stage two was much of nothing. A steady pace and an early break reeled in on time for the bunch gallop. Noticable by their absence was the lack of pure sprinters at the race. No Cavendish, Kittel, Griepel, Sagan or a handful of others either (thanks I would imagine to an extremely mountainous route and few opportunities to spint) and the upshot was someone else getting the chance. Gianni Meersman took it and down in 4th was Michal Kwiatkowski who took enough time bonus to leap into the red jersey as Sky set out to give everyone a turn!

And so earlier today and the first of about a dozen summit finishes. A short one at 1.8km, but a savage one at 13% average gradient with a section touching 30%. Brutal in every sense and shown by how slowly the riders grinded their way to the top. Alexandre Geniez of FDJ and France was the only one from the days early move to hold off the main contenders and take the win, while Ruben Fernandez of Movistar sprung away from his team-mates late to take second and enough time to grab the overall lead. His team had set a searing early pace on the short climb and had distanced everyone, so much so that only Froome and Esteban Chaves could bridge back across. Eventually Froome finished with Valverde with Quintana 6sec in arrears. Again losing out was Contador who limped home 28sec behind Valverde.

This was the first sorting out of men from boys and giving us an idea of how this Vuelta might go in the coming days. That said there is so much climbing to come that it is also hard to get a real handle on what might yet happen as everyone’s from is sure to rise and dip with each passing summit finish. Yes some have lost big time already, but yes others will lose time themselves and many opportunities lie ahead to recover time and get back in to the race. Contador losing 1min 20sec to Froome after three stages means we’re more likely to see the brilliant Spaniard try the unusual stuff he is famous for to try and overhaul his losses so far.

Beyond all that the first major casualty was the young Frenchman Warren Barguil who abandoned through illness while Tejay Van Garderen is already 7min 47sec off the lead.

Standings after stage 3:

1. Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) in 9h16’07”

2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) @ 7″

3. Chris Froome (Sky) @ 11″

4. Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) @ 17″

5. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) s.t.

6. Samuel Sanchez (BMC) @ 46″

Other:
12. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) @ 1’31”

Elsewhere, in one of the other major World Tour races of the week, Caleb Ewan won the Cyclassics Hamburg ahead of John Degenklob and Giacomo Nizzolo. The win came about when Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni was relegated after a dangerous sprint in which he appeared to swipe across the Australian in the final burst for the line.

Rider of the week:

Too many to single one out thus far at the Vuelta and so I’ll go back to the Olympics one last time. The mountain biking was excellent, but how can I avoid the track achievements by Jason Kenny. The British rider won two of his three gold medals the week before, but it was the addition of his third this past week with victory in the Keirin that gave him his career sixth gold, to tie the most golds for his country with Sir Chris Hoy, that was the most remarkable of the lot.

I almost forgot…the Vuelta starts on Saturday

You know something, I was going to wait until Monday before I wrote again and in doing so review everything we’ve seen at the Olympics so far, but then I remembered the Vuelta a Espana starts this weekend. Yes…and who knew? So a few words on that seem crucial.

It has completely flown under the radar, or perhaps it is I who has simply moved in under a rock with the Olympics being on. It’s the only thing that has been on my television each night and it’s about the only thing I’m doing any serious reading on during the day. With the track cycling thrilling us and the BMX now underway and the mountain biking still to come this weekend, I completely forgot about the Vuelta.

I think in the back of my mind I knew it was coming up and I think this past weekend I seen something about it starting next weekend, but I kind of left it slip back out of my mind until just now when I was flicking through Twitter and seen that the team presentations were underway. Yes, another Grand Tour is upon us and it gets underway in two days time.

It’s surreal in a way to think that there riders at this Vuelta who have already been and returned from Rio. Take someone like Chris Froome who since the beginning of the summer — a summer in which I’ve done minimal cycling, plenty of drinking and lots of relaxing — has spent three weeks racing around France to victory, has gone and done the ride London in England at the very end of July (others like him done the Classica San Sebastian in Spain), flown to Rio for the road-race on August 6, stuck around to take bronze in the time-trial on August 10, and has flown back across the Atlantic to Spain to get himself ready for the Vuelta.

Such is the life of a professional cyclist.

So who all is at this Vuelta?

Well it’s a heck of a start list. Besides Froome, Nairo Quintana is there hoping to redeem himself after a poor Tour by his standards, as is Alberto Contador who abandoned the Tour through injury and who is hoping he’s recovered in time as well as fresher than the rest to mount a challenge. Alejandro Valverde is there too, of course, looking to achieve the rare feat of finishing all three Grand Tours this year in the top ten. In fact, the Spaniard has finished in the top ten of the past four Grand Tours dating back to the 2015 Tour (3rd, 7th, 3rd, 6th respectively) and of the nine Grand Tours out of a possible twelve he’s started since the Vuelta in 2012 he’s finished in the top ten in all with five podiums.

Others looking to shine include Tejay Van Garderen, Andrew Talansky, Robert Kruijswijk, Esteban Chaves, Warren Barguil, Pierre Rolland, and Louis Meintjes.

As for a top 5 prediction, I’ll turn a few heads perhaps and go as follows:

1. Esteban Chaves
2. Nairo Quintana
3. Chris Froome
4. Alberto Contador
5. Alejandro Valverde

Yes, a Colombian battle for the title and a more rested Chaves to turn heads.