Vuelta a Espana – A Brutal Sport
Stage Racing can be a brutal thing, especially so on a Grand Tour racing against the world’s elite. Take the Vuelta a Espana for instance. On Stage 11 and the climb to Pena Cabarga. Chris Froome delivered what appeared to be a big psychlogical blow to Quintana. Froome outclimbed and outthought the Columbian and beat him to the line.
Yet just 4 stages later, on Stage 15, Quintana turned the tables. Catching Team Sky out badly, Quintana stuck to the back of Contador in a breakaway group that started almost immediately the race began and never looked back. A lot of that was down to the work rate of the lead group and the curious science of drafting. Read our recent blog on the subject to see just how much difference effective drafting can make. Anyway, by the end of the stage, Quintana’s lead was over 3 and half minutes. Game over we thought.
Time Trial King
That was until yesterday and an imperious performance by Froome on the 37km Time Trial to Xabia. The statistics on yesterday are remarkable. The second placed man, Jonathan Castroviejo and a team mate of Quintana, posted a time of 47 minutes 17 seconds. Pretty much until the end, no-one came close. And I do mean not even close. Then came Froome who destroyed Castroviejo’s time by 44 seconds. That’s more than a second a kilometre which may not sound much but on a course with the technical sections of yesterday, it most certainly is when you are talking about the gap between first place and second place.
Shaken not Stirred?
It sets up today for a magnificent finish to this year’s Vuelta. First, the stage is tough. 193km from Benidorm to Alto de Aitana and a summit finish. The profile is particularly tough. The climb to the top of the Alto de Aitana at just over 1500m is over 20km at an average gradient of around 6%. No wonder it is categorised as an Especial climb. You’d have to be pretty special to even contemplate it, never mind race up it on the final stage of the Vuelta.
The battle in the GC is not just about Quintana v Froome either. There are loads of delicious sub plots. On Stage 15, Contador helped Quintana break Froome. But Contador is a fierce competitor and a fine rider. He won’t fancy coming third in a Grand Tour. If he decides to work with Froome at the outset to break Quintana and shake things up a bit, then why not? Orica are also a team to watch with interest. They have two riders in the Top 6 and will play a big role in the deciding the final placements.
A new Team Sky
In the Tour de France this year, we saw a new strategy from Team Sky. Criticised by some for being a boring, metronomic (and of course hugely successful) team, this year, we saw some real attacking flair. Watching Chris Froome attack off the summit of the Col de Peyresourde on Stage 7 and then descend on his crossbar at 90 km/h whilst still pedalling will live long in the memory. And no doubt in Quintana’s nightmares too.
Make no mistake, 1 min 21 secs is a heck of a lot of time for Sky to make up on Movistar when the latter team is riding so well. But Stage 20 of this year’s Vuelta provides the perfect opportunity for Team Sky to prove they can do swashbuckling attack and throw everything at it when it matters most. Surely it’s best to go for it and risk blowing up than settle for second before you start? Well, we will most certainly find out today.