ONE FINAL BULLSEYE
El Pistolero himself—Alberto Contador—left many saddened on announcing that the Vuelta would be his last professional race. He did not, however, go out with a damp squib.
Possibly the most entertaining cyclist in the pro peloton (yes, even taking Peter Sagan into account) seemed to take it as his personal to animate this year’s Vuelta at all costs. It’s a role we’ve seen him play often over the years. This time, however, there seemed a particular joy in his attacks—Contador is man who races with panache and would collapse rather than play second fiddle. After losing 2:30 on the first mountainous stage, he continued attacking time and time again, even when the podium seemed out of reach.
Cycling fans everywhere rejoiced when he took the final mountainous stage atop the Angliru. El Pistolero, winning the final stage of his home grand tour, on the toughest climb in pro cycling—that’s how to go out with a bang.
LOPEZ MAKES A BREAK
Miguel Angel Lopez announced himself as the latest climbing sensation to come out of Colombia. At just 23, his two stage wins proved mightily impressive this Vuelta, not least because of the riders he left in his wake; topping mountains ahead of Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador deserves some serious credit.
He looks set to join the ranks of grand tour favourites as yet another Colombian threat, alongside the likes of Nairo Quintana, Rigoberto Uran and Esteban Chaves. We can’t wait to see what Astana choose to do with his talents. On the one hand, they could look to use him as a super-domestique for Fabio Aru next season, but it would be a shame to hold him in a supporting role when he seems capable of challenging for the biggest races in his own right.
Whatever the case, Lopez is certainly one to watch for next season.
ROJO, VERDE, BLANCO
As if the overall victory weren’t enough for Froome and Team Sky, the British rider came away with the green points jersey and the white combined classification as well. His kit drawer must be getting crowded.
The red jersey was something Froome made look his own, despite having finished second at the Vuelta on three occasions. Moreover, until Stage 17’s vicious finale up Los Machucos, he looked more dominant than ever. Fans and competitors alike were left wondering if it was even possible to be competitive with a man in such form backed by such a team.
The battle for green, meanwhile, was strange to say the least. Normally reserved for sprinters, this year’s Vuelta was so hilly that climbers picked up the lion’s share of green jersey points. Matteo Trentin on Quick-Step Floors had won three stages coming into the finale, yet was 27 points behind Froome in the green jersey competition with only 25 up for grabs in the final sprint. Froome would never stand a chance in the bunch finish with Trentin, so it all looked to come down to the stage’s single intermediate sprint. Quick-Step, however, played their cards well and sucked up all the points at the intermediate marker, and so it looked like green for certain when Trentin crossed the finish line first. Froome, however, had the last laugh. Finishing 11th in the bunch sprint (!), he picked up the 5 points necessary to stay just ahead of Trentin, clinching the green jersey alongside the red.
Froome won the white jersey too. Quite how, it’s hard to say, since there are few people alive who understand the intricacies of the Vuelta’s combined classification. How do they calculate the winner? Each rider’s date of birth divided by their maximum power output? Choosing the best kit to go with the jersey? Casting the rune sticks? Inscrutable though it may be, winning the white jersey just goes to show how dominant Froome was this year. Truly impressive.
HOW STRONG IS WOUT?
All of Team Sky were on stellar form to control the Vuelta quite as they did. Whether it was Gianni Moscon shredding the bunch at the foot of the final climb on Stage 3 or Ian Stannard driving the peloton day after day on the flat, the whole team deserves huge credit. Wout Poels, however, was on another level.
When Contador conquered the Angliru on Stage 20, Poels and Froome were the only riders capable of staying within 20 seconds of the Spaniard. Poels looked almighty for much of the Vuelta, towing Froome into position on countless occasions and still keeping enough in reserve to finish 6th overall. It was a similar case at the Tour last year, where he was almost always Froome’s last man in the mountains, looking stronger than most GC contenders.
We can’t help but wonder what Poels could do if he was given free rein in a grand tour. He certainly has a leader’s credentials—already a winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege in his own right—but has never seemed as thirsty for the limelight as other super-domestiques. Think Mikel Landa, or Froome himself under Bradley Wiggins.
This is perhaps the most impressive thing about Poels. Despite his incredible ability, he always maintains a cheerful, humble persona, happy to work for others and happy to see them win.
BRUTAL BLUE DOTS
Take a look at the profile for any stage in this year’s Vuelta and you’ll see blue circles marking the top of every categorised climb. There were lots of them (and it hardly seems a coincidence that the king of the mountains has a blue polka dot jersey).
The Vuelta is famous for its savage climbs, but this year was something special. The first mountainous day and accompanying GC shake-down came as early as Stage 3, and didn’t seem to stop until Stage 21 in Madrid. The familiarly imposing sight of the Angliru was matched by Los Machucos on Stage 17, where Froome nearly came unstuck, along with several visits above 2000m. Moreover, the Vuelta has become famous for packing all this into short, exciting stages; Stage 20 to the Angliru was in fact 100m shorter than Stage 21’s gentle roll to the podium.
The only ‘big name’ sprinter to turn up was John Degenkolb, though he left through illness early on. The rest were warded off by all those blue dots.
There we have it then. A dominant display by one team over three punishing weeks, ending with some cycling history. Like in our reflections on the Tour de France, there simply isn’t enough space here to do the whole Vuelta justice, and these reflections a just what leapt out at us.
Congratulations to Chris Froome, Sky and all who make the Vuelta a España what is it!