Vuelta a Espana 2015
Christopher doesn’t like Vincenzo; he thinks that Vincenzo shouldn’t have ridden off when Christopher had a stone caught in his bike’s wheel. Vincenzo had a falling out with Christopher as he thought he was to blame for Vincenzo falling off with a lot of other riders. Then there’s Nairo. Nairo likes Christopher but thinks that he should have beaten him in a race that they had in France last month.
In recent years the Vuelta a Espana seems to have become the grand tour for riders with scores to settle. In 2012 it was Alberto Contador’s first race back after his ban and last year the same rider went head to head with Chris Froome after their Tour de France appearances were curtailed by injury. Vincenzo Nibali is returning to the the land of his first grand tour win in 2010 but (also) where he was denied a ‘doble’ in 2013 when Chris Horner took an unheralded victory. Last year the Vuelta might not have truly been worthy of the title of ‘unofficial’ GC rider world championships but it was an awesome prelude to the real thing that took place in France in last month.
This years Tour line up pitted all of the grand tour winners of recent years (bar Horner) and should have provided a definitive answer on who is (currently) the ‘greatest’. And yet the 2015 edition of the Vuelta will see the metaphorical “Did you spill my pint?” shenanigans continuing as Nibali attempts to prove that his 2014 Tour win was achieved on merit and Quintana seeks to demonstrate that he can outclimb Froome to win his second grand tour. Whoever triumphs in this contest, the question to see who is the ‘best’ will rumble on into another year. With Contador absent could Froome et al really claim to be the world’s #1 GC rider?
Claiming that rider X is the ‘best’ rider is something of a red herring in reality. It would be more accurate to say rider X is the best rider now. Contador was arguably the strongest rider going into last years Tour and was superior to Froome when they met again in the Vuelta. He was able to continue that form into the Giro this year; almost winning the race single handedly. But by July he appeared fatigued and was certainly unable to respond when Froome attacked as early as stage 3. Froome, despite his second Tour win, may not be the favourite for the 2015 Vuelta. As I wrote here his victory was delivered on the back on early time gains on his opponents that were defended as the race went on. The appeal of a Tour / Vuelta double will be in the minds of Froome and the Sky team but I suspect that a win here would still take second place over a successful defence of the 2016 Tour. If you go purely on how he finished the Tour you would put your money on Quintana to win the Vuelta. If Alejandro Valverde reprises his super domestique role from the Tour I would shorten those odds further still.
So what of Nibali. The lustre of his 2014 Tour victory had become very faded by the third week of this years race and was only partly salved by his stage win where he took advantage of Froome’s stone in wheel mishap. Astana bring Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa to the Vuelta and if the plan is to replicate the strategy that came so close to derailling Contatdor at the Giro Nibali could be a factor. The issue for the team in the Giro however was that the team leader (Aru) was off peak for much of the race. It doesn’t matter how well you can decimate the other GC teams if your leader can’t deliver the killer blow and that question mark will hang over Nibali as the race gets under way. Astana rider’s performance in the Vuelta may well be of more interest longer term as I think Nibali’s results will determine where he races in 2017 and with which team.
Tejay van Garderen leads the second tier of GC riders to watch; returning after his DNF at the Tour. I don’t think we’ll see the BMC rider on the podium here but he could go well in the Andorra based stage 11 as he’s an experienced rider at altitude (he was winning the USA Pro Challenge this time last year and in 2013). Joaquim Rodriguez can claim that stage as his ‘local’ and quite a few people have tipped him to go well in the race. I’m less convinced; leaving aside the motivation factor that this is his home tour I just don’t think that Purito has the legs for victory in a three week stage race.
VCSE’s Vuelta 2015 Top 3
Outside of the GC there’s interest in Peter Sagan’s appearance. With Contador not racing Sagan can expect a bit more support from his teammates and I would expect to see him figure in the sprints against John Degenkolb and Nacer Bouhanni.
A few teams are bringing what are best described as composite squads to the race and the suspicion that riders use the Vuelta as preparation for the worlds might have played a small part in a parcours that is heavily weighted towards the second week.
VCSE’s stages to watch
It’s the Vuelta so there are summit finishes a plenty but each one is new to the race which makes predictions for who each stage will suit more difficult. Coupled with the fact that there is only one high mountain stage in the final week taking time on GC early in the race could be crucial to taking the overall win.
Stage 1 – Sat 22nd August – Puerto Banus to Marbella TTT
Will the TOWIE wannabes be able to tear themselves away from their beds and bottles of vodka to watch the beach finish that opens this years Vuelta? By all accounts it’s a tricky (read narrow) 7.4km to negotiate with surface changes. The outcome might or might not effect the overall result but the potential for upset could mean a surprise in the leaders jersey if not one of the contenders taking an early lead with a punchy summit finish to follow on Sunday’s stage 2.
Stage 6 – Thurs 27th August – Cordoba to Sierra de Cazorla
After the opening weekend this 200km stage from Cordoba should provide the next GC shake up with a short but sharp cat 2 finish that’s new to the race.
Stage 7 – Friday 29th August – Jodar to La Alpujarra
We’re deep in Valverde country here near Murcia and if yesterday’s stage didn’t change things on GC the 20km climb that finishes an undulating 188km course should see the top 10 take on a more familiar look with the team leaders and climbers featuring.
Stage 11 – Wednesday 2nd September – Andorra la Vella to Cortals d’Encamp
The stage tackles four cat 1 and one HC climb including a cat 1 finish in just 138km in Andorra. The HC Collada de la Gallina averages 8.5% over 12km but the whole stage should be a spectacle. Bad weather hampered the Vuelta’s last visit to Andorra and if the rain falls we could see some spectacular time gaps by the end.
Stage 16 – Monday 7th September – Luarca to Ermita de Alba.Quiros
The penultimate high mountains stage takes on a succession of cat 3 and 2 climbs before a two punch cat 1 and HC finish. The heights might not reach those achieved in Andorra the week before but the final climb averages 10% over its first half with ramps of up to 30%. The final rest day won’t come soon enough after this one.
Stage 20 – Saturday 12th September – San Lorenzo de El Escorial to Cercedilla
With no Angliru for a second year and no summit finish on the penultimate day this stage might feel a bit anti-climatic. If there’s still GC places to be worked out they will be decided over the four cat 1 climbs on the route. A race leader with time in hand will race conservatively and protect their time gaps which could open the way for a breakaway victory.