The Vuelta a Espana (The Tour of Spain.) is fast becoming my favorite of all the Grand Tours. The Giro d’Italia being the first of the season is often missing a lot of the top riders because they are saving themselves for the Tour de France.
But the Vuelta, everyone is there, all my favorites that I have watched throughout the season. The Vuelta is extremely hard, and everyone is tired so anything can happen. To me Grand Tours are all about the mountains. The Vuelta doesn’t mess around, there are big hills and mountains right from the start in the first week.
The Tour de France you may as well skip the first week. Flat sprinters stages where every day there is the inevitable break, the sprinter’s teams all give chase, and the break is reeled in with five or so kilometers remaining. Then comes the exciting part as the sprinters all jockey for position.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to see Cavendish, Greipel, and Kittel in action, but I will often have the commentary playing in the background while I do other work, and just watch the final 5K. If I want to watch a parade, I prefer one with a band, and balloons.
The Vuelta is so tough the big name sprinters stayed away this year, meaning that when there is a sprint it is not a foregone conclusion, which adds to the excitement. Because there are hard mountain climbs early on the race, the General Classification (GC) is soon established with a list of favorites coming to the fore in the first week.
This means that breakaways made up of riders way down in the GC are allowed to stay away as they pose no threat to the race leaders. This, I think makes for more interesting racing. You get two races in one going on. One for the stage win, followed by another as the General Classification boys duke it out.
With most of the riders having raced all season and done at least one other Grand Tour, everyone is tired. A rider can have one bad day and turn the whole race on its head. Alejandro Valverde for example rode consistently and was second or third in the GC, from Stage 2 until Stage 14 when he blew up big time, lost 10 minutes, and slipped out of contention.
Sunday, Stage 15 it was Chris Froome’s turn. His team, tired from the previous day’s efforts slipped off the back, leaving Froome isolated. He missed a vital split and allowed other GC contenders to gain time on him. Froome is still second overall but he is now 3:37 behind Nairo Quintana, and Estaban Chaves is only a further 20 secs down in 3rd. place, with Alberto Contador only another 5 seconds back in 4th. place.
Froome can’t afford another bad day, or he could slip out a podium spot altogether. Orica’s Simon Yates is only another minute back in 5th, and is looking really strong. Quintana has consistently looked the strongest in the race, but with another week of more mountains and a Time Trial, anything can happen.
It is by no means a foregone conclusion that Quintana will win. Froome could claw his way back, or he could go “Pop.” Simon Yates could surprise everyone. That is what makes the Vuelta a Espana such a great race.