Three weeks later and the Vuelta rolls into Madrid. The final stage of a grand tour often has a feeling of anti-climax with the result being settled but after more than three weeks it’s good to have a stage that incorporates ceremony and celebration as well as a full-on sprint.
Stage 20 Review
A thrilling finish on the Angliru. The climb is famous for its severity but seems to be about the gradient rather than the landscape, a ramp more than a mountain although this time even the moto cameras were having trouble, yet alone the helicopters.
Vincenzo Nibali was the first to attack from the select group comprising the top-10 on GC. It was bold because he was only three seconds down but it made for good TV although there was a long “fog of war” moment as one TV camera moto got blocked by a photographer’s motorbike and the crowds were as dense as the cloud cover. Nibali tried more attacks and at one point Horner seemed to be on the ropes, sat back in the saddle and unable to close the gap but it was momentary. Horner got back and then got out of the saddle and rode away. With this he’s secured the race overall.
You wonder if Nibali’s aggression was the right idea. Imagine if Nibali could have got to the finish sprint with Horner and some Astana team mates. Could he have muscled Horner out of the way in the sprint for the line and taken the time bonus to win the race? Maybe but it’s hard to engineer and more importantly, not his style. The sport is all the better without such calculation.
Meanwhile Kenny Elissonde won the stage. It wasn’t one of those go-and-get-lucky moves, he dropped plenty of good riders and was the only one from the move of 32 riders to hold off the chase from Horner, backing up what many have expected from him. We saw him shine in the Tour of Oman this year and he’s a punchy climber but with a clever tactical brain too. Another good day for the French and note Cofidis’ Nicolas Edet – aged 25 – sealed the mountains jersey.
Stage 21 Preview
The Route: a start in the suburb of Leganés and a detour to pass through Pinto, the hometown of Alberto Contador, before heading back for 45km and nine laps of a pan-flat circuit in central Madrid.
The Finish: there’s a u-turn just after the 1km to go point meaning a long finish line. It’s as flat as can be.
The Scenario: sure it’s a parade but the speed goes wild as the race approaches the finish, it starts fun but finishes serious. Normally you’d expect a sprint finish but there are not many teams left with a sprinter and enough riders to boss the peloton. Lampe-Merida have Max Richeze, Orica-Greenedge have the Michael Matthews-Leigh Howard tandem, Tyler Farrar could win and maybe Boasson Hagen will finally get a stage win. If not watch Adrien Petit of Cofidis, another of the new generation of French riders and it’s about time he won.
In case you’re wondering, yes a rider can attack to win the race outright but it’s unlikely to happen this time as the time gaps are well established.
Weather: hot and sunny, the damp fog of the Angliru will be a distant memory as the thermometer rises beyond 30°C for the finish. The wind is expected to be gentle but will change direction in the afternoon, switching from a headwind to a tailwind for the finish, although at just 10-15km/h.
TV: watch the sprint wind up as the laps count down. The finish is expected around 5.30pm
- Final stage of this year’s Vuelta and the race arrives to Madrid, capital city but also a region. 14% of the Spanish population lives in an area that is only 1,6 % of the total, so it’s not risky to say that Madrid and its metropolitan area are very densely populated (perhaps even overcrowded).
- Leganés, departure town, is part of this metropolitan area. There is a street named AC/DC in honor to the Australian rock band. Speaking of old rockers, remember Carlos Sastre, 2008 Tour de France winner, was born here in 1975.
- Fuenlabrada’s municipal government (km 5,1) used to sponsor a cycling team (1999-2003, 2005) that got to take part in some Vueltas in the early 21st century.
- The race will go through Pinto in the km 16,3 of the stage. There is a Spanish saying that states “being in the middle of Pinto and Valdemoro”. It means having a doubt about something. By the way, Alberto Contador was born here.
- 48,9 kilometers to finish this year’s Vuelta and the peloton enters Madrid, capital of Spain since 1561 (except for some years in the 17th century). What to say about this city? My personal recommendation is Museo del Prado, near the finish line. You can enjoy the masterpieces of Spanish painting. Do not miss The Maids of Honour (by Velázquez, see stage 7) or the Black Paintings (by Goya, see stage 11). Finally, enjoy the sunset from the Temple of Debod, an Egyptian temple rebuilt in Madrid in the 20th century.
A final note of gratitude to ycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. Follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel