If a stage race an exercise in taking riders and placing them into a chronological hierarchy the Vuelta still has a long way to go. One time trial and two summit finishes done and there’s still plenty to decide.
One certainty is within the Movistar camp where Alejandro Valverde is now behind Nairo Quintana, on GC and in a supportive sense. There had been quotes and gestures that suggested rivalry and complication but the scene’s clearer now and there’s no sign of a Movistar mutiny. That said as every prince knows, it only takes one moment for king to lose his crown. For now the power struggles are of a different kind: has Nairo Quintana got the power output needed to win the race? He’s in the lead but not in command and El Condor isn’t the raptor ready to prey on others.
Alberto Contador’s rehab goes on. He’s gone from a broken leg to smashing the race in a matter of weeks and should only get better as the race goes on. His team seem a touch light compared to the others but it’s relative, they might not have others to accompany him high in the mountains but they’ll deliver him to the final climb and showed the spirit in the crosswinds earlier in the week. For him and the team everything is perfect. He’s a contender, he seems capable of winning a stage and more. Race organiser Unipublic will be delighted too, his star status is great for the race in Spain.
What of Chris Froome? It seems we’ve still got the 2014 vintage, the crash-prone and hesitant version. Sky led him to the foot of the final climb yesterday but he suffered and lost a bit of time. He’s saying he’s not in top shape and looking to follow the others and there’s every reason to believe this but it’s why tomorrow’s time trial will be more instructive. For all the talk of reversal and being off the pace he’s only 28 seconds down on GC and could be wearing the red jersey soon. With leadership comes responsibility but Team Sky have always done best when they’ve got a race to close down rather than having to invent tactics and get entrepreneurial on the road.
Katusha hold several cards but is Joaquim Rodriguez the ace or is he heading for another podium? It’s hard to see what he can do now. Can he get the better of his rivals in the time trials? You’d think not although he has surprised in Vuelta TTs before. He’s not got the better of Quintana or Contador in the mountains. But he’s got a team and they’ll have to come up with a plan.
There’s still a GC battle to come but several riders have gone off course for the red jersey already. The first week’s been much richer than the red jersey contest between a few names above. If the first week of the Vuelta was transplanted to another slot on the calendar as a standalone stage race it would be a great contest thanks to the variety of stage finishes with sprints, climbs, ramps and drags. But this is only the opening week Vuelta is all the better for it. Winner Anancona’s stage win, the sprint duels between Nacer Bouhanni and John Degenkolb and Michael Matthews have kept fans on the edge of their seats and commissaires in the TV truck reviewing the footage of the finale. Even Alessandro De Marchi’s win seems appropriate, a reward for what seems like a season of attacks.