The Spin: Vuelta Stage 5

Vuelta Stage 5

A circuit race for today’s stage, iit has the air of a Belgian kermesse as the race does eight laps around Logroño. We can expect a sprint finish. Today’s the day for a siesta and if you need to wash you hair, do it today.

Given this, I’ll add a quick take on yesterday’s polemic over Valverde’s crash yesterday.

The Route: the circuit is 21km and has a small amount of elevation per lap but no marked climb.

The Finish: an urban finish the route twists and turns in town but the final kilometre is a 1km long straight road. Crashes are always possible but the riders will be familiar with the route given the circuit so there won’t be any surprises.

The Scenario: a sprint finish is probable. The circuit means it’s easy to control the breakaway. But there are three elements to allow a breakaway to go away:

  • Many riders are well down on the overall classification so they can go up the road and teams like Katusha, Sky and Movistar won’t chase to defend their overall positions
  • There are fewer sprinters in the race and so if a rider from a nominal sprint team gets in the breakaway then this team might not chase. For example if Argos Oil-Shimano put a man up the road then they might not chase, leaving few to do this.
  • Any breakaway knows its chances are slim but it can play games, easing up the pace so the bunch thinks its closing in to catch them, only for the breakaways to hit the gas and try to stay away. Once again the circuit finish makes measuring the effort easier, there’s no surprise on the road.

Still, despite all of this I think there’s a high chance of a sprint finish. Seasoned Spaniards will set their siesta alarm clock to ring at 5.00pm.

Weather: temperatures will reach a warm 34°C (93°F) with a breeze from the southwest of 20km/h.

TV: as usual, 4.00-6.00pm Euro time with the finish expected between 5.30-5.50pm.

Local food: patatas a la riojana or spicy potatoes in Rioja wine sauce. This combines the local Rioja wine with potato, spicy chorizo sausage and more.

Polémica: with crosswinds rising Team Sky tried to split the field and as they attacked, several riders went down hard including red jersey leader Alejandro Valverde. Many saw this as unsporting, to keep riding with the race leader on the ground. There are no rules here, just an unwritten code. It’s here we need generalities and specifics alike.

On the specifics it all depends on the precise chain of events. Attacking hard and putting your rivals in the gutter is part of the game. If some panic, touch wheels and hit the deck, that’s their misfortune and technical blunder. But if you’re move involves switching hard and provokes the crash then that’s not good.

The whole issue is complicated a touch by Valverde and Movistar’s position. He was calling out unfair practices yesterday which even his fans must find amusing given he was banking his blood in a Madrid clinic. But he’s served his time for this. Instead several teams have been frustrated by Movistar at different points this year. Go back to Paris-Nice and when Levi Leipheimer crashed on a decent, Movistar hit the front to drive the pace and make sure he didn’t get back on. Similarly in the Tour de France, Team Sky were not happy with Movistar as this report from Stage 3 suggests:

Likely to get the vote as least popular rider today was Jose Ivan Gutierrez of the latter’s own Movistar team, who after both those crashes was at the front of the peloton forcing the pace, Team Sky riders remonstrating with him after the first one that brought an end to Siustou’s race.

All this means that when the crash happened, some teams didn’t feel much pity for Valverde and Movistar. Is this unfair? Yes but cycling is the cruellest of sports sometimes.

In short: if a Sky rider caused the crash then it’s not on but if others panicked when they saw what was happening and went down then that’s racing, however cruel it can be.

What next? Sometimes these debates can go on and on via the internet but don’t forget the real battle continues in the Vuelta. If Chris Froome punctures on a windy day or even wants to move the up bunch via a small gap… then don’t be surprised to see Movistar make their life hard. Other teams like BMC and Omega Pharma-Quickstep might also find Movistar just that bit keener to make life difficult.

44 thoughts on “The Spin: Vuelta Stage 5”

  1. My biggest concern about SKY/Movistar is the disparity of the story between Portal and Froome regarding when they knew about AV’s demise.

    Froome unbelievably states he knew nothing till the finish when interviewed. Now it’s not the first time this season the SKY radios have been “Faulty” and/or Froome has been unable to hear the radio at critical moments. It paints the team and Froome in a questionable light, whether or not you agree/disagree with the “unwritten code”.

      • You’ve never watched TV coverage of soccer in the UK then? Manchester United’s manager has been with them for at least twenty years, and I don’t think in all that time he’s ever seen a foul by one of his own players, if you believe what he says to the TV. My take on what Sky may have said or didn’t say is that they were telling Movisatr and Valverde, in an ever-so-british and oblique way, to stick it where the monkey sticks his nuts.

  2. While I’m in no way disappointed that Valverde has had this misfortune, I’m less than convinced by Sky’s explanations of how they rode afterwards which is also disappointing. Think back to the 2010 giro, when Bradley Wiggins crashed in the maglia rosa and the peloton waited for him.

  3. Totally agree inrg, echelons are formed to make life harder for those not in it and that was patently Sky’s plan. Just PR fluff the ‘not knowing’, I’m sure they were fully aware and happy to take the opportunity to put time into Valverde, and get one back for Sioustou though not likely to publically say that!

    Movistar guilty of double standards themselves, thanks for the specific reminders, I knew there’d been some blatant moves from them this season.

  4. As per the other comments, I have little time for Valverde or Movistar for that matter and what goes around comes around.

    Sky put it in the gutter and Valverde crashed because of it, to bad.

  5. At the time of the crash the leaders were something like 13 minutes up the road. Slowing the peleton would have allowed that escape to grow and probably meant a new red jersey. Being sporting surely doesn’t include giving away your own chances?

  6. The whoel thing is pretty un-edifying. From Sky’s lack of a consistent story and inconsistent sportsmanship -i.e. only when it suits them (ref Wiggo in the TdF when Cadel suffered his repeat punctures); to Valverde/Movistar’s conceit over accusations of Sky’s outright cheating given Valverde’s past and the Paris-Nice example.

    I fear that the upshot of this will be bad blood for Sky in (at least) this current Vuelta.

    Froome looks terrible. Valverde was already a clown. They’re all covered in the mud they’re slinging.

  7. Another thing, I was amused to see Katusha come to the front and work as well as Sky -albeit long enough after the crash for it to be clear who was applying the pressure at the fateful time, and continued to apply an advantage. There doesn’t seem to have been an opprobrium for Jo-Ro, despite him being the real winner of yesterday’s GC debacle.

      • In Spanish Newspaper AS, Purito says: “After Beñat Intxausti approached me and told me that Alexander came from behind, he was hunting and what had happened, and I decided to order my peers who do more to help Sky.” (Google translated)

  8. Yep: don’t attack a race leader when he’s just crashed.

    Exception: if said leader is Valverde. He has shown the sport no respect. As others have said, what goes around etc.

      • Not “like”. Respect. Some riders have earned it. Others have squandered it. The rule generally is you respect your opponent when and as they have earned it. Harsh sport.

        • This would have been a perfect opportunity for Valverde to earn some respect by shutting up and getting on with the job. Instead the whole thing appears to have blown way out of proportion, and no good will come of it for either party involved. Perhaps amongst the devils, cows, and doctors lining the route we will also see a dark blue baby’s dummy.

        • Interesting………….so random commenters can determine that it’s good when someone they don’t like crashes and is taken advantage of, as well as determine who warrants respect.

  9. Seemed to me Sky upped the pace as they hit a crosswind THEN Movistar got caught THEN crashed. For me the timing is important as this wasn’t an attack purely to profit from a fall it was a well executed tactic that resulted in a disorganised response from Movistar as they took their eye off the ball and that led to a crash. It’s unforunate but I’m struggling to remember a time when there were crosswinds in the first week of a GT and there wasn’t a crash.

    Unwritten rule, grey area and therefore always debatable but interesting a number of ex Spanish pros (as cited by Cyclingnews) thought it was perfectly legit. The fact that Movistar and Valverde then bleated about it afterwards is naturally amusing given their recent (team tactics) and distant (doping) past.

    Cycling once again underlines that it’s important to keep good relations throughout the bunch for times like these. Whatever noises made afterwards, Sky (new radio supplier needed?! :D), Katusha (we heard late then stopped [when the gap was around a minute]) and BMC (just when it looked like coming back) all contributed significantly. Had Movistar’s conduct been different earlier this season would they all have been so committed?

  10. The way I see it:

    Sky went to the front and formed an echelon. The main reason you do that in a crosswind is to cause problems for your rivals. It did cause a problem for their rival – he crashed. What would be the point of doing that if you’re then going to sit up and wait when they’re in the exact situation you were trying to put them in to in the first place?

    And Movistar have previous in these situations. They went to the front in Paris-Nice, and (probably more pertinently from Sky’s point of view) when Siustou was down in the Tour. If you’re gonna dish it out, then you’re gonna have to suck it up when someone gives you a taste of your own medicine.

    But as Gerard Vroomem puts it* “Grow some balls” and tell it how it is. The whole “Oh, didn’t know Piti was down” crap makes Sky look like wankers. I just imagine the interview with a new voiceover: “We formed the echelon to see if we could bust some balls. When we heard it was Movistar in the shit it was like all our Christmases had come at once. They were screaming over the radio telling us to drill it like we were trying to get some of Piti’s blood bags to the fridge before they went off.”


  11. Has everyone forgotten Sky’s waiting for Cadel when some idiot threw tacks on the road? That’s an unavoidable (from the riders’ perspective) incident where sportsmanship should be shown. Crashing when the pack accelerates, or dropping your chain trying to match an opponent is just a risk of the sport. It’s called “racing,” not “riding,” and the object is to finish ahead.

  12. It wouldn’t be that bad but gerard froomem’s excuse “We did not know that piti was down” and”Grow some balls”, were inexcusable by sky

  13. It’s the first week of the race, it’s an unwritten rule (meaning it’s not actually a rule) and as anyone who has raced knows it is chaos in a peloton after a crash, radios or no. To quote Forrest Gump “ happens”

    If it was the last few days of the race I’d say honourable behaviour should play a part in the decision to wait for a race leader suffering a mishap but it should be left to the guys in second and third place on GC to decide. Most of the instances I can think of where riders have waited involve the GC leader having sufficient lead that it would be embarrassing to take the jersey that way or it has been near the end of the race and waiting for the guy in second/third place means the leader can have a little rest.

    Personally I’d be quite happy to see the UCI clarify this with a clear sporting conduct rule stating that there is no onus to wait for fallen leaders.

    These are races and I can’t think of another sport where the person in second place would wait if the guy in front fell over.

    Honour and glory are soldiers excuses for doing something idiotic.

    • I’d like to see something like NASCAR’s yellow flag. When a big crash occurs, the refs would get in front of the breakaway and peleton and slow the pace until those delayed by the crash have a fair chance to catch up. A rule like this might actually eliminate some of the jostling for position in the early stages.

      • I think the point of the yellow flag was safety rather than “fair” racing, it only happens when it is no longer safe to race on the track anymore (pieces on the road, needing to get the crashed driver out of their car fast and safely).

      • Almost a nice idea to have a safety car/yellow flag system and in fact neutralising a bike race on-the-fly is not unknown. I’ve seen it done a few times to good effect – usually because of an unexpected obstacle and only when the peloton is together and only a few riders “attacking-off-the-back”. However it is nigh-on impossible to do when the race is split to pieces. Motor racing has small numbers of cars in closed very controlled environments, not the 150 to 200 competitors in a pro RR and certainly no fans or team/official vehicles and bikes races are not usually processions, won by the same-old teams and small gaps really do make a huge difference.

        Add to that how the rules would be bent to keep races together it is anunworkable solution. Echelon going away? Time for Sergio Stuntmanio to do his job and take a tumble to neutralise the race and get his team leader back in contention – or am I too cynical?

        • Yeah, and Spanish/French/Italian (pick your nationality) officials deciding when to neutralize when Spanish/French/Italian riders are up the road. No thanks.

  14. The footage doesn’t show any Sky rider pushing anyone to the gutter. I think that, by accelerating and opening a space to the right of Hansen, Liquigas, and Movistar, these guys were hit by the wind, causing them to contact and then crash. Fair enough of Sky to pull in front (but not to lie hypocritically about not knowing about the crash). Monumentally stupid of Valverde to complain, whine, and go to Sky’s bus and ask Urán and Henao for explanations.
    At any rate, this “waiting for the guy who crashed” must be eliminated, even as an expectation. This is a race, for Eddy Merckx’ sake!

  15. Damn,, should have taken Inner Ring’s advice and washed my hair rather than watch today’s stage. What possessed them to put on a crit as stage 5…

  16. RoboFroome. I think is rigid torso, neck and upperarms are all in one piece of iron when he pushes the pedals.

    How can a guy like Froome , without a palmares (see is bio in wikipedia) before august 2011 (age of 26) can be suddendly the ultimate king of the moutains and one of the best time trialist in the world. I never saw something like that before.

    The new Froome is a robot of performance since 12 months. Before that, just an ordinary pro racer.

    Is RoboFroome the ultimate cycling fraud ?

    • To wheel out the reasons/excuses for his seemingly sudden jump in performance:
      The wikipedia article is a bit naff until 2011 so doesn’t say much about his early stuff, giving a bigger impression that it’s all new. He has apparently always had phenomenal stats in tests like VO2Max and Sky early on (partly because of these tests) had faith in his ability. He’s been their GC guy in smaller stage races before, 2011 Tour of California I believe was one. He also suffered from bilharzia parasites! Which knocked him out for 4 weeks and then lingered in his system for 18months – thanks enough to knock a couple of percent off your potential (which is a lot). Plus, suddenly finding yourself leading the Vuelta after a time-trial is a big boost to confidence, the difference between believing that you have the potential to win big, and actually being in a position where you know you can is huge.
      So, I don’t think he’s a fraud, and I have heard little to the contrary other than the usual: “Look at the youtube clip. See, he must be doping to ride like that”. But I never say never…

      • The FACTS says No dominance before, neither as a junior or as under 23. Nothing before 2011. Super Vo2 MAX are usual in pro cycling and it’a not a proof of clear succes. … and we never saw the results of is test, so it’s easy to claim now. Is disease (blood bacteria) was not active for 10 years ! And it’s a very good reason to have blood treatment.
        I know he ‘s talented enough to be a pro, but not the dominant pro he is since 2011. He was playing in some climbs of the Tour. The others (Nibali, Wiggins…) were struggling to survive. And again now.
        Look a the palmares of Wiggins, Contador or Sagan (some examples) since they’re teenage years and you’ll see my point. In a sens of reliable facts and results, Froome come from nowhere.

        • Yes, compared to me all pro riders have a super VO2Max, but I’d assume it wouldn’t be worth commenting on unless it was better than most pro riders.
          Working as a domestique and coming to the pro tour from Kenya via South Africa could be reasons for lesser results as a teenager.
          As a fan of cycling (as opposed to someone who works in it*) I prefer to give riders the benifit of doubt unless there is more evidence against them. Tests, blood bags, confirmed visits to dodgy doctors etc… even ex-team mates/staff hinting at something, but I’ve heard nothing. Maybe I just missed it.

          *The difference being that if I worked in cycling I would have access to more info and try to make damn sure that anyone I worked with, or was fan of, was clean as a very clean whistle. I don’t have that luxury, too busy doing something totally different to keep a roof over my head.

          • I believe the hints are there to see. He dropped Contador in the mountains today. This from a guy who wasn’t even on most people’s radar 18 months ago.

          • @Doubter: He gained 14 seconds on a short climb over a rider who has not been racing (more than Eneco) for the last 6months and no serious tours since 2011 TdF.
            He was 36th in the 2009 Giro, not bad for a 24year old in a wildcard team that was going for the Polka Dot jersey with Soler.
            I can’t believe I’m digging all this out, I just hate jury by YouTube, again. Sorry.

  17. Judging by the comments here, whether you think Valverde/Sky is the culprit depends on who you root for. If you are rooting for Sky, Valverde is whining. If Valverde’s your man, Sky are a bunch of tools.

    Just like the AS/AC dropped chain incident, most already had their sides.

    Oh, and if you’re claiming that Valverde deserved it b/c of his PED ban, you are hardly a disinterested third party.

  18. No one here’s mentioned the episode where Valverde won his sole Vuelta by the exact margin of time that Cadel Evans lost trying to get a wheel off neurtral support on the final climb of the day. (I still contend that with a revisionist view of history that Cadel is one of the greatest riders of the last decade, but that doesn’t count for anything).

    • You’ve got it wrong. The lead group of six didn’t just not slow for Cadel’s mechanical, they turned it up! And let’s not forget neutral support giving him a Shimano wheel for his Campy, so that he had to take another bike.

      Cadel’s had some bad luck that few racers could overcome. Glad he won his Tour and rainbow stripes with such panache, ’cause he paid dues.

  19. Yet SKY took the hit whilst J-Rod and Contador reaped the benefits of Movistar delay. Why didn’t they slow the pace down as they would have the information about Valverde (or maybe not)

  20. Last word to Nico Roche in his column for an Irish paper:

    ‘There’s too much complaining about not getting respect in the peloton nowadays. Okay, Valverde was race leader, but when the crash happened nobody even knew he was in it. There was a pile-up and there were a lot of riders involved. Sky had already put us in the gutter and split the bunch. Nobody comes over the radio and says ‘Valverde has crashed’. We don’t even know about if for maybe 5km and if the bunch is already split into five echelons in the wind, what are we supposed to do, wait on everybody to get back together and go again?

    ‘I agree he’s the race leader, okay, but where do you draw the line? I know for a fact that nobody is going to wait for me if I crash. Looking back, Valverde’s Movistar team rode hard on the front in Paris-Nice when Levi Leipheimer of Omega Pharma Quickstep crashed on a similar day, with the break 10 minutes up the road and nothing to gain. I think maybe Sean Kelly was right when he said afterwards that “what goes around comes around”.’

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