Contador’s Vuelta

Religious miracles have been built on less. Alberto Contador’s resurrection from a broken leg to the strongest legs in Spain continues as he rolls on towards Santiago de Compostella. It’s hard to see how he can be beaten now and the battle for the podium could be settled too.

Clunk. Contador shifted to a big gear and just as his chain dropped onto a smaller sprocket so did his cadence drop. Chris Froome looked back and looked again but as soon as he resumed looking at his stem Contador jumped, winding up the newly selected big gear and Froome had no answer, preferring to pace himself as he’s done in recent days. It was a demonstration of force, for all that Froome suddenly had the advantage on Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez. Froome lost time to Contador and could well lose more later this week. So far Froome’s form has resembled yesterday’s stage profile, a series of ever-higher peaks with troughs in between. If he’s getting better he’s probably lost too much time to challenge for the red jersey.

We’ve come out of a three days of summit finishes and now it’s time for a rest day. No need to zoom on in the graphics above, the flat profile of following stages says plenty. Stage 18 does have an uphill finish but the steep parts come early, it’s only Saturday’s stage to the Puerto de Ancares that guarantees time gaps. Never say never, even the flat stages could see an ambush or the race split in the crosswind but these chances are slim.

Crashes happen a lot but it’s been a year that’s seen Rodriguez crash out of the Giro, Froome and Contador exit the Tour de France and Quintana leave the Vuelta so perhaps Contador is nervous? The race has lost more riders while Rigoberto Uran has caught bronchitis.

There is the chance of a battle between Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. If both are in the ascendency, Froome’s improvement rate doesn’t look enough to put a minute into Alberto Contador on the Puerto de Ancares and then close the remaining deficit in the short final time trial. Meanwhile the closer contest seems to be between Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde for the final podium place. In the image the pained look from Rodriguez almost suggests he’s watching a podium place disappear up the road.

For many the Tour de France lost its fun once Vincenzo Nibali rode away on the Planche des Belles Filles. His hold on the yellow jersey certainly looked convincing. But we had a story of French youth emerging and other podium challengers. Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, plus J-C Péraud, Tejay van Garderen and others. This time the podium fight is between Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez, aged 34 and 35 respectively. Not to be ageist, it’s more these are wisened characters who we’ve seen and heard from before. With these podium perennials it’s not la Vuelta de la renovación.

But look closer and there are younger riders thriving. Fabio Aru has taken his first win outside of Italy and seems more consistent than the Giro. There’s talk Vincenzo Nibali could aim for the Giro and Tour double next year but Aru’s performances suggest he can assume leadership next year. Thinking more, do Astana want to keep two Italian leaders? Warren Barguil too is doing a solid job, he’s still a second year pro and 22 years old. At the same age Vincenzo Nibali was finishing 19th in the Giro. Barguil’s got some margin for improvement too given he was 56th in the time trial stage. It’s taken some time but 28 year old Dan Martin is finally having the grand tour he’s always promised.

Points Competition

It looks like a duel between John Degenkolb and Alejandro Valverde. Both want to win, Degenkolb for the sake of the win and Valverde as a bonus to accompany a podium place. But Degenkolb risks pushing himself hard in the third week when he might otherwise have had an eye on the World Championships.

It’s 25-20-16-14-12-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points for the first 15 riders on the finish line and 4-2-1 points so a sprint win or two this week could be enough for Degenkolb. Giant-Shimano will be toiling to contain breakaways and in the absence of Peter Sagan and Nacer Bouhanni might not have much support to reel in escapees.

Mountains Jersey

There’s less of a competition here are L-L Sanchez’s raid yesterday where he collected plenty of points. Sanchez has yet to achieve an arithmetic win but if Valverde wants the jersey he’ll have to sprint for some smaller climbs before placing on Saturday’s summit finish.

Alberto Contador is right where he needs to be. He might not have a commanding lead but his advantage is enough to survey his rivals and perhaps force Chris Froome into a high risk early attack on the Puerto de Ancares. The other podium places are looking more and more obvious, especially with the final time trial which could leave Joaquim Rodriguez floundering in fourth place.

All fixed? We might know what looks likely but seeing how events turn out and the variety of terrain in the final days mean there’s plenty to keep watching.

74 thoughts on “Contador’s Vuelta”

  1. How much team support has Barguil had? I’m guessing Giant had a lot of support riders for Degenkolb and not so much for Barguil, so imagine what he could achieve with a full team support and some (more?) time in a wind tunnel. Most exciting prospect of all the young French riders I think (and his 2 stage wins last year were highly impressive).

      • Barguil is in my eyes more a mountain stage poacher than a true GC contender. If he sees this the same way himself he is better of at Giant-Shimano, where he can attack whenever he wants, than in a team like Movistar, where he would have to ride for Valleverde.

        • He’s better off at Giant than in a French team where he’d have to put up with the domestic media constantly hyping him as the next Bernard Hinault.

          He’s still young, so could put on a couple of kilos of muscle and improve his time trialling without sacrificing his climbing abilities.

    • He’s only 22. Let’s not expect him to win a GT just.

      I do like what I am seeing in him. He rides aggressively and is not afraid to keep pressing his attacks.

      Chapeau !

  2. I absolutely hate seeing Froome fiddling with his earpiece or looking at his powermeter when it’s clear that no outside help from his team or from technology can assist him when he is racing alone with Contador.

    Props to Fabio Aru, he may have lost time yesterday but he still has a chance for a podium finish.

    • It’s a habitual reflex (the powermeter or stem-looking). It irritates many of us, but its not something Froome can stop doing overnight – unfortunately.

      • He certainly can stop looking at his stem immediately — take off the Powermeter. Race without it for a few stages (the flat ones, for instance) and read the race rather than what the computer shows.

        • Or he knew that Contador was going to attack and was just checking his PM to certify that he was beyond his limit and could not hold that power till the end. Probably he thought: Damn, I’m putting 6.5w/kg here and this guy is going to attack?

          • Excellent point INRNG. Froome’s tic when racing is very similar to the runner Paula Radciffe’s, I think it is probably beyond his conscious control by now. Working on eliminating it would probably affect his natural rhythm and mechanics; similar to a golfer reconfiguring his swing – sometimes it fails miserably.

        • Surprisingly that is how Wiggo watched the 2013 Giro ride away from him. Training blocks and riding to the formula as opposed to the tactics of the race.

      • Sam, I agree. It no doubt “stems” from training obsessively watching the SRM data. As a viewer and fan, I find it not only irritating, but almost infuriating. It ruins the aesthetics. I hope it is not a trend.
        Now, I am not the one on the bike, and I do respect Froome, but it seems like at times it potentially endangers other riders- you saw him graze another rider and make an apologetic gesture a few stages ago.

        On the Valverde/Purito perspective, it seems like they are so evenly matched that they certainly could work smarter to each of their own benefit. I sense that the damage of their world’s issues are going to be a permanent aspect of their relations.

        • SeeingElvis, as per INRNG’s comment a couple of posts up, it doesnt actually seem to be his powermeter he’s staring at TO read his data. Its a habit of looking down-then up. I’ve seen a lot of photos from his time with Barloworld – nothing like the SRM importance there – and they show him looking down a hell of a lot too.

        • I think you’re right about the Valverde and Rodriguez deal. Watching how they wouldn’t collaborate yesterday, despite Valverde being very close in GC to Contador shows that they were more concerned about how one another would do rather than Froome or Contador up the road.
          Sort of symbolizes that their main concern is each other, and finishing on the podium. Neither one of them have a winning mentality left; it’s already over. Would be sweet to see Aru come in and take the 3rd step.

        • I also prefer to ride staring straight down…i find it easier to breathe (it opens up my chest) and i have more power and its easier to concentrate then with my head up…I find having my head up really exhausting, i may have really weak neck muscules

          • @ Ryan We all have our faults (my neck is also giving me trouble despite having a well fit bike) but we are amateurs not professionals riding as team leaders for a top draw team. It might be OK to ride staring down if you are on your own, when riding in a high speed peloton it is a recipe for disaster.

        • George Y/Seeing Elvis…
          you hate this…you are irritated by that…something ruins the aesthetic… wow. I tell you what I love is that we have a real diversity of riders in this race, with different styles of riding and racing. I find that fascinating. (actually I loved the GCN ’10 rider impersonations’ video…and they didn’t even do Dan Martin!).
          I love seeing the structure of the race ebb and flow. Who wants to watch 150 identikit fluid riders, looking like they are in perfect control… I’m indifferent to Froome, but it was pretty compelling to see him keep appearing on a couple of those stages where he appeared to be dead and buried. Similarly I have no problem with Sky riding tempo if it suits them, while others do whatever they do… I really enjoy the contest. I just don’t get all this ‘anger’ it seems to generate…

          • “we have a real diversity of riders in this race, with different styles of riding ”

            Only that Froome has nothing that any cyclist would consider as a riding style. It’s just ugly looking unconventional annoyance.

  3. “Clunk. […]” Very well said, amaizing your choice of words. It seemed to me that Contador’s cadence dropped another few times before the attack, but the right moment was only when Froome looked (desperately? exhausted?) back.
    I think Contador’s team studied a lot Froome’s body language, it became evident in the Dauphiné when he reacted to every move.

  4. Froome’s body language could be starting to work against him. Even the commentators can see when he’s revving up for a high cadence seated attack, so his rivals should spot this too. Easy to spot, but hard to counter when Froome is on top form. But, as we see here, when he’s not a his peak, he can be predictable and managed.

    • “Easy to spot, but hard to counter when Froome is on top form. But, as we see here, when he’s not a his peak, he can be predictable and managed.”

      Exactly. Reacting and countering to 2014 Froome against reacting and countering to 2013 Froome are like chalk and cheese.

      Interesting stat I seen elsewhere this morning.

      Contador vs. Froome, mountain top finishes, 2013 and 2014

      2014 8-2 CONTADOR

      CONT beats FROO 008 sec
      CONT beats FROO 005 sec
      FROO beats CONT 000 sec
      CONT beats FROO 020 sec
      CONT beats FROO 230 sec
      CONT beats FROO 023 sec
      CONT beats FROO 000 sec
      FROO beats CONT 007 sec
      CONT beats FROO 007 sec
      CONT beats FROO 015 sec

      2013 9-1 FROOME

      FROO beats CONT 023 sec
      FROO beats CONT 015 sec
      CONT beats FROO 000 sec
      FROO beats CONT 004 sec
      FROO beats CONT 007 sec
      FROO beats CONT 091 sec
      FROO beats CONT 105 sec
      FROO beats CONT 100 sec
      FROO beats CONT 057 sec
      FROO beats CONT 119 sec

  5. “I think Contador’s team studied a lot Froome’s body language, it became evident in the Dauphiné when he reacted to every move.”

    Definitely. Of course you can learn everything about a competitor, his nuances, his tells, but it still comes down to whether you have the legs to cover every move. At the moment it’s obvious to see that Contador has the legs over Froome.

  6. I,m intrigued as to how Contador can crash out of TDF with broken leg and return to the Vuelta in just a few weeks in such rampant form. Any suggestions?

    • Maybe its just the ITV coverage I have been watching but Contador does not seem to be subject to the same doping questions as Froome at TDF last year even though Contador’s bounce back from injury has been v springy and he has a record! When in Spain…..

    • Maybe Contador was more interested in beating Froome than winning LeTour, especially after Froome’s book. Did we ever see X-rays of the broken leg?

      • “Maybe Contador was more interested in beating Froome than winning LeTour, especially after Froome’s book. Did we ever see X-rays of the broken leg?”

        I’ve not read Froome’s book. What did he say? I’m guessing something doping related?

        As for the fractured leg. I think it’s fair to say it was a good break, if any fracture to the leg can be described as good. I think there is a hint of suspicion in some people’s eyes simply because of the way Contador and Tinkoff-Saxoff handled the injury. Talk of him missing the race, not being a GC contender, perhaps going for a stage win in the final week, all it seems misdirection and bluff. That’s why some people see this as a “miracle” win. Look, like Froome, I don’t believe Contador would be racing unless he felt he had some chance of winning – so I ignored the talk and from the start believed he was in it to win it.

        I even backed Contador at 12/1 (although in hindsight I wish I wagered more than a tenner!!) when I noticed Froome was trading at less than 2/1, which considering their respective seasons didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.

        • Matt Keenan on the SBS coverage stated that AC was off the bike 16 days. He didn’t name a source but his commentary in general is devoid of wild claims and hyperbole so I’m inclined to take that as fact.

          • And as per my post below with the link to the interview with the specialist who treated Contador, this gives total lie to Contador’s own claims on 23 Jul that he still wasnt back on his bike


            Lies, I’m afraid

            Further post from Daniel Friebe re the facts in the interview with the specialist

            Daniel Friebe ‏@friebos 2m
            Contador had his wound cleaned up and re-stitched ten days after crash. The next day he trained for an hour and a half only using left leg.

            Another British cycling journalist, Andy McGrath, tweeted 2 Sep
            Andy McGrath @Andymcgra · Sep 2
            A friend of mine got passed by a flying Alberto Contador in the Lugano hills on July 26. The little sandbagger.

          • Contador wasn’t off his bike for 16 days (a number I didn’t read him saying), neither was he starting training before the 25th of July… just as he posted on Twitter on the 23rd of July (note that the interview to Sporza in which he ruled out the Vuelta was really on July, 20th).
            As you can *READ* in the interview that Sam linked 😀
            Friebe’s first comment shows that he’s a lier or can’t read Spanish. Or both. Or maybe he’s just a so common (bad) journalist.
            The difference between “coger la bicicleta” (on day five) and “training” isn’t slight, I’d say it’s huge, especially if on the the tenth day after your fall you still have gravel and dead flesh in your knee.
            I strongly doubt that if on the 25th of July Contador was starting to “train” with one leg and for ninety minutes… the following day he was flying uphill.
            I’m not necessarily saying that the famous McGrath’s “friend of mine” (we all have some *friend of mine* or *cousin of mine* like that) was lying; maybe it wasn’t Contador, or, even more probable, a one-legged undertrained Contador could pass at double speed the big majority of the “friends” we have, and they’d call it “flying”.

            Anyway, it’s true that his post of the 1st of August is quite ambiguous. My guess is that he started with little rides, mainly with one leg, without power references or a specific power program – just to recover mobility – from the 25th of July to the 1st of August; then he observed no more problems flexing his knee and started serious rides, but probably it was on the 3rd of August that he really started real SRM training (that day he downloaded the old files from the Tour from his SRM). So, on the 14th of August he commented that he had spent the previous ten days riding continuously and felt like trying the Vuelta.

            Riding and training it’s not on/off, it’s not a videogame. There are a lot of shades in between, what you can work on, how effectively you can work… You are NOT training just because you sit your back on a saddle, even less if you’re limited by pain or reduced mobility. Real training probaly started on 1-3 of August (15-16 days after falling), the *more or less* good riding about a week before.

            Matt was slightly misinformed, but that’s nothing compared with the misinformation others are trying to spread. The Spanish doctor’s interview is quite clear, anyway.

          • Sam: I guess you suppose that liers are best countered with misinformation and confusion, is that it? Sure you can’t take for granted whatever Contador says, but that’s not a good reason to go conspiranoic or to manipulate the doctor’s declarations.

    • Contador came off a perfect season. A season where he built his form perfectly in step-wise manner and racing at least once a month. When you build form like that you are on a solid foundation.. if you miss a few weeks here or there it’s not a big deal.. you’ll lose a bit of form, but your flying anyway so no biggie… maybe you lose some race sharpness, but your form won’t fall that much and you’ll actually benefit from the freshness. Performance = Fitness + Freshness (I’d also add sharpness).

      Froome is the exact opposite… his form was build on very shaky ground. Froome has been sick for a good portion of the season, missed 2mths of racing before Romandie and this HAD to affected his training builds tremendously.. when this happens you take shortcuts, you ramp too fast, then you need to taper unexpectedly.. basically your base is held together with spit and bandaids… you can can get you up for an event, but if anything else goes wrong that fragile base can fall down really easily and throw everything off… that’s what you saw with Froome… add the that, the guy has hit the deck something like 10 times this season.. physically and mentally, that takes something out of you…

      so given the two’s very different build up to this season.. what we are observing is actually what you would expect… text-book really.

    • I’m more concerned about Valverde… Backing up less than a month after a hard Tour where he was fighting for a podium position right until the end. We all know his past…

      • He has already shown in the past (well after the facts for which he was sanctioned, which quite obviously ended in 2004 in his case, and in 2006 in Fuentes’s case, too – for good) that he can perform at an high level both in the Tour and in the Vuelta, and, more generally speaking, all-season-long without significant breaks.
        This can mean he’s always been doping (but we really can’t know that, rookie’s years aside) or that he’s always been good – or maybe both.
        I’d dare to say that what’s decisive here is that he’s always been good – doping or not – because most of the infamous *big dopers* showed and taught us quite the opposite: they were meteors, shining a couple of months a year or a couple of years in their whole career.

  7. “Ageist” – brilliant! Is it a proper word, or did you just make it up?

    Good point as well; Rodriguez and Valverde are not the new wine, exactly. More like the two grumpy old farts on the Muppet show balcony…

    • “Good point as well; Rodriguez and Valverde are not the new wine, exactly. More like the two grumpy old farts on the Muppet show balcony…”

      A perfect characterization! Based on the past couple of days’ racing, I can see these two pissing away their podium spots just like they did with the rainbow jersey last year! People think that Froome and Wiggins have issues…

  8. Skeleton vs Pistolero 2013 was a battle of one in top shape vs the other coming back from a doping ban. Not really a fair comparison to me. 2014 saw both seemingly in top shape at Le Beeg Shew only to fall victim to crashes and injury. One has recovered amazingly well while the other seems still searching for form for some reason. Not a fan of either of these guys but we’ll have to wait for LeTour 2015 to really see (we hope anyway) them both in optimum condition. Meanwhile La Vuelta’s been more entertaining than most.

    • hopefully we get to see Froome/Contador/Quintana/Nibali all in top form, and stay upright, in a GT in 2015… I have no idea what order they would finish in…

        • You can hope for all of them being there, and stay up-right.

          But in top condition as well? fat chance of that. So much could happen and any small incident could have a serious consequence on form, as Froome’s struggle demonstrates this year.

      • I don’t care much about every top guy showing up at Le Beeg Shew as the damn race already is too big and famous for its own good. Thank gawd ASO doesn’t (yet) own the Giro d’Italia. Contador and Froome seem to care more about LeTour than the rest, so a battle between those two at the top of their form would be enough for me.

  9. So I read today that Rodiguez punched Philip Deignan in stage 15. There’s just no excuse for that. And then his team manager said it was an accident! Too bad it wasn’t captured by the cameras. Then he would’ve been ejected as well. I think it was proper the way those other two riders were ejected on camera during the race. Well, now I’m rooting for Aru to take 3rd on the podium. Katusha are looking less and less like a team that belongs in the World Tour.

        • I find it a bit silly to accept excuses, to settle things down (as the same Deignan admits he has, even if more or less willingly), and then to come out two days later ranting on a newspaper column. He could and should report to the judges, if he considered that things hadn’t go the right way.
          Since we don’t have images we won’t ever know if what Purito did was voluntary or not (what Nick reports here was about fighting for positions, not about punching), neither if Deignan’s previous actions had been fully regular.
          Deignan’s article, with his boasting his own boxing experience, and with his reference to Purito’s stature, is an example of rancorous stooping to a lower level. But Kennaugh was able to do even worse.

          • Depends whether Purito was telling the truth. If he was lying, then I don’t see Kennaugh calling him out on that as stooping to a lower level than the punch and denial.

          • Nick: IMHO, it doesn’t depend on that. Even if Rodriguez did something wrong, including lying, I consider that bad reactions in sport (and not only) are just as bad as a bad action. To accept excuses privately and then recriminate publicly *is bad*, especially when you’re selling away your own version as the truth. Insulting *is bad*.
            Even more so when people had a couple of day to cool down, think about it and decide the better course of action.
            Note that I strongly doubt that Deignan or Kennaugh or whoever besides Purito can really be sure if it was a real punch or if it was involuntary. That’s a big difference. But they’re *assuming* that Purito is a lier: it’s perfecly possible that he’s not lying, neither are they; but they discard this possibility and go the aggressive way.
            They didn’t report to the jury, and waited until they saw an occasion to create more fuss thanks to what happened the following day.
            Their good faith is just as questionable as Purito’s. Or more.

          • “Note that I strongly doubt that Deignan or Kennaugh or whoever besides Purito can really be sure if it was a real punch or if it was involuntary.” That’s absurd. IF Rodriguez punched him on purpose, OF COURSE Deignan knows it. I am very surprised at the lapse in professionalism by Rodriguez. If Deignan’s whining is also unprofessional, I am much less surprised by that. Ultimately we are talking about Joaquim Rodriguez in a fistfight, so the whole thing is obviously a joke. Deignan and Kennaugh will “get it” shortly i bet.

          • IF it was on purpose, Deignan would know. True (more or less).
            But, on the contrary, if IT WASN’T, e. g. if it was the typical abrupt gesture you make looking at a person and swinging energetically the whole arm towards him or her, to say something like “you stand away from me”, and it hit Deignan, I’m really not so sure he would be able to get the difference. Especially descending at 50kph on a difficult course.
            That’s why I’m saying people are *assuming* Purito is a lier, while I’m really not so sure about that. If you say: Deignan must know, because, if Purito hit him on purpose, he’d know… well, it’s a classical petitio principii.

          • In English it’s called “begging the question,” and it happened when you said no one but Rodriguez could be sure. Later you contradicted yourself when you acknowledged “IF it was on purpose, Deignan would know. True (more or less).” Thanks for that, but then what’s the basis for doubting Deignan? It must be the possibility that he is not telling the truth, not that he “can’t be sure.” I suspect Deignan is telling the truth (more or less), but I would not call Rodriguez a liar. He was not really trying to mislead anyone about what happened, just saying that he was not interested in taking responsibility for his actions. At least that’s how I interpreted the (translated) nonsense that he came out with. I can’t think of a rider who I would have thought was less likely to be in this situation than Purito.

          • I won’t elaborate further on this, but, to put it simple, the reason to doubt what Deignan says is that he may easily be wrong about the situation: that is, he’s not lying, he just thinks he clearly got a punch, he’s totally convinced, while maybe he just *hit Purito’s hand* 😀 while Joaquim was gesticulating.
            No contradiction in what I’m saying: let’s suppose that if Purito did it on purpose, Deignan would be sure about it; on the other hand, if Purito didn’t, Deignan doesn’t really know, but may be totally convinced of one thing or the other.
            This means, logically speaking, that if Deignan sincerely said Purito DIDN’T hit him on purpose, we could be pretty sure that the punch was involuntary; whereas if Deignan sincerely says that Purito DID IT on purpose, this can be the result of both scenarios.
            The only exception to what I say (because of which I used slight “doubt forms”) is the hypothesis that we had a super-clear *boxing* situation.
            The fact that it happened suddendly, on a descent (and the attitude shown in the previous years of Purito’s career), makes me doubt that it was something really similar to what we saw the following day… or something like Joaquim taking a boxing stance and delivering a jab.
            That said, I guess Rodriguez at this point of his season is really, really nervous, so maybe that’s just what happened.
            Though, generally speaking, I consider more probable a scenario in which neither is lying (“misinterpretation”), than one in which one rider is overtly lying.

          • 😉
            (I meant: no follow-ups; see what a misinterpration is like! And, hey, yes, this a follow-up, so *now* I really contradicted myself… D’oh)

    • euro: This blog see’s many views and opinions expressed. Most of us, even if we disagree with a particular point of view, respect the views and opinions expressed by others. It is one of the reasons to come here ! A rather glib and meaningless comment such as you have posted, rather spoils the tone. From my observations, Froome is exhibiting all the signs of someone not at the top of his game, for fairly obvious and well known reasons.

      • Not to worry BC– euro is trolling, but Sam and Steppings gave him the Inrng treatment already. It has been very gratifying that we could have the recent discussion of Kreuziger, for instance, without it degenerating into the typical garbage you find almost anywhere else. I don’t know how Inrng does it… As for Froome, wasn’t that Aussie swim coach supposed to keep the Sky riders at 95% of peak fitness indefinitely? How is that working out? Froome is at more that 95% of his peak right now, not questioning that. But the concern with that approach is clearly burnout (mental and physical), and I don’t see much evidence that Sky have found a way to avoid it.

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