So Far So Good

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.

Chris Froome Vuelta

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.

Los Otros
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.

43 thoughts on “So Far So Good”

  1. Contador and Tinkoff/Saxo has played us all well.. thinking that he is no contender… Even INRNG in the preview gave AC two rings…

    Tuesday will show if Froome is up to it, but I believe that he will be on the same level as AC…

      • It seems that Contador did NOT have surgery after all on his fractured tibia. Even Bjarne Riis said that the fracture was not bad. It couldn’t have been bad because he was not immobilized for very long. A stress fracture typically requires roughly three to four weeks to heal. I’m a Physical Therapist/Athletic Trainer and have seen fractures like this before. The patellar tendon runs across the kneecap and inserts on the tibial tuberosity, the small bony protrusion we all have just a few centimeters below the lower edge of the kneecap. Contador had no tendon or ligament damage.

        I do wonder if the Tinkoff/Saxo camp “played it up” for the press so that it appeared much worse than it was. This was a minor, non-complicated fracture that would never require surgery. Of course, this makes Contador look even more like a “super hero” arriving at the Vuelta in such good form if fans think he has also had surgery.

        Agree with RocksRootsRoad, “PR deception…” YES!

        “Dr. Manuel Leyes Vence confirmed a fracture of the tibia in his right leg that would not be operated on.”

        “Alberto Contador said in a press statement after leaving the hospital, “The doctor told me that surgery would increase the trauma the knee has suffered and will increase the delay recovery even more. The good news is that I have no tendon or ligament injured and the fissure is in the best possible place. At least I’ll have to stop two weeks and, until the wounds heal, the leg had to be immobilised”.

        • In an interview with GCN Contador told that he had had 16 days completely off the bike. The interview was the day before the Vuelta and he said he still felt a little pain when going “full gas”.

          I’m no doctor but to me it seems like an ingury such as this could go either way and therefor making any fake promises would be useless. And if there is anything Contador wouldn’t mind its being an underdog.

  2. Great race so far and what fantastic weather and some splendid landscapes, if a little too hot maybe. Have always loved the Vuelta and with most 3 week races there are always moments of ifs, buts and maybe’s. For me, Talansky and RH collecting tickets at the back was a big risk and sadly looking like a costly one. Also great to see the lack of crashes (fingers crossed) and what do they say about broken bones? they heal stronger don’t they Bertie!

  3. That’s probably the first pic of Froome I’ve seen this week when he’s not looking at his stem…..

    Looking forward to the last few weeks now, looks like a really exciting 3 or 4 way race for the laed, as I expect Froome to get better as the race goes on.

  4. Not relevant to this directly, but – MTN Qhubeka seem to be linked to a whole slew of riders from the World Tour, Theo Bos and Edvald Boassen Hagan for example – is there a chance they are looking to make the jump up to World Tour Level? will this make it a lot harder for Alonso?

    • I look forward to the unfolding story of MTN Qhubeka more than any other team at the moment. I hazard a guess that they will likely acquire a few more high profile riders and result in the the fans’ go to underdog team for 2015!

  5. I believe Froome will get the red jersey in tuesday TT. But I really doubt that he can hold it to the finish, it all depends on the time gap that he makes tuesday. I’m cheering for Contador or Quintana, both have very interesting riding styles

  6. What to make of Sky’s tactics yesterday, where they seemingly set a pace that managed to even burn out their leader? Or was it purely defensive knowing that Froome didn’t have the legs? As others have said, his TT performance will, I suppose, be a gauge of his form.

    Apropos of Tinkoff-Saxo and crosswinds, I just have to laugh at the comments by Ryder Hedjesdal complaining that he doesn’t care for tactics like that in racing. Well, yes, don’t languish in the back of peleton as Garmin habitually seems to do and you won’t get caught out. It’s not like it was a huge surprise, either, everyone knew that TS would push it in the crosswinds sections, as they have done at nearly every point in the race so far.

    Anyway, can’t wait for the next two weeks.

    • I’m pretty certain they and Froome thought he had the legs – he looked lively enough on the climbs in previous stages. If he hadn’t been happy with the pace the team set up the final 2-3km yday, he’d have told them to ease off a tad

    • Sky didn’t make a great pace at all.
      It was just a defensive tactic, IMHO.
      In the four kms between the -7 and the -3 markers, Anacona’s advantage barely decreased from 3’45” to 3’29”, having remained steady most of the time (it dropped significantly only in the easier 4,2% gradient km).
      Then Martin went on the attack.
      The field still included some twenty athletes, besides Sky’s riders.
      The Sky-led peloton’s rhythm was: -7/-6 (7,6%)= 17,1km/h (1300 VAM); -6/-5 (7,2%) = 20km/h (1440 VAM); -5/-4 (7,1%) = 18,9km/h (1342 VAM); -4/-3 (4,2%) = 27,7km/h (1247 VAM).
      From -3 to -2 (8,7%), with Martin’s attack and Katusha’s response by Caruso and Moreno, the rhythm was 21,2km/h (1844 VAM), then Contador went at an average speed of 22km/h from -2 to -1, where the average gradient was 8,4% (1848 VAM).
      I put the number down just out of curiosity, it’s quite obvious that when the attacks start the rhythm is way higher the when some gregario is setting tempo.
      Nevertheless, I’d say that Sky’s pace was all but impressive, and I would dare to say that it couldn’t “burn” any top rider (Froome or anyone), unless he was having a really bad day.
      They were trying to defend their leader… bluffing, and more than everything counting on the other riders’ lack of courage (just as Liquigas did for Nibali on a couple of occasions during the Vuelta he finally won).

      • Thanks for the math. where exactly did you pull those ridiculously accurate numbers from? If you have that much spare time, please feel free to come by and pull weeds at my place.

        • Much spare time? You don’t have so much weeds at your place, I suppose, or don’t have a gift for the math 😛

          The speed comes away quite easily when you look at every kilometer’s pace, something that I do when I see again the stage a second time on Spanish TV’s website. It’s especially easy when, like it happened on Sunday, the cameras are always grabbing the moment when the riders pass the “kilometers to finish line” marker. All the rest is just finding a good climb profile (avoid those in Vuelta website, just like Tour’s)… and multiplication: speed x gradient x 10 = VAM, m/h.

          Try it, it’s easy, easier than growing weeds. And it may help with improving your math skills, something which weed doesn’t 😉

  7. It’s anybody’s race at this point. What’s really interesting is, on the few climbing stages so far, it’s hard to pick the strongest rider. The other day Valverde and Froome looked the best. Now Contador and Quintana are coming on. So it looks like we have a race on our hands. With all the contenders riding into form it’s anybody’s guess!

  8. This is depressing. I take 3 weeks off the bike for a holiday and getting back on for an hour leads me to the conclusion that someone stuck nails in the saddle while i was gone. And there is Contador, breaking his leg and with 2 weeks back, recovering enough to hang with the top guys at La Vuelta. Damn genes.

    This is now, what, the 3rd or 4th year in a row that either the Giro or the Vuelta has upstaged the Tour? The 2012 Vuelta was also the best GT of that year, with Contador back from suspension and attacking, despite not being fully 100%. This year has the best field and this is shaping up to be the best GT as well – sorry Quintana and Nibbles, but winning a GT which doesnt have Contador and – on recent form – Froome is not the same thing.

    • More often than not LeTour is like the NFL’s Superbowl – more hype in the build up than entertainment in the actual event. Can’t help but recall some of that same hype touting the strength of the 2014 field, until Froome and Contador crashed out.
      I’d wait until La Vuelta 2014 is complete before proclaiming it the best of anything…especially as last year’s winner never even made it to the start and Froome’s already proven he can’t stay upright for long.

      • the two mini-top mountain finishes in Vuelta so far were already more exciting than the entire TdF GC saga once Contador (and Froome) was out.
        When I think back to TdF, only Paris-Roubaix stage stands out as exciting. What else was good?

    • I don’t think this first week has had anywhere the interest of the first week of Le Tour. We were unlucky to lose so many top riders but the route was excellently put together. I’m not impressed by this year’s Vuelta route but it may pick up in the last week.

      • I think ASO got exactly what they wanted. There have been some entertaining parcourses. Some designed to provide a bunch sprint for the fast boys, others to provide sprints for GC and stage hounds, and some for sprinters who can climb. Plus, a TTT which I personally like. We have seen many different stage winners with many varied subplots to each stage, plus the Red Jersey has changed hands five times. Not bad.

        Most entertaining has been Garmins faux pas over the first nine days. First their timid TTT, followed by poor tactics on stage 3 with team leaders back in the car, then Ryder slips on DeMarchis bike shadow to again complete another heartbreak day in the break for him. With Jens retiring, he is becoming my favorite suicide attack- ill-fated break type rider that we have come to fall in love with.

  9. The two interesting things for me yesterday were that Quintana and not Valverde went after Contador and that Contador had no teammates with him at the end. Once Quintana went, Valverde had to stick to the script anyway. Can’t wait for the next days!

    • Contador is often alone on tough climbs and it’s been this way for a long time. TS’s Vuelta squad isn’t a super strong team that can keep up with him. Next season will be a different story!

      Quintana is now riding into form while Valverde is possibly losing some? Quintana is so small and light, with Colombian lungs and legs; he’s got the package to win this Vuelta, but tomorrow’s TT, with one 3rd category climb and many kilometers of descending will not be his forte. He does surprise in TTs, but I think Contador, Valverde, Froome (if he stays upright) and others will take time from Quintana tomorrow. Froome is super fast in TTs, but his form is still in question.

      Expect a bit of a shakeup in the GC tomorrow.

  10. Congrats to Anacona for a great stage win. But, it could have been more. He approached the finish waving and smiling, making the most of his big moment. Didn’t anybody warn him the fierce Contador/Quintana chase behind him was eating into his GC margin?

  11. Loving the Contador pics. Love it

    He didn’t break his tibia, it was a fracture. How bad was it? He couldn’t train until 2-3 wks prior to the Vuelta..

    Why is he looking good despite the fracture? Well that’s easy.. He had the form to win the Tdf. How good was his form if he is a 7 time Grand Tour winner whose team said and he said he was in the best form of his life

    • Not to get hung-up on linguistics but a break and a fracture are the same thing. Contador seems to have had an incomplete fracture, ie a crack in the bone rather than a bone that’s broken in two like a breadstick snapped in half by a diner. Agree on the form although holding this, maintaining and more when you have broken bones, inflammation etc and can’t train for some time’s not easy.

      • INRNG, I agree with your assessment of Contador holding this good form. After a stress fracture, which this seems to have been, there is still scar tissue as new bone is laid down (healing), soft tissue inflammation and pain. He’s wearing physio tape that has been applied to his medial and lateral quadriceps that wrap around and down to his anterior tibia. Honestly, this application may be doing his head more good than his knee, but we know the power of placebo (not to say that the tape is doing nothing).

        Only time will tell if the daily stress of racing takes a toll, enough of a toll that slows him down due to pain/inflammation. Some athletes are good at dissociating from pain, and adrenaline also blocks pain. If AC wants this win bad enough, he may not feel the pain as much during each stage (adrenaline) and he may finish on the podium. I wish I knew exactly where his fracture was on the tibia; knowing this would tell us if the patellar tendon is pulling across the fracture site.

        And yes, a break is the same thing as a fracture. One a layman’s term, the other the medical term.
        And as you stated, some fractures are complete “breaks,” and others are even worse. Compound fractures are where the bone protrudes through the skin and can be life-threatening, often splintered. I’ve treated several of those gnarly injuries, which sometimes also involve a dislocation.
        My training landed me on the medical staff for the USA Olympic Committee and the FIFA Women’s World Cup, although the worst injuries I’ve treated have been of high school and university athletes.

        • Don’t know if it can help: I’ve read it was in the “tibial plateau”, but I couldn’t guess if this may be precise enough for you to draw further hypothesis.

          • gabriele: Very helpful indeed. Here’s a link showing a tibial plateau fracture (x-ray), but Contador’s fracture was minor, so likely a stress fracture. The image in this link is a bit more serious than a stress fracture, though the image at least shows a common site on the tibial plateau that a fracture can occur.


            I suspect that AC’s fracture was not on the weight-bearing surface of the plateau; if it were, I seriously doubt he’d be riding in the Vuelta. Judging from all the photos that I’ve looked at, it appears that AC’s fracture was on the medial (non-fibular) side of the tibial plateau. So he wouldn’t have the patellar tendon gliding across the injury site, and no ligaments close enough to give him additional problems. And the two distal medial hamstring tendons would not come into play either.

            I think he fell just right, he’s lucky! We’ll see how he’s doing in two more weeks…

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