Who Will Take Over From Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez

Valverde Contador Rodriguez

The World Tour is over and Spain tops all the rankings: Alejandro Valverde leads the UCI rankings, Movistar win the best team and Spain finish well ahead of Italy for the best nation. A fiesta or a statistical quirk?

Spain’s best riders are ageing, the trio of Valverde, Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez have a combined age of over 100 years. Who are the young riders carrying the Spanish hopes for the future?

Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez make a formidable trio that propels Spain to the top nation on the World Tour and by a considerable margin. Valverde and Contador are the main points scorers with Rodriguez finishing the season in 12th place and then Samuel Sanchez and Benats Inxausti adding a more points with their forty-something place in the rankings.

Rankings are mere contests in arithmetic and often have little place in cycling where the absolute always trumps the relative: it’s better to win one big race than to finish second time after time. This is particularly true for Alejandro Valverde who has finished a season of impressive consistency but it still left his fans frustrated and his doubters satisfied. A similar story for Joaquim Rodriguez, one of the best in the world but a persistent runner-up. Who will replace them?

Mikel Landa

The Climber: It’s been said there are no replacements. Step forward Mikel Landa, aged 24 of Astana and winner of the Monte Bondone stage of the Giro del Trentino. A very good climber it’s hard to see him becoming a grand tour contender but he could become a regular stage winner if he can be liberated from the valuable job of guiding Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali.

Ion Izaguirre

The Stage Racer I: Movistar’s Ion Izaguirre is the reigning Spanish champion and aged 24. He might have been gifted the result by Valverde in June but has thrived at the World Tour level, second in the Tour de Pologne for the second year running. He was top-10 in the Tour de Romandie after finishing fifth in the time trial stage and has been a big help to Alejandro Valverde this year. Spain’s high ranking was boosted by his team duties.

The Stage Race II: younger than Izaguirre, Jesús Herrada is part of Generación 1990. The younger of the two Herrada brothers, Jesús is said to be the more talented and has enjoyed some good results this year although nothing stunning: a stage win in the Tour du Poitou-Charentes and the Route du Sud. Again he’s been a big help in Valverde’s points quest this year.

Juan José Lobato Movistar

The Sprinter: Juan-José Lobato is sprinter but maybe his best result this year didn’t see him lifting his hands in the air, it was his fourth place in Milan-Sanremo. Below the podium but a sign of what he can do, the same where he was just pipped by Mark Cavendish in the Tour de Suisse. Otherwise he’s had several wins this year including a stage win in the Tour de Wallonie where he ended up second overall. Still 25 there’s room for improvement.

The Classics Contender: Carlos Barbero has been busy studying mechanical engineering while racing with the Euskadi Continental team. He’s won the Circuito Getxo race this year and will join Caja Rural in 2015. Don’t expect big wins right away but he’ll be good for some stage wins during the year on the Spanish calendar.

Ruben Fernandez

The Big Hope: Ruben Fernandez won the Tour de l’Avenir in 2013. His solo triumph on the Col de Madeleine saw him put 90 seconds into a select chasing group with Adam Yates, Heiner Parra, David Formolo and others although he’d enjoyed a pro season with Caja Rural. His second season saw him dropped in the deep end with a busy programme of racing early this year. He finished 6th overall in the Volta ao Algarve, impressive for a 22 year old neo-pro but the more the season went on the more he faded. With a rest he’ll be back for more with Movistar in 2015 who will surely nurture him carefully.

Spain tops the UCI’s rankings on all scores but it’s not necessarily the sign of national strength, it’s more the result of three riders than a national programme and this trio’s average age is above 33.

The rankings are skewed towards stage racing and Spain’s racing scene, pro and amateur, produces stage racers which means a tiny in-built advantage for Spanish cyclists. But it’ll take more than arithmetic. In the coming years look to Landa, Izaguirre, Herrada, Lobato, Barbero and Fernandez for results but a theme from above is that they can place well but have yet to impose themselves as leaders. In poker parlance if you cite Herrada, Izaguirre or Fernandez, I’ll raise you a Fabio Aru,  Rafał Majka, or Thibaut Pinot.

Thanks to Manuel Pérez Díaz for contributing to this piece.

33 thoughts on “Who Will Take Over From Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez”

  1. True, stats often lie but it is also worth celebrating this Spanish trio in the way they lit up cycling this season.

    Not quite getting to the top step on the podium (apart from Bertie) must be frustrating and exciting in equal measure for the fans of Spanish cycling (me included). Let’s hope they all have at least one more good season left in the legs.

    • I’m an impressed doubter as well. I had written him completely after the ’13 worlds as unfulfilled potential. I also like the way he is handling having Quintana as a teammate.

  2. It has always been a surprise why Spain is doing so well at the elite level. In Junior and U23 races, they have never been a real factor (exceptions apply, see above). Unlike countries with dedicated talent programs like Germany or Australia, where virtually all current Professionals had decent Junior- or U23 careers, no such pattern exists in Spain.

  3. Might be wrong but I thought Ruben Fernandez got lucky at l’Avenir when he got in an early(ish) break and the contenders all looked at each other. And compare and contrast sixth at the Volta ao Algarve with Adam Yates’ stellar neo-pro season (who was second at l’Avenir in 2013) – winning the Tour of Turkey and top 10 in the Dauphine – although the Vuelta was clearly either a race too far or too hot or too long or something.

  4. It seems that the generation who grew up motivated by Delgado and Indurain’s triumphs and popularity will be replaced by a generation who grew up seeing cycling mired by doping and scandals, a less motivated generation. Disappearance of races and team structures doesn’t help either. Pretty much the same situation as in the post Ocaña and Fuente years, when it took Spanish cycling a decade to cross the desert and come back strong.

  5. With a few more possibilities (less Valverde/Quintana duty), even though he’s already 28, Beñat Intxausti probably has bigger GT potential (especially in a Giro/Vuelta) than most of those listed above.

    • Already a points winner in some races, eg the Tour of Beijing last year but I left him out as more people will know him for this as he’s older. The big problem for Movistar’s riders is getting an opportunity in between Valverde and Quintana, especially as Valverde’s racing is so comprehensive, it’s for most of the year and ranges from one day races to grand tours.

      • Soler used to ride with one of my cycling club colleagues, they were from the same town. The guys there could beat him once or twice… when he was fifteen and they were about 25 😛
        Just an anecdote without any meaning if we’re speaking of pro sport, obviously. But we’ve been keeping an eye on him out of sheer curiosity 😉

  6. Given the state of Spain’s economy, unemployment at what 50% for under 25 year olds.
    Why not just go out and ride your bike fast? “chasing the bread trucks”

    Conclusion: We may see a few Neo-pro’s soon who may provide some fireworks in a couple of years.

    • I did write a blog suggesting something similar, that the situation does give some people the motivation to race more instead of pursue a more ordinary career.

      One thing not mentioned above is that if the economy picks up, Spanish cycling might not. Races were shrinking / cancelled during the boom times and there weren’t many pro teams. Euskaltel-Euskadi was always a unique project leaving only one big team. Still, it’s all relative there are lots of races, racers and more.

    • You would think so …………. but i visit my Parents in Spain twice a year and ride extensively whilst I am here, if anything there are less younger riders over the last couple of years and a LOT less in the local races that I look forward to watching, methinks the youngsters are having to hold down 2 poorly paid jobs to make ends meet and if anything have less time to train.

      However the standard of these races is very high indeed still

    • I feel that what’s happening in Span is that finally cycling has got some kind of good wave (the international “cycling’s so cool”, maybe) as a sport practiced by common people. It wasn’t like this in the Indurain era, they had more of a boom in terms of structured sport… and “couch sport”, essentially.
      It’s still far from Italy, but it’s starting; and, if it lasts, it’s going to have an effect on pro sport, too. At least, if they don’t cut the cultural bridges between the two, as it’s happening in Italy (what is really funny is that the more Italian “granfondo” or “Sunday” riders say “we’re not like those overdoped pros, we’re the true sport”, the more doping spreads between their ranks; and, nowadays, it’s a really astouding phenomenon).

  7. There are some nice talents comming up, but the problem is indeed that they mainly ride national races and the level there is lower the in the international races so they need some time to catch up when they are older.
    But Cristian Rodriguez seems like a bright talent (1995) as does Cuadros (1995) (although he disappointed this year, but again the problem from riding just in Spain to going international), Diego Pablo Sevilla (1996), Jaume Sureda (1996), Angel Coterillo (1997), Inigo Landaluze (1997) and the already mentioned Inigo Elosegui (1998, so very young but he won 26 races on the road this year + 17 out of 17 on the track)!
    And as you can see by the yearsa these riders were born it will take a while before they might be able to take over from AC, AV and JR

    • Someone noticed! I started the piece with an idea of looking at how Spain topped the rankings but quickly got more interested in who would replace them. So it was more about the new riders rather than how the current situation of topping the rankings arose.

  8. Movistar as the only spanish team taking the number one spot is nonetheless impressive and if you look at stageraces it is also the truth. No other team has 2 real contenders as persuasive as Valverde and Quintana. And for sponsors it is valuable to say “we were the best TEAM in 2014”.

  9. I read through the comments expecting someone to mention Mikel Nieve. When no-one did, I researched and discovered he’s already 30. However, he could hold the fort until the young guys are ready, especially as he seemed to finish the season strongly, as if he’s just settling in at Sky. Could be stronger next year…

    • Well, Landa hasn’t. This year may even be considered disappointing, in his case, when compared with previous glimmers of class.
      Did they set aside all the candies for the Khazakh kids? 😛

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