Vuelta a España Rest Day Review

How far can Tom Dumoulin go? Once seen as a time trial specialist he’s proven versatile, aggressive and surprising. But as much as he’s been underrated by many this year the high mountains seem too much.

It’s been a week of surprises with a collection of riders finally getting the wins they’ve been promising whether Dumoulin, Esteban Chaves or Caleb Ewan. Even Peter Sagan found winning ways again.

The race started with the farcical team time trial course which made a buzz but was quickly forgotten. There could be a longer term impact given the precedent of only a few high profile riders need to take to Twitter to express displeasure for the story to gain momentum.

Normally the opening week of a grand tour is the most sprinter friendly part of the race but this Vuelta’s had just three sprint finishes in ten stages. There’s been no clear pattern with Peter Sagan winning one, Caleb Ewan another and Kristian Sbaragli finally getting a win. If anything the consistent theme has been John Degenkolb’s defeat but there’s time for him to correct this and anyway Giant-Alpecin have been having a great time of things so far. The German-branded team stands out for its record of rider development.

Dumoulin’s won his Vuelta already. Not that’s got the red jersey wrapped up, far from it. It’s simply that he doesn’t have to do any more, he’s taken a stage win and wears the leader’s jersey. Everything else is a bonus and if the high mountains are too much then he can treat it all as a test and look forward to the upcoming time trial stage which in turn will be useful preparation ahead of the World Championships. To respond to the question in the opening paragraph surely the high mountains are too much, especially the repeated climbs. He has been in the top-10 of mountain stages before, notably 10th in the Tour de Suisse’s climb to Sölden this year but even if he can improve this to, say, fifth place in tomorrow’s stage then he’ll lose time and the race lead.

Esteban Chaves had a bad day on Sunday but that’s been his only mistake so far after two stage wins and days in red. Like Dumoulin he’s had a great opening week and succeed beyond expectations already. It wasn’t that long ago that he was nursing severe crash injuries that meant he couldn’t move his arm thanks to nerve tissue problems, merely racing again was a triumph. Now we all want to see how he fares in the high mountains.

Of all the other contenders it’s hard to grade to them all and the first week has resembled a game of snakes and ladders, no sooner has one rider risen up the rankings then they’ve had a problem and vice versa. Despite several uphill finishes there’s no pecking order; the upcoming stages will do this starting with tomorrow’s six climb tour of Andorra. Joaquim Rodriguez sits second overall after a steady first week but the “Purito” of the past would have taken a stage win by now on one of the uphill finishes. On Sunday’s climb up Puig Llorença he placed third after avoiding the early attacks. Fabio Aru has been the fresh pick but hasn’t benefited much from the zip in his legs over those who rode the Tour. Sky have two cards to play in Nicolas Roche and Chris Froome but the Briton looks like the ace for the mountains, especially if he’s had his jours sans already. Froome is back to that disturbing pacing strategy of letting himself get dropped and then pacing himself back into contention as if he’s in a handicap race. It’s disconcerting because it’s unusual but an effective idea in theory and, so far, in practice. The Sky rider is one of the few in the top-10 who will look forward to the time trial.

Movistar still have two chiefs in Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde. Some wonder who is the team leader and the answer is the rider in the lead in the team leader. Since the two sit on identical time there’s no need for the team to choose yet. Rafał Majka is one to watch, he’s been discreet but the Pole led to the chase to Fabio Aru on the summit finish at La Alpujarra and looks strong right now. Last in the top-10 is Domenico Pozzovivo who’s had a quiet opening week, he seems able to hang with the front group but hasn’t shown signs of being to get ahead.

Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, Fabio Aru
Joaquim Rodriguez, Rafał Majka
Esteban Chaves
Domenico Pozzovivo,

That’s a revised look at the riders for the win in Madrid with Majka and Chaves joining the table. If those are the contenders, who were the pretenders? Pierre Rolland is doing what he usually does as in losing loads of time in the opening week and given his very low win rate he’s an odd signing for Cannondale-Garmin. Both Sky’s Sergio Henao and Astana’s Mikel Landa were potential podium picks but they’re well down on GC and reduced to support roles and maybe a stage win.

The opening week has seen more crashes than Chinese stockmarket and Tejay van Garderen has been the main GC victim. Dan Martin was featuring in the stage finishes and if Joe Dombrowski could still win a mountain stage from a breakaway, Cannondale-Garmin look down on their luck as Andrew Talansky rides on but all year he’s looked nothing like the rider who could track Froome and Contador in the Dauphiné last year. For spectacular misfortune see Nacer Bouhanni he’s only finished one grand tour in his career despite after starting seven. There are still serious concerns for Kris Boeckmans who lies in an artificial coma.

A motorbike took out Peter Sagan and he left the race the next day with his injuries and frustration too. It’s not just a matter of leaving Spain, this puts participation and preparation for the world championships in doubt. There are calls for the UCI to do something but it’s hard to legislate against accidents although there are measures to think about.

One measure the UCI has taken is excluding Vincenzo Nibali after that most adhesive of sticky bottles. The Sicilian is a driven man keen to salvage something from the end of the season whether by going to the world championships or racing the Tour of Lombardy, the problem is he’s not got much opportunity to race before and if he rides the world’s he’s got a week to get home and over the jetlag.

If we’ve had 10 stages of surprises, variety, drama and polemics it sounds like a great start. But there’s a shallow feel too, rather than a feast we’ve had ten stages of tapas. Yes there have been some great finishes but that’s it, the action is concentrated late in the day. This site’s daily previews regularly recommend tuning in for the final 30 minutes and half of the suggested viewing time is so you can settle in for the finish. This upcoming stages should change this and the continuing uncertainty over the ultimate winner is there to be enjoyed.

31 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Rest Day Review”

  1. I think Dumoulin will hang to 5th place (or higher) in Madrid.
    He has shown in one week tours that he can limit his loses quite well, tt will gain him at least a minute on other gc contenders (except Froome).
    barring any unforeseen developments … off course

  2. It would be nice to see Dumoulin hang on and finish well. But since a lot of riders are within fair distance of one another, losing a couple of minutes drops you a lot of places quickly. He’ll make up quite some time in the TT though.

    As far as Froome is concerned, I don’t think he wants to be dropped and then come back. What he does is looking at his wattage knowing what he should be pushing for the first half of the climb, and then what he can do for the next half when he wants to be attacking the rest. Everything higher he knows he won’t be able to sustain till the finish line.

    Back in the Tour, that wattage was just higher than what it is in the Vuelta. For tomorrow’s stage, staying calm and focussing on an effort that you can sustain for, I don’t know, 6h seems like a good plan.

  3. If Dumoulin hangs with the GC guys on stage 11 – or throughout the high mountains before the second rest day – I will be amazed. It would be, as Laurent Jalabert might say, “out of this world”. To my mind his performance in the Tour de Suisse on the stage mentioned above is more par for the course. He finished 10th, +1.37 behind Thibault Pinot. He’s had his win and worn red. Time to drop back and let the main players fight it out.

    • i would be a lot less surprised to see tom lose 15 minutes (or more) tomorrow than i would be if he hangs with the gc guys…

      i just can’t see him going anywhere but backwards once the gc guys start to go, especially if one team (i’m looking at you movistar) decides to light the fire early… this isn’t a monoclimb with areas for recovery like the other day… this is a stage for the skinny guys…

      gonna be a mad dash up that first hill to get into the breakaway… wish we were getting this stage all the way from the beginning, but at least we get an hour more than usual…

      • I don’t know who you are referencing with your “we” but my understanding is the whole stage will be broadcast live. Certainly its on from 12.15pm on UK Eurosport. That said, judging by the regular standards of the Tour of Catalunya we might be lucky to see anything at all!

  4. Great wrap-up of the first 10 stages.

    Have to think that it’s Movistar’s race to lose.
    Would be nice to see one of the American kids perform to a higher level these next few days.
    All be it, they are in service to GC guys

    Craddock may get a chance if Dumoulin has a bad couple of days.

  5. ProCycling has a moto problem. They may want to thin the herd a little bit. How many different photo-journos do we really need on each stage anyway?

    There have been way to0 many rider-moto crashes this year. Time for the UCI and race organizers to change the game in some meaningful way.

  6. Surely Rolland is the obvious signing by Cannondale to replace Dan Martin? Both are talented hyped climbers who are consistent only in their ability to over promise and under deliver?

      • Indeed. Martin has missed out a few races with mishaps but has also delivered some huge results. Rolland’s results are more modest. But it’ll be interesting to see how he does with a new team with different attitudes, especially if he’s told what to do and given more pressure to deliver wins rather than get the jersey on TV.

      • I think Uran, rather than Rolland, will serve as a more parallel replacement for Martin on TCG. But of course I see your point about the under-performing parallel.
        Rolland is only good for the occasional breakaway summit finish win. Uran, like Martin, is much more versatile. This season notwithstanding…
        Either way, I don’t see any Grand Tour GC wins in their near future.

    • I see Rolland (and Uran to some extent) as stop-gap signings. Riders who can place decently at grand tours but are unlikely to win. They will do enough to keep the team in the top tier, while Cannondale-Garmin sees what some of the youngsters like Formolo and Dumbrowski develop into.

  7. Despite the crashes, Froome has remained upright. I wonder if Team Sky managed to help him with his bike handling (as well as his luck). They are not known for leaving a stone unturned.

  8. There’s also the rest day factor at play. Back in the tour, Sky and Froome demonstrated how to be at 100% the first day back, where others had their jour sans. If their or Movistar’s climbing train clicks, we could see a demolition job tomorrow.

  9. I think most people are over estimating Froome’s time trialing this year. He focused on training for the tour and the mountains not the time trials. He did not have a great prologue at the tour… I don’t think he will gain too much on the other in the time trial

  10. I think Froome had a stronger support team in the Tour than he does at la Vuelta. How many Tour stages saw him getting dragged up the hill by two or three strong lead out climbers, setting him up for an attack in the last ~15 km? I don’t see that happening so much in the next week.

  11. In cycling there are always calls for someone to do something. Most of the times this leads to confused action, which in the long run makes things much worse, because in the hectic to quiet down the voices, half of the facts have been left out of consideration. Then they try to readress that with 29 new ifs and buts and in the end the rules/solutions are making much more trouble than the initial “problem”. This of course prompts new calls for action. Just wait for it, after the poor Kris Boeckmans has caused the crash while drinking and driving AND this went public, we will probably get a “designated break to eat and drink.” No, really, I can almost hear them discussing this (you know, like a halftime or a quarter – works in other sports, so why not in cycling? Good for commercials, maybe we can have some cheerleaders or music in that break…). I don’t know, why the cycling federation(s) lack the confidence to stand some pressure, that other federations seem to have? Is it, because the UCI is relatively poor and the teams rely on sponsors and therefore the fear of publicity is so huge? The TTT in the Vuelta is just another example of that. Of course there can be things done to adjust to the changing landscape of the cities etc., but really: There are so many races a year and for that we have really not much accidents with cars or motos. Race accidents with cars and motos happened before (just ask Flecha and Hoogerland and many others), they happen every year and they will happen in the future. And when they happen, we need to look, if we can learn from them, if there are reasonable ways to make it safer, but there will never be a hundred percent safety. What annoys me the most, is that this issue gets used in the fight between certain teams, race organisers and the UCI over power. Do they think we are so stupid, that we don’t see through that?

  12. I don’t get the whole “tapas” critics. Most high mountain stages nowadays wont show significant more interesting racing, all the GC action happens on last climbs and it’s enough to switch on tv at the bottom of that climb. Unless riders like Contador are at the start, who may attack 1 or 2 climbs before. Otherwise you’ll see Sky or other trains leading for 3 hours and some guys in the break until the bottom of the finish climb.

    • Like today’s queen stage. It will be great to watch for landscape, but it’s more than unlikely that anyone of big guns will make a move before last climb. It’s just too hard to survive a early attack.

    • Well, just imagine this year’s Tour without La Toussoire and Alpe d’Huez. Same result, but quite worse for the spectators. If you did switch your TV on just on the last climb, you’ve lost some good fun, probably the best that the Tour had to offer. Same goes for Dauphinée, not to speak of the Giro. And what about the Paris-Nice? I’m speaking just of 2015, given your focus on “nowadays” – and Contador wasn’t the main character in most of these stages.

      No need to say that I admire Contador and that I share the perception of the risk of involution you’re pointing out, but:
      – things have gone better in recent years, mainly thanks to riders like Quintana or Nibali, besides Contador, but also guys we may laugh about… albeit their attitude is needed to make things possible for the big names: Rolland (for Quintana – Giro 2014), Hesjedal (for Contador – Giro 2015) et al. We should acknowledge that.
      – without appropriate stages, we’ll be absolutely sure that nothing relevant will happen before the last 15′. If the terrain is there, something may happen – or not. If it isn’t, well, say goodbye to any option of seeing again what makes cycling great.

      When people are being given this whole lot of little stages, they end up getting used and, ultimately, they’ll live with it, even making do with what they have – hence appreciating the undoubtable 10′ superficial fun. Bicycle are cool everywhere, nowadays, so audience will possibly go up (anyway) and a trend will be set. Nothing wrong with that, but what is lost isn’t worth what is gained.

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