Vuelta Rest Day

Who will win the Vuelta a Espańa? We don’t know and the race is all the better for this. Mountain stage repeats have only served to narrow the differences and if Tom Dumoulin has lost time, it’s just right ahead of the upcoming time trial stage.

As Miguel de Cervantes wrote in Don Quixote, “he who is down one day can be up the next, unless he really wants to stay in bed“. For now none of the top candidates prefer to snooze, fitting for the last three mountain stages that have seen several changes with riders up and down each day. The Andorran stage gave us the shake-up on GC with two negative consequences, first the crash of Chris Froome eventually took him out of the race and second was the relative collapse of Movistar and an ill Nairo Quintana and a weaker Alejandro Valverde off the pace. Since then the riders have been scrapping for seconds and the race remains unsettled. Joaquim Rodriguez has been the best but is this because the stages have suited him with their steep finishes or can he hold his own in the time trial and the mountains that are yet to come.

We’re now four stages and the Madrid procession from the end of the race and the GC is almost what you’d design if it was some kind of handicap race with Joaquim Rodriguez one second up on Fabio Aru and Rafał Maja not far behind. The big question is whether Tom Dumoulin is too close, as if the handicappers have been too generous to the Dutchman? The 38.7km in Burgos on Wednesday is his speciality stage but this is not the time trial world championships as it comes midway in the final week of a grand tour where freshness counts for plenty. 1m51s is just the sort of time Dumoulin make up on Joaquim Rodriguez on a good day. Time trials in the third week tend to be won on freshness and the results can often surprise, think Carlos Sastre holding off Cadel Evans in 2008. Rafał Majka’s seen as a climber but he has delivered results in time trials before, ninth in the Tour de Suisse’s final stage this year and the same position in Romandie too; both courses were hilly to help a climber but in 2014 he was 14th in the pancake flat in his native Kraków. He won’t ace the course but this is just to balance the common perception of him as a pure climber only.

Beyond the racing the main transfer news hasn’t been huge but Louis Meintjes’ move to Lampre-Merida matters. Currently in tenth position, the 23 year old climber has been a totemic rider for MTN-Qhubeka, the kind of rider who earns wildcard invitations for them while also representing a strand of African cycling. So his move is more than a sideways switch to another team, it subtracts something more from the team. MTN-Qhubeka are said to be interested in Omar Fraile, the current mountains jersey holder and breakaway busybody. Europcar seem to have found a replacement sponsor but Pierre Rolland’s on the move to Cannondale-Garmin.

Is the grand tour double theme dead? It looks like it but Chris Froome’s exit proved you can’t ride with a broken foot rather than attempt to win the Vuelta and Tour. The Tour-Vuelta double should remain open for some even if the Giro-Tour combo looks out.

For viewers the Vuelta continues to provide daily action but always late in the stage. There have been some good stage battles and Nelson Oliveira’s solo stage win has been the exception among a lot of closely fought stages, the Portuguese rider going solo for over 25km.

Trek have been having a good lap of Spain with Fränk Schleck’s stage win, another for Jasper Stuyven and one for Danny van Poppel too who left John Degenkolb banging his bars in theatrical frustration, a subplot so far has been Degenkolb’s sprint struggles but there’s still time to take a stage win and besides Giant-Alpecin are within reach of winning a grand tour. Who would have said that a few weeks ago?

62 thoughts on “Vuelta Rest Day”

  1. I think 1.51 is too much for Dumoulin. He could make that on Purito/Aru if all he’d been doing was pulling duties on the flat and climbing in the grupetto – like Kiriyenka. But he’s been on the rivet for days and will have to be back on it the days after too. I could be wrong though!

    • Both Rodriquez and Majka have come off completing the Tour and Aru has been looking exhausted during the last couple stages. Perhaps they are all equally fatigued and therefore their performances will all be equally affected.

      However, if fatigue does not affect them equally, the rest-day will certainly be to Tom’s advantage (cf le Tour in 2008, when it was at stage 20)

      • Dumoulin has been ridiculously good – think this performance is the pivotal turning point in what may be an illustrious career… on tours with TT’s or multiple TT’s with maybe less steep gradients and his own body’s natural progression, he’s going to become a formidable opponent, and may have already outgrown a team hoping to fight on multiple fronts *(ie with Kittel & JD)……. it may be the BMC should rush out their checkbook quick-sharp, as they maybe put their cash behind the wrong available potential GC hope……..

        Looking at Aru’s recent grand tour TT’s – he lost 2.34 to Wiggo at Giro ’13 *(which included a long drag of climb) and 3mins to Kiriyenka in Giro ’15.

        It’s impossible to say how Dumoulin will be feeling but if you take into account the layout, and that Rodriguez will likely be worse than Aru (dependent on energy reserves) it’s probably 70% vs 30% in Dumoulin’s favour to take the red jersey based on past results to take the time back.

        But obviously we just don’t know how he’ll be feeling after this week, and haven’t really seen him in GT TT’s in the third week at this current level before.

        Majka’s got to be the real danger man, seem to remember his energy reserves disappearing at times but if he rides to previous form and Dumoulin comes up short he’s in with a great shout.

        Although whatever happens Dumoulin is the major star here, and it’s pretty clear we may well be seeing the birth of Indurain’s true heir. I think his passing of Froome on the line was extremely telling of his mentality, and very similar to Froome’s own pass of Cobo back in 2011, at that moment you knew Froome was a little different and had determination to match what at the time we didn’t know was incredible talent.

        • Agreed, there are very few riders who have the physical and mental wherewithal to win a Grand Tour, despite lots of namechecking of the Astana, Tinkoff Saxo and Sky rosters. Tom Dumoulin may be the first one to emerge since… Aru in 2013?

  2. We have seen some really tired riders over that past three days but the way Tom Dumoulin managed to stay in touch on that last massively steep La Cobertoria climb is pretty ominous for the other GC riders, although I’d wouldn’t rule out Rafal Majka.

    The real winner for the last few days has been the Asturias region; it has looked wonderful.

  3. The current situation is just what the organizers would want ahead of the TT; touch and go for Dumuolin vs the climbers. However, I suspect it has come about by dumb luck more than careful planning. The three straight summit finishes seemed to stifle the GC contenders somewhat, and by keeping their powder dry for yesterdays last two kilometers, they have left Dumoulin within touching distance of the red jersey. May they live to regret it! And may the organizers reconsider whether piling summit finishes upon even steeper summit finishes is the only way to create a watchworthy race…

    • kinda agree – but they did design a course that was pretty radically different to other tours (uphill 2nd stage, important mountains in 2nd week etc) so quite hard to say if it’s a complete coincidence….. yes likely but it might also be a blueprint that needs further investigation. Imagine a tour with a serious incline on stage2 and maybe the alps at the end of the 1st week beginning of 2nd followed by stages where people with ambition need to be adventurous in the final week. Could be quite special…….

      *(also one thing in favour of this sort of route planning is be giving a high GC position to stage chaser on an early stage you give them the incentive to see where this might lead and maybe give more likelihood to surprises like Dumoulin and Chaves, which is what’s made this Vuelta. Not that there’s been less crashes but you might also put a good argument that there’d be less crashes racing like this also….)

      • The kind of course you describe, more or less, has been seen several times before, both in the Giro and in the Vuelta. Anyway, a big +1 to your last paragraph. Again, it’s what we’ve been seeing in the Giro for years, but it’s good that ASO started to notice and appreciate that.

  4. So much of the talk about the up coming TT and the resulting gains and loses seem not to have asked the question ‘has Tom Dumoulin sacrificed the gains he could have made in the TT by holding on in the mountains’, if Tom can perform in the TT I think this will really announce him as a potentially great GC rider for the future.’ I’d love to see Kiriyenka win the TT, he’s such a fantastic rider but so often unseen due to him putting in heavy work in the service of others before the TV camera roll.

  5. Dumoulin himself has said he hasn’t really gone into the red on either Saturday or Monday. He simply can’t clumb as quickly but by pacing himself stayed close and managed to stay within his ability. I doubt he’s more tired than Aru and Purito and indeed think he’s more fresh than Aru. Also, Dumoulin has a ridiculous ability to punish himself (it’s how he got back to the Vuelta after his fall in this shape) and I think he will go as deep as he’s ever gone. If he manages to maintain his form (and the Watts he pushed the last few days have been insane) he will do this, at least 2 mins on both Aru and Purito.
    PS: I am Dutch and I have been telling myself all week this wasn’t gonna be possible. Now I am starting to believe. Dumoulin has the perfect attitude and personality too, so focussed and professional and calm. Much as Purito finally winning it would be a beautiful story, Dumoulin is such a great guy, he deserves it too.

    • I don’t think that Purito deserves it. He let both Giro and Vuelta slip from his hands in 2012. His own fault. In Italy, he didn’t attack hard enough in the stages when he was stronger than Hesjedal, and he didn’t control the race in those stages when he could won time bonuses. In Spain, he despised the chances of being ambushed a long way from the finish, and that’s what happened to him. This year, he’s just not worked on eliminating Dumoulin seriously enough, and I think he will lose. He’s an excellent uphill sprinter and a good climber too. But tactically, he is chicken (although there have been exceptions in one-week races).

      • > His own fault.

        If Tiralongo (Astana) pulling hard for Contador (T-S) towards Fuente Dé is Rodriguez’ fault, well then you are right. Tactically he just doesn’t have a team to match Movistar, Astana, or Sky, which makes a bit of a difference especially in grand tours.

          • It was mainly due to Contador’s move. He made an all-in, full gas, 110% attack.
            Purito himself should have gone at full power to stay with him – something he was totally able to do, but it’s something any rider is always worried to do that far from the finish line.
            It’s no videogame, and you can’t know if Contador is just drawing you into the red with some suicidal move (it was so easy for everyone to say, during the 2011 Tour, that it was *veeery* wrong to follow Contador in his long range attack during the Alpe stage, wasn’t it?).
            He didn’t beat just Purito, he beat everyone else including Valverde, which had a strong team and just proved he could climb with Alberto and Purito on Cuitu Negro, Ancares and Covadonga.
            Besides, no single team would have endured much the sort of attacks both Tinkoff and Movistar were delivering in the first part of that stage. Maybe the right move would have been sending a couple of guys up the road and gluing yourself to Contador. But, again, how much hindsight is needed to do that? When you’re the leader, the established strategy is to keep the team – and the race – together.
            Fuente Dé was a rare case of superior not-only-power-related ability from a champion. It’s very improbable that you have got in the same race another champion with the skills needed to counter it.

          • Seem to remember that Rodriguez tweeted something in the effect of “so tired, stayed in bed all day” on the rest day before that stage.

            Not sure he could followed AC’s attack.

      • I think Purito’s “weak mentally” (I mean he maybe tends to undersestimate his possibilities), and because of that he had tactical mishaps in some races, both in GT as in classics. However, in other cases, it is difficult to say he lost by his own fault. I think for instance of the Firenze’s worlds.

      • So he’s chicken for riding to his strengths? Has it been solely Purito’s job to eliminate Dumoulin, or Aru’s too who’s been in red and any other team that have brought GC contendors? I’ll be pleased to see a clean rider that animates races in their own way win this Tour, whether that be TD, JR, FA or RM remains to be seen, but after an electric three weeks racing I’m pretty sure they’re all deserving.

  6. The good combo is Giro and Vuelta, look at Aru (and Nibali in 2013, and earlier on Contador). Notwithstanding the climbs, this Vuelta is (as often) very boring, easy to predict, with all the bigs always together aside for the last sprints. No more excitment than for a final sprint between Cav and Greipel. The stages of Aprica, Sestriere or La Toussuire are miles away…

  7. Very interesting situation. I’ve no idea who will lead the race after the TT. And even then it’s not finished, I think. I wish Dumoulin all the best, and also to Purito!

  8. The ‘Boil in the Bag’ Vuelta.
    That’s a sort of quick, ready in twenty minutes, kind of evening meal.
    Still love it though. I shouldn’t but I do.

  9. I hope I am mistaken, but I don’t see how Purito will keep the jersey after the ITT. Probably Dumoulin will be more than 2min faster, and if not there is also the Aru’s thread, which is only 1sec back (for me, it is difficult to say whether Aru will do it better than Purito in the ITT or if it will be the opposite).
    My bet is that Dumoulin will take the jersey. The question is with what margin, because there are still 2 stages with sufficient climbing to try something. This said, I don’t see Purito making an attack on a non summit finish stage…

      • I hope it’s Aru. Who, without his teammate, is illustrating that there would have been more than one unnecessarily penalized rider if Cookie had succeeded in taking Astana’s license.

  10. On MTF’s after rest days we’re always expecting someone to have off day.

    Is it even more difficult to do a 38.7k ITT or will the rest day help most of the riders?

  11. My money is on Majka for the overall. He’s going to lose the least amount of time to Dumoulin in the tt and seems to have been riding pretty conservatively so far.

  12. Purito’s capturing the red jersey was significant, at least vs. Aru, because now he will ride last in the TT and see Aru’s splits. Of course, if Dumoulin and Majka tear up the course, they may be fighting for the third podium place. It’s rather amazing to see such a potential reshuffling on such a late stage.

  13. Yesterday was quite a strange stage.
    I didn’t think, while I was watching, that they were climbing especially fast, but – yes, they were, at least during the last three climbs. Even considering that they were strolling about during the first part of the stage.
    The last 60 kms of the stage were ridden on a notably high, steady rhythm which allowed more people than you’d think to hold wheels thanks to the energy savings due to the slipstream (the Cordal went away averaging well over 25 km/h, the Cobertoria nearly reached and average speed of 19 km/h).
    No attacks (pretty hard to *attack* from such a fast moving group) meant no sudden accelerations. This is all very good for Dumoulin, very bad for Purito – who indeed “complained” about it in his post race interview.
    I feel that Tinkoff and above all Astana decided to show off the armoury they prepared to tame Froomey and the likes, considering it may work for Purito’s final surge, too. A pity that it had been engineered thinking of Nibali, not Aru. Hence on the final climb Aru didn’t feel that good, either, and a defensive strategy was set. Great work by Landa, by the way. Purito commented (and he’s sort of a sincere guy, generally speaking) that the rhythm was so regular that he was suffering more on “easier” 9-10% sections than on the walls as such: he was waiting for 15-20% gradients… to recover.

    I guess they hoped that Dumoulin wouldn’t be among the 7-8 best climbers who were going to be *naturally* selected by the amount of altitude gain and gradient: what is more, no significant slipstream was available on the final walls.
    The rivals probably calculated his potential performance as the “number 10″ climber, which would have meant him losing about 50”-1′ without need to make anything significant to push him away from the gambling table. What they probably didn’t expect is that whereas the other days he was pacing himself, yesterday he decided to give everything.
    Once again, the focus wasn’t on him, but on the battle between different climbers. An error they should pay for, and they probably will.
    For example, when they started to see him fade, between -3 and -2 km to go, when Landa really started to suffocate the group (you can see also Valverde, Pozzovivo, Moreno etc. losing wheels), they imagined something like “job done”, and in the penultimate km the rhythm went brutally down, preparing themselves for the final rush. A more constant rhythm would have meant a greater gap on Dumoulin (quite obviously), but they were all preoccupied by Purito’s burst and how to cope with it.

    All in all, an interesting stage, indeed. More from an intellectual POV, I’d say. Clearly, if you’re rooting for Tom or Meintjes or Chaves or anyone whose task is to resist up there, and you’re hoping every minute that they won’t fall back, that’s also engaging, no doubt.

    However, when I say I’m disappointed I’m referring to a couple of “objective” (to say so…) factors:
    – the lack of “actions” defining as such. It makes for a very short tale. Tinkoff paces the peloton, then Astana. Landa paces the selected group. Tom holds on. Aru suffers. Purito attacks with 800 m. to go, Aru answers. The others come in one by one. We could add details, like Nieve trying something or Valverde losing wheels, but nothing really important. I’d expect more *things* to *happen* in such an important stage;
    – it was very defensive. Applauses for Dumoulin, who’s doing his homework and who’s delivering a top performance in terms of power and grit. It’s in his characteristics to be “defensive” in these stages – and *he was* aggressive climbing, in the first week. But, however interesting one could find the strategic games between Astana and Purito, the subtle balance, the questions about how much Aru was faking to prompt early attacks from someone else (assuming that he wasn’t *very* well, anyway)… it’s all about staying quite tight, not risking, protecting what you got.

    Now I’m really hoping Tom to put in a realistic performance and find himself in red with 20-some secs over Purito/Aru/Majka, then we may dream of a fine third week. Even if, as I said elsewhere, the absolutely best thing might Dumoulin 5″ back after the ITT, thus attacking and possibly winning on the flat top of the last mountain next Saturday 🙂
    From now on, whoever *DOES* something to win will be a deserving winner, for me. I’d prefer it was Purito, but I’m afraid it’s wishful thinking (besides, he’s the one for whom it’s going to be more complicated from now on).

    • +1 I’m happy that someone will have to DO something to win rather than the old “limiting the losses” and racing “not to lose” vs racing to win. Even if the “Dutch Big Mig” takes the jersey tomorrow I hope his attackers won’t just give up as it appears the remaining stages still provide some terrain to make a difference.

  14. I’m not sure Dumoulin will get the time needed over ‘Purito’, I think Rodriguez’ time trialling is not as bad as often thought. He came 2nd to Dumoulin earlier this year, although the TT was only half the length.

    In last years’ Vuelta he lost 1.49 to Tony Martin in a similar TT, which suggests it could be very tight, it will likely come down to pacing and the mental side, but I always think it is an advantage to have the jersey as extra insipiration.

    • Both of those TTs were quite different beasts to tomorrow’s course, more hilly and more technical. As far as I can remember it was a bit of a surprise at the time how slim Martin’s winning margin was, he didn’t have his best day out there. In Pais Vasco Rodriguez was racing to capture the overrall whereas Dumoulin was way down on GC. it is difficult to make a confident prediction because these men have never competed together in these exact conditions and situation before but of all the possible permutations of the top 4 on GC I feel that Rodriguez doing well compared with Dumoulin is the least likely scenario, which is a shame because the idea of Rodriguez winning at last a grand tour at age 36 is a nice story. Personally I predict the top 4 will be exactly reversed after the TT, with Dumoulin in red, Majka in 2nd, Aru 3rd and Rodriguez off the podium in 4th. The rest of the race of course has options to take back the lead from Dumoulin (and still some but reshuffling of the top 10) that will require him missing a tactical move, blowing up or some other misfortune (lets hope nothing bad happens to any of the protagonists from this point). Based on current form I really believe Dumoulin he can do it, especially if there is a grand dutch alliance hehe……(isn’t it against the rules to announce this prior to the race?). Of course Saturday’s stage 20 is hard but not as hard as stage 16 and does not have a mountain top finish. Of course Dumoulin is tired but so is everyone else. Go Tom!

  15. My (literal) money is on Majka – I backed him at 18/1 at the outset; after a few stages these had (very oddly) drifted as long as 66/1, which I’m now wishing I’d had the guts to take a bit of.

    Dumoulin is the actual bookies’ favourite now, though I’m not so sure he should be – he may find himself in red again come Thursday but I feel that one of the other three contenders will have a good day, and TomDum will lose more time again in the hills. My head says Aru, heart says Purito and bank manager says Majka.

  16. Re Louis Meintjes: He is still so young. It is hard, if you got the goods, to keep a cool head, when everyone tells you how much better you could do. He is still so young, that he has surely (and hopefully!) other things in mind than to be an ambassador for anything. Besides, I noticed that B. Smith in interviews talked about him a bit dismissive. It is one thing to say: He is young and learns with every stage or to say: He does this and that wrong and I told another rider to take care of him. Not what you should say about a young man in interviews. Plus they acted like they got him and the resigning in their pocket already. A lot of things to learn for the team? I know, with the Qhubeka-shield, they automatically qualify as the good guys (for the majority of the public at least), but if they haven’t learned it already, they will have to learn that this isn’t enough, if you want to win the Tour de France one day (as they want to do according to B. Smith). Till now the Dimension Data-deal hasn’t been announced as far as I know? So no title sponsor for 2016 till now (even if we think there will be one)? Personally, I think Meintjes will learn from this experience and he has enough time and talent to do this. And the team should learn from this, too. But the whole “contract season” is a strange one this year anyway. Just think about that: A recent Tour-stage-winner (M.Cavendish) is still technically with no ride for next year.

    • We can link Cavendish and Meintjes becauase if the South African has GT ambitions he might not want to remain in a sprinter’s team given Cavendish is due to join them. Plus Meintjes’ departure frees up cash to buy a sprinter.

      • I still can’t bring myself to believe the Cavendish/MTN deal-till it finally happens, I guess. Although with every passing day it gets a bigger possibility. But of course, you’re right on both points: The prospect of an arriving Cavendish would have been another suggestive argument for Meintjes to sign for another team and with Meintjes gone, they maybe now can afford Cavendish.

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