The Moment The Vuelta Was Won

Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana break away right from the start of Stage 15 and aided by their team mates in the same move caught Team Sky having a siesta. Froome gave chase but quickly ran out of team mates and could only manage to limit his losses as Quintana went up the road and Sky’s plans went up in smoke. This was the moment the race was won.

The race began in Ourense with a win for Team Sky which helped suggest the team were ready but with hindsight they were to fall away, Michał Kwiatkowski abandoned but the biggest problem was with those not in the race, the likes of Mikel Landa and Beñat Intxausti could not ride leaving the team underpowered in the mountains later on.

Sans sprinters: There were no big name sprinters started the race and none finished. In 2012 John Degenkolb went from promising prospect to multiple stage winner; Nacer Bouhanni did the same in the 2014 Giro. It was odd that seeing the startlist no team drafted in a sprinter if only for the first week but it delighted Etixx-Quickstep who took two stages with Gianni Meersman who’s joining Fortuneo-Vital Concept, a step down in terms of team but upwards when it comes to opportunities as he’ll be a regular pick.

Darwin Atapuma took over the red jersey. It’s easy to stereotype Colombians as climbers but Atampuma is the archetype with his light build and yo-yo style but this meant his chances of holding onto the overall lead were slim, he’s great at darting attacks but less so when it comes to grinding out the results. His riding saved the race for BMC Racing, Ben Hermans tried hard while Tejay van Garderen quietly went missing despite promising a different approach.

Tapas TV: The race promised a lot of uphill finishes. This was tapas television, bite-sized stage finishes where the action was served up for the final minutes of every day. It means hours of live coverage seem excessive as the peloton pedals past the plains to the daily rendez-vous with gravity but does ensure compelling action on an almost daily basis. The danger is repeat episodes, that once we’ve discovered the W/kg ratios of the contenders then each uphill finish becomes a mere reiteration. Not this time, the ever-changing fortunes of the riders which meant the regular uphill finishes never quite felt like repeat episodes. If Froome was overtaken by Contador and Quintana on La Camperona then the tables would turn on other summit finishes and Froome’s tactics varied, willing to attack some days but at othertimes – Ezaro, Covadonga – he rode up the climb at his own pace, dropped at first before deploying a rotary frenzy to winch himself back to the front group.

Breakaway bonanza: One unseen aspect was the daily battle to get in the breakaway. The course, the lack of big teams and more meant the race rewarded the attackers as seen from the start with Alex Geniez. In total half of the stages went to riders from an early breakaway, as much as the Giro and Tour combined. The riders knew it and many stages had furious starts, something that wasn’t seen on TV but showed up in fatigue and a big factor behind the claims among many that this was the hardest grand tour of the year. The accumulated fatigue would lead to a mini polemic later on as 91 riders, over half the field, came in well outside the time limit. The UCI rule was waived and the riders were kept in; the rule used to have a “safety in numbers” clause which gave discretion to the commissaire to retain riders if the gruppetto was 20% or more of the field but this has been dropped but the race could not go on with so few riders so it looks like it still exists. Once again the UCI rulebook resembles an à la carte menu where commercial imperatives inform decisions as much as the rules.

Froomigal: Stage 14 is a contender for one of the seasons’s highlights. The trip to France saw Orica-BikeExchange turn the race upside down with Simon Yates going on a long range move while behind Contador tried an attack but paid for it and the day finished with Froome and Quintana ahead of the rest and Alejandro Valverde’s overall hopes were buried. As good as this was the next day was going to be better but the weekend has to be seen in the whole, a gruelling day chased by an intense stage.  If the battle to get into the breakaway was often unseen, the one time it was shown live on TV from start to finish was the next day and Stage 15 to the Aramón Formiga ski resort. Only this time Team Sky, sponsored by a broadcaster, didn’t see what was happening. Gianluca Brambilla attacked right at the start and was joined by Contador, Quintana and their team mates and in no time the move started to take time. Behind things went wild as the chase split in two with Chris Froome having only two team mates with him and behind his team were chasing to get back to the Froome group… which was being driven by Froome’s team mates in pursuit of Quintana and Contador. This was Contador on the attack again, perhaps his status as having won every stage race he wants means he can afford to take risks; not for him a discreet top-10 and banking the ranking points. Or perhaps he cannot manage in a mano a mano contest any more? Either way once again he’s the catalytic agent that starts the chain reaction of wild racing.

Quintana might have mugged Froome but he didn’t run away with the race. The Calpe time trial stage allowed Froome to close in to just 1m21s, close enough to entertain the promise of a showdown on the final climb on the final Saturday of the race. In the end Nairo Quintana matched everything Froome could throw at him.

The Tour that wasn’t: the suspense lasted until the final climb as Froome tried a flurry of attacks and the other jerseys changed shoulders as Omar Fraile took the mountains competition from Kenny Elissonde and and Fabio Felline won the points competition ahead of Alejandro Valverde. This was Vuelta delivering everything the Tour didn’t and the race concludes without some wondering how to make structural changes to re-engineer the sport, there’s no debating team sizes and salary caps.


Revelación: if you’ve landed on a niche cycling blog then the likes of Pierre Latour and Valerio Conti are no strangers to loyal readers, but all the same they impressed. Lilian Calmejane showed us he’s one of Direct Energie’s big prospects and provided one of the few moments when a wildcard team managed to shine (Cofidis were less dependable than the roadside hoardings bearing their name). Magnus Cort Nielsen finally broke through, he was brilliant as a 21 year old in the Conti ranks but it’s taken time for him to start winning at the higher level and now it’s happening and with Michael Matthews leaving Orica-BikeExchange the team have a capable understudy even if the role won’t be reprised so often now that the team is tilting to the stage races.

As well as new names some older ones finally got there chance. For years Robert Gesink was the bicycling incarnation of Albert King’s blues lyrics “if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all” but he got his stage and didn’t even need to get lucky and he just rode past everyone. Jens Keukeleire, Sergey Lagutin, Alexandre Geniez, Mathias Frank had their stage wins with Frank leading IAM Cyling’s Indian summer of success. Often the Vuelta is a last chance job interview but few of the cast of characters seem in dire straits as suddenly 18 teams are aiming for 17 World Tour places. A stage win alone won’t bring the points needed but it does make the rider in question a hot prospect as the Chinese-Lampre project competes with Bahrain-Merida to built a capable roster.

David de la Cruz

¿The pain in Spain?: Spain hasn’t been able to form government for nine months but if the Vuelta was going to be light relief it didn’t provide too much of a distraction for local hopes. Sometimes the home riders struggled to form a breakaway. Stage 13 stands out, a breakaway of 12 riders but not one Spaniard among them despite a stage in the Basque Country. Caja Rural never set the race on fire. It wasn’t blank, David de la Cruz took a stage, Ruben Fernandez had a day in red and Omar Fraile won the points jersey. Contador had a weak team and Alejandro Valverde was a big help for Nairo Quintana but the next generation is taking time to emerge.

Orica-Change: as some teams try to cobble together a roster they’d do well to look around. The Greenedge team began life as collection of sprinters and time triallists and is now heading towards a team of stage racers. There’s a sense to this, or at least a story of a team that took Australian riders off a track programme conveyor belt in the same way Sky recruits today and how this brought easier wins but now they’re aiming for more and the harder struggles of grand tour success. Can Esteban Chaves and the Yates brothers win big? In a word yes, if Chaves can finish on the podium of the Giro and Vuelta then he could climb a step while the Yates continue their progress. Best of all it’s entertaining to watch, this is a team of risk-takers that send Simon Yates solo over the Marie-Blanque and Esteban Chaves won his podium place with a bold, long range attack. Perhaps this looked more risky than it was given Alberto Contador always looked a sprocket off the pace on the final climbs and never had a strong team so once Chaves got a gap Contador had little help to close it.

The Verdict: a lively race that provided action on a daily basis. At times the contest was reserved for the final minutes of a stage and if this sometimes felt superficial then the big weekend in the Pyrenees made up for it all. We had tactical sophistication, long range moves, risk and surprise that makes for great racing.

Nairo Quintana won the race and his win is boosted by beating Chris Froome whose own efforts enhanced the race, the Tour de France winner gets his third second place. Esteban Chaves adds to the podium and remains an exciting prospect but grinding out a win is going to be his challenge for 2017. The rest of the top-10 seems to have happened back stage with the likes of Andrew Talansky riding into a fifth place often unseen by the TV cameras, a triumph of consistency, a similar story for Dani Moreno and Davide Formolo while Simon Yates, David de la Cruz and George Bennett were more visible but only just; we missed crash victims Miguel Lopez and Steven Kruijswijk. The race itself was a winner, it will have earn fans and the 2017 edition is already something to look forward to.

102 thoughts on “The Moment The Vuelta Was Won”

  1. Thanks for the great coverage of this great Vuelta!

    The last few days I wore my Cafe de Colombia cap in support, I guess today I’ll switch to the INRNG cap again to show my thankfulness (both from Prendas ofcoz)!

  2. An excellent addition of the Vuelta, a race which hasn’t disappointed for a long time. 2011 was close with the emergence of Froome and confirmation of Wiggins, 2012 Contador Contadored Purito, 2013 Horner pipped Nibali, 2014 Contador v Froome, in 2015 we had Dumoulin gamely fighting the climbers and then this. The Vuelta is certainly doing something right, even if it can seem repetitive. If it had a little more for the sprinters then it’d be hard to fault. One thing I enjoy about the Vuelta, which probably seems small when you have a tight GC battle up front, is the points classification. I like it that the points are the same for any stage regardless of the terrain and it is relatively easy to understand and uncomplicated. You get unexpected winners and a close battle between different types of rider. In the last few years we’ve had out and out sprinters win it (Greipel and Cavendish) classic specialists (van Avarmaet and Degenkolb), and lighter weight riders like Valverde and Mollema. Now we can add Felline, we just need to decide what he is..!

  3. To be fair BMC had a stage win with Jempy Drucker as well as taking out the teams competition and Samuel Sanchez was riding towards his expected to 10 finish before crashing out, so it was hardly a write off grand tour for the men in red and black.

    And I know this will be an unpopular opinion, but I’m still not convinced that Nairo Quintana is the dominating force people make him out to be. He never cracked Froome on any of the climbs, only pinching a few seconds really, and Movistar’s usual conservative racing continues to produce yawns (contrast this with the tactics of Orica Bikexchange which really made the race exciting). Even when he’s off the pace, you can always rely on Contador to animate a race, and Quintana was in the position to be able to take advantage of what Alberto started but could not finish. Plus you can’t take much away from Foome who has been winning consistently since the Herald Sun Tour in February and took two stages here. When Quintana can defeat an on form Froome and/or Nibali he’ll deserve to be admitted to the highest echelon but not until.

    • I agree with much of this. If anything, it showed that Froome can be vulnerable without a varsity team surrounding him. Do you think the same would have happened in the TdF, given the same set of circumstances.

      It does seem that Quintana needs to be better against the clock if he hopes to win the French Tour. Froome has always been an excellent chrono rider, and has become a better climber (perhaps due to Sky’s training programme, and perhaps due to the team support he receives on mountain stages). Perhaps, though, Quintana goes the way of Andy Schleck–a promising climber who never put enough effort into improving his time trial.

      • It’s hard to make a comparison because of course Sky will always send a carefully prepared Froome supported by their A+ team to the TDF, whereas the Vuelta is very much an afterthought (except to Froome himself). Sky and Froome are not undefeatable at the Tour, for example on his day (which are rare but do exist) Richie Porte can out-climb his old mate, and Orica and Contador have showed how aggressive riding can isolate a rival team leader, but as long as Froome is supported by Thomas/Poels/Heneo/Nieve etc, it will be a huge challenge for any other team to dislodge the Sky train.

        The other thing about Quintana is this kicking around idea that somehow he’s only going to get better. Your Andy Schleck comparison is apt in that once he’d hit his peak at around 23-24 Schleck could never improve that. Quintana, obviously, has more results than Andy, but he’s not shown that he can improve on his 2013/14 (very high) level of form. I can’t think of any guys who won grand tours in their early 20s and suddenly got much better as the years went on.

        • Regarding Sky, I wonder what Froome’s long term goals are? Does he want to win seven French tours, or does he want to win a few doubles (Tour/Vuelta or Giro/Tour)? I suspect if it’s the latter, Sky will figure out to how to send an A team to both tours. If it’s the former, the A team will always go to Le Tour, and if Froome decides to race the Vuelta or Giro, he will have the B team at his disposal.

          • Just speculation but I don’t think Sky will let him at the Giro until they have another British GC rider who has a realistic shot at wining the Tour. It’s probably never going to be Thomas who seems to prefer the classics anyway, and maybe in a couple of years they can throw a big enough paycheque at one or both of the Yates brothers to tempt them away from Orica.

        • I feel Quintana needs to come out of the shadow of Valverde.

          Valverde needs to retire for Quintana to establish full internal dominance and give him the confidence to go forward and dominate grand tours.

          I know Valverde was riding in his service, and I know he must be a terrifying guy to have in your line-up (many riders cite him and Contador as the ‘true’ racers) but he is so strong mentally that I feel Quintana might struggle in the pre-stage bus meetings.

          Know what I mean?

          • For me Bala put to bed the rumours/hearsay that he wont/doesnt ride in support of Quintana in this Vuelta

            Doping past notwithstanding, he’ll be a huge loss to the sport when he eventually retires. There are few riders who are as talented a “racer” as he is.

        • And both of Quintana’s GT wins have – in the end – come as a result of mugging an opponent on one stage. The Mullet on the ‘neutralised’ Stelvio descent and Froome here. Take the winning margin away on both stages and he’s no longer top.

          • The dulling of cycling has gone so far that when you eventually see proper racing you call it mugging ^__^

            Luckily most of the public loves to see a race, not a 15′ spinning gym-class (get a static bike with watt-o-metre for that), hence the interest for the TdF dropped worldwide, this year (with just one exception, obviously enough, but things weren’t great *there*, either).

            Hope that when ASO feels that right in their piggy bank, they’ll think about it (and the UCI, too).

          • I don’t understand why folks insist on adding an asterisk to wins like this. Do you discount Lemond’s win in 1989? Or Contador’s in 2007? Does a rider need to win a grand tour by over three minutes, or win multiple stages, in order to be a genuine winner? Heck, in 2015, Froome only won because of a single stage, too, right?

          • Clearly the strongest rider didn’t win the Vuelta this year but Quintana won it fair and square. Sky helped by sending a B team and being over-confident but you can’t blame Nario for doing his best. This year’s race didn’t grab me but ultimately, pending the 8 year limit, Quintana deserved to stand on the top step of the podium. Even if he wasn’t the ‘heads’ above the other two 😉

            Quintana et al. were ‘mugged’ at least twice by Froome in the TdF and probably it had a negative impact on their morale and performance – the rest of the time they were simply outperformed in to submission, but I’m irked that somehow it was boring for many simply because it was Froome dishing it out though they were, bold, mold-breaking diversions.

            Tactical moves don’t seem to count for lots of folk but they are one of the things that make the sport attractive, sometimes the weaker rider can win by luck and using his head on the the road as the situation arises. If I wanted binary results I’d watch ball games.

            Stuff like this seems to be happening more nowadays, perhaps a sign of success against dopers but long may this ‘cerebral’ cycling continue.

            @ INRG. As a side-issue, what’s your take on the whole team-hate thing over the years? I can’t ever remember a time where one team was so despised as Sky is now. Can you draw parallels with the past from your encyclopedic memory? A subject for a filler article one day perhaps?

          • @Igam Ogam. “Clearly the strongest rider didn’t win the Vuelta this year”. I love the use of the adjective “clearly”, here.
            …”pending the 8 years limit” isn’t bad, either ^__^
            Then the Igam Ogam man speaks of “team-hate”. Fun.
            Need an *encyclopedic memory* to remember a despised team? Astana in 2014-2015 anyone? With unforgettable moments when people were saying they *saw* Aru having received an armsling and connecting that to the *cheating culture* of the team, only to discover from a different TV shot that what they *saw* never happened (and a rider from a rival team, with no *cheating culture* had declared he witnessed the inexistent event…). The whole gregario thing at the Giro was also a rare pearl, with CN now celebrating the tactical wisdom of Sky for doing exactly the same as Astana, but the latter was clearly on doping for that. And so on, and on…
            However, in recent years Phonak, USPS, ONCE, Festina, Kelme didn’t enjoy the best treatment among cycling fans – even before they got busted, I mean (curisouly, other teams, also on doping, never provoked the same aversion). They had their supporters, feel assured, but most people I knew interested in cycling but without any specific preference about nations or teams tended to dislike them, for whatever reason.

          • Please @ArgyllFlyer , tell us where we can read your secret rulebook about what “mugging” a race is and on which riders it will be used.
            I guess attacking on a KOM point, while opponents grab a bottle doesn’t fall under your category of “mugging” a win, right?

        • contador won his tour with 24, hinault was 23. so some start young. and anyway quintana doesnt need to get much better. it would maybe even suffice if he would know how to use his strengths in a better way. even then he wouldnt be heads and shoulders above froome, but i think its quite possible he beats him, also in the tdf.

        • Quintana was only 20 seconds off Contador on the TT. He didn’t have a bad TT at all IMHO. Froome had a crazy good TT. While I hope he will continue to improve his TT skills, he will only challenge Froome at TdF by being able isolate and break him in the mountains.

      • I disagree that Quintana is Schleck-like when it comes to improving his time trialing. I know he, the team and Canyon have done a lot of work on this. You can see his improvement by the way he rides TTs now vs 2013, when he broke through as a GT contender. The problem is that Quintana will always be at a disadvantage against Froome when it comes to TTs – the former weighs 57 kg, while the latter weighs 71 kg and can generate more power. Sure, Quintana can continue to find ways to close the gap, I don’t think we’ll ever see him be within 30s of Froome on a flat (or flat-ish) 40km TT.

        • Your comment makes me wonder how they’d compare if somehow (please gawd!) the aero bars/chrono bikes could be banned. The silly things are pretty useless anyway.
          I’ve long thought these gave guys with big bodies/big engines an unfair advantage over the little guys. Little Charley Mottet was formidable against the clock before aero bars made big-engine guys like BigMig pretty much equal when it came to frontal area/aero drag. Froome to me is in a similar mold, a big guy/big engine stripped down and folded up into a low drag position makes him very hard to beat against the clock, same as BigMig.
          “Defend in the mountains, mow ’em down in the chrono!” makes for boring races.

          • Even with the “silly” aero bars / chrono bikes, Quintana has an aero advantage because he’s smaller, the bike is smaller, etc.

            Getting rid of chrono gear won’t change Froome’s advantage over Quintana in a ITT. Without going into a lot of boring details, if you got rid of the TT equipment, each ITT would take longer, therefore Froome would open up a larger gap on the clock for a TT stage.

            Obviously I don’t have specific numbers of what type of aero advantage Froome has over Quintana with or without aero equipment, but I’m saying this wouldn’t make a difference.

            Also, and this is the elephant in the room, Charly Mottet was known for being completely clean, therefore it’s arguable that he lost his advantage to BigMig because of PED use, not aero equipment!

          • Standard dimensional analysis supports the contention that larger, powerful riders have the upper hand in flat time trials. The history of cycling agrees. Sorry, CA.

          • Francisco – I think I agreed with that point – I said that the big guys will still have a massive advantage on flat time trials.

            Plus, I said that the advancements of aero technology didn’t have nearly the same advantage as the introduction of high octane PEDs. This significantly hurt riders like Charly Mottet – who was known to be a clean rider.

          • @CA, Francisco
            Curiosity: any idea about the actual advantage in terms of “percentage” which the aero equipment might have granted?
            There’s a significant debate about the direct effect of PEDs, figures vary, but I’d just like to have an idea about the involved magnitudes.

            (obviously, the main effect of PEDs isn’t enhancing a single athlete’s performance but to change many aspect of the system as a whole, since cycling hasn’t got much isotropy in itself: big changes might be seen even if the *enhancing* in itself might look not that huge)

          • Gabriele – I don’t have specific numbers, especially regarding the aerodynamic advantages (I’m not an engineer).

            Even comparing the results from 1991 to 1987 in TT’s would be inconclusive because both aerodynamics AND doping had major changes in that 4-year period. So it would be impossible to separate the gains into “x” seconds from PED and “y” from aero TT set-ups.

          • The precise numbers are trade secrets but one can estimate roughly how much slower time trials using standard road bikes would be. Sites such as make it easy. Select the Vuelta’s Calpe time trial, enter Chris Froomes height and weight and fiddling a bit with the power outputs yields the winning time of 46’33”. The same power on the drops of a road bike yields 53’41”. These estimates of course do not capture subtleties of position and equipment – and individual cases can surprise: Eddy Merckx’s CdA for the 1972 hour record was calculated to be a *remarkably low* 0.26, not far from modern TT values.

          • Gabriele, I realised I did not fully answer your question. Using the Cycling Power Lab databases for riders and parcours and the known finishing times for the Vuelta Stage 19 ITT (the power values are my estimates) :

            Height Weight 20′ power 60′ power TT bike Road bike (drops)
            Froome 1.86m 70kg 440W 416W 46’33” 53’48”
            Quintana 1.67m 59kg 360W 340W 48’49” 56’50”
            Difference 02’16” 03’02”

            This is exactly what should be expected: using road bikes for ITT will tend to favour the more powerful riders. This makes sense because anything that increases the relative importance of air resistance also increases the advantage of the larger riders.
            The caveat is that the Cycling Power Lab calculation model assumes air resistance to increase with the height and weight of the rider but everyone in the business says individual values can be all over the place. Thus this calculation tells us less about Froome and Quintana in particular than it says about small and large riders in general.

          • Interesting reading chaps.
            I suspect the disc wheel and try spoke wheel of a TT bike is the most significant factor between a road / TT bike?
            Froome even used this set up on the mountain TT in TdF.

        • I wasn’t suggesting that Quintana is Schleck-like. I’m merely hoping that he does put the time in to improve his form against the clock, or he may end up like Andy.

          Also, imagine if Quintana had only given up 30 seconds in the Vuelta TT, rather than two minutes.

          • CA – I’m not buying your argument but of course nobody’s going to set Quintana and Froome up in a wind-tunnel to measure their frontal area and drag, but I’d make a small wager that it’s a lot closer to the same value with chrono equipment vs standard road bikes. It’s hard to believe the bigger guys don’t punch a bigger hole in the air in a standard road position on the drops vs a little guy.
            Throwing doping into the mix really mucks up any comparison to where it’s pointless as a clean Mottet beat plenty of possibly doped guys, though his GP des Nations victories stopped pretty much at the same time aero bars came into use rather than when EPO became popular.

          • Larry T – I’m not an expert of when aero-equipment was used, but Mottet’s last win in the Chrono was 1988. From the following, I don’t know if we can blame aero equipment for his subsequent losses, the 1989 winner didn’t use aero equipment (but he was popped for amphetamines a few times in his career), I’m not sure about 1990, but definitely from 1991-onwards, drugs played a major part.

            1989 – Fignon won – I don’t think he used aero-equipment, did he?
            1990 – Thomas Wegmuller – I’m not sure if he doped or used aero equipment
            1991 – Tony Rominger – loaded on PEDs
            1992 – Johan Bruyneel – PEDs
            1993 – Rominger – PEDs
            1994 – Armand de Las Cuevas – PED? I’m not sure.

            I don’t mean to muddy the waters with PED talk, but PED usage in those days is pretty indisputable now.

          • CA – LeMond pretty much introduced aero bars (the rest of the “aero” crap I discount as marginal gains at best) in 1989 and they were pretty much the thing thing from that point on, though Fignon whined about being prevented from using ’em later in that same season. …perhaps at the Chrono?
            This fits nicely with Mottet’s last Chrono des Nations win…in 1988 after wins in 1985 and 1987. Widespread use of EPO didn’t come into play until later as LeMond has noted many times. And once Mottet was done a truly small climber type never had much success at the Chrono… as your winners list demonstrates.
            I’ve yet to see any evidence disproving my belief that aero bars were a great equalizer in frontal area/drag, making the “race of truth” much more about pure wattage output.
            BigMig for me remains the poster boy for this – someone out there might correct me but I don’t think he did much against the clock before aero bars?

          • Fignon was not allowed to use TT bars at the 89 GP Eddy Merckx IIRC. I think he did use them to win the GP des Nations soon after. As for Big Mig, he did finish second in the 39km MTT in the 89 Tour, beating Lemond, Fignon, Delgado, Mottet etc. Steven Rooks won that day. Everyone used road bikes, although Lemond had TT on his.

          • Big Mig won ITT’s from 1983-onwards… obviously without aero gear, but while working with Dr. Conconi – who helped to pioneer the use of bread and water… I’m sorry, heavy drugs, to win major races.

            My chart showed that the first year after Mottet’s last win in the Chrono he wasn’t beaten by aero gear (he lost to fignon w/out aero gear), then as Lemond quoted, EPO usage took over in 1990, so at the exact same time that aero gear started winning the Chrono.

            EPO/HGH/etc. had a way bigger effect than aero gear. Obviously we won’t agree – but can someone with a scientific background settle this?!?

    • Quintana finished on the podium of every stage race he entered this year and won the Vuelta over Froome and Contador. He has to be considered the best stage race in the peloton today, not named Chris Froome. His poor showing (only 3rd) at the Tour is really his only blemish, otherwise he has had a fantastic season. As for his not cracking Froome, remember he was up by 54 seconds prior to his raid on stage 15.

    • Froome at his best and with his A-team seems unbeatable but he’s 31 and Quintana is five years younger so there’s time. Even if Quintana cannot beat Froome the hope is that he’ll push him in the same way Froome’s ride in the Vuelta enhances Quintana’s win.

        • I can definitely imagine Dumoulin at Sky. A TdF with a couple of long TTs and maybe one fewer mountain day would be interesting. Could Dumoulin push Quintana all the way? He’d obviously lose time on the climbs but if he took a Big Mig style 4/5 mins in both TTs? All irrelevant while Froome is around though as he’s too strong in both disciplines for such a course to be designed.

          • It’ll be Adam Yates who will be chased (if he can be separated from Simon) and the likes of Owain Doull and Tao Geoghegan Hart who will be groomed for future leaders.

            Dumoulin would make a great super-domestique, TTT workhorse and plan-B GC prospect but Sky wants to enthuse people to get on their bikes in the UK and put British cyclists at the top on a world stage so having foreign team leaders doesn’t fit their long term needs other than as stopgap measures.

    • “To be fair…”. That was a good start.
      “I know this will be an unpopular opinion”. It’s unfounded, but it will be popular.
      “I’m still not convinced that Nairo Quintana is the dominating force…”. It depends on what you mean by *dominating force*. An under 60 kgs. rider will hardly ever be anything like that – even with the hillier present courses, which are opener than in the past. You can have fine W/kg with different weights (especially if you push the biological limits), you can’t have high pure power with less than 60 kgs. For instance, Contador or Evans already are heavier riders. If the courses are less favourable to ITT men, still on most modern climbs the rivals can take advantage of the slipstream: that fostered, some years ago, an awful racing style where everything happens in the last quarter of hour or so. Something which favoured some riders I really like, think Contador. The trend is stressed by the races’ design itself (as it often happened at the Vuelta) or by extreme application of this strategy (2016 Tour). Sadly, that’s exactly what’s bad for Quintana. If you consider all these conditions, you’ll easily understand why Quintana is considered by most cycling lovers as one of the purest talent the sport has seen in years (perhaps a couple of decades).

      Imagine if you read “Froome never cracked a possibly ill Quintana on any of the climbs, only pinching a few seconds really”. Then think about the fact that Froome dropped Quintana less times and for less total seconds in the last Tour than Quintana did with Froome at this Vuelta… Both sentences make little sense in modern cycling.

      You also praise Froome’s consistency, but it was Quintana who podiumed in every stage race he entered, whereas Froome was hugely underperforming, whatever the reason, since the first week of February to the first week of June. Admittedly, he had an extraordinarily long peak afterwards, but he was pretty much non-existent for the first half of the year (HST… come on! That’s a step – or three – below S. Luis or RdS). Huge season for Froome and chapeau, best ever from him, but it doesn’t stand the comparison with Quintana’s in terms of consistency.

      • If you’re watching Quintana and Chaves in the same race and your heart flutters for Quintana, well there’s no accounting for taste. Also I’m not slamming Quintana for “underperforming” at the Tour, I know he wasn’t 100% and he rode doggedly, if uninterestingly to a deserved podium.

        • Well, Chaves is indeed one of my favourite riders and I’ve got a special symphaty for him because the problem he had to recover from his accident. Orica’s and Chaves’ Vuelta was huge, I’ve written that down a couple of days ago, I believe.
          Though, he’s still well behind Quintana (in merely quantitative terms) when “occurances” of spectacular racing along his career are concerned. If he’s really starting to make up for that difference as he’s been showing this year, we’re going to live nice racing seasons from here on… especially if Quintana goes back to his old ways, too, and renounces/rejects the defensive (quite masochistic) approach we all detest.

          However, you dismiss Formigal as “taking advantage of a position”, but I’d be happy to know when, say, Froome spent more than 8 kms. pulling all on himself on the front on the last climb… maybe, after a 100 kms. break where he also took his good, even if “reduced”, portion of turns on the flat. In that last stretch alone, Quintana kicked some net 42″ (without time bonus) into Froome, by the way.
          I’m not even sure that Froome *ever* attacked on a climb from that far (speaking of 8-some-kms. not one hundred) all on his own, let alone doing it after a long-range break. Which is perfectly fine, that’s his way of racing, as it was Contador’s for years and years. Purito’s style, too – and many others’, most of them nowadays. I mean: Froome’s right in racing like this, as Daniel Martin, or Porte, or Yates (A.) or whoever else…
          … yet, underestimating how notable is the alternative is poor judgement, I’d say.

          • PS I may include Villars-sur-Olone, but I can’t remember if TJ ever pulled… knowing TJ, perhaps… no!…
            In that case, it would be more or less valid, although it was a harmless break and Froome lost some 50″ to the best men group on that last climb. A gutsy show, anyway. Pure Froomey-panache (a rarely named skill he isn’t lacking of, not at all).

          • Froome very nearly did the Tour/Vuelta double, which hasn’t been done at all since the Vuelta was moved, arguably only losing out due to one day of poor judgement by the team. I know you hate to give any credit to anyone for anything ever, but a GT that goes to the last day between the two best stage racers in the world is a blessed rarity. Thank you, Nairo and Christopher.
            However, watching the peleton dragging along yet another empty EU-funded dual carriageway is unutterably tedious. Is there a less romantic parcours in cycling, year after year? The Tour of Yorkshire is more exotic, damn it, and the best views were on the French side of the Pyrenees.

    • Augie, your opinion might be unpopular (or not, who cares) but I agree. I’m not a fan of any of those guys – maybe of Chaves because he seems to be such a great and original guy I would love to have as a friend – and that’s why I think my perspective is much less tainted as that of some contributors to this forum who recently had heated discussions about who’s greater, Froome or Quintana.
      Without Contador’s attack on stage 15 – who deserves more praise than he’s received for what he has done (again) to animate that race – Froome would almost certainly have won that race. And that’s despite being one head taller than Q and carrying some 10 to 12 kilos more on those 1001 climbs the Vuelta featured.
      With so many mountain top finishes and only one medium length ITT Quintana, IF he was the dominant rider, should have won the race by some three or four minutes over Froome – who clearly was not at the same level as in July – even without benefiting from Contador’s attack.

    • By the same logic you could say Froome only won the 2015 tour because of the crosswinds on stage 2 (?). Being alert to these small hazards is all part and parcel of winning a 3 week tour and Nairo got the better of Froome in that respect this time.

  4. Very good summary. But, excuse me, it does take a whole lot of nerve and spinning intention to qualify as “mini polemic” a real s***storm that will continue to cause polemics in the future.

    • It could have long term consequences – expect the rule to change, it undermines the UCI’s authority – but I don’t think it went much further than peloton tweets and cycling forums, for example the debate in the Spanish sports press (Marca, AS) wasn’t that big and it didn’t make the news bulletins etc.

      • I won’t recap all I heard during those days, but at least I remember Froome himself acknowledging that the right thing to do was to spell the rules to those 91 funsters. I also heard a good debate on EuSp between Jacky Durand and Richard Virenque, taking opposite sides. Because of its size, this was an unprecedented and, in many people’s view, outrageous development, and to tone it down is a choice that’s very hard to understand.

    • Dunno, do you really think things will change? Sadly, the UCI rule book seems more and more like the traffic laws in my beloved Italy – merely suggestions for the most part. We read here earlier how the current rules ban the forearms on the handlebar and certainly the sitting on the top tube descending silliness and even that someone has been penalized, but it goes on all the time. Same with sticky bottles, motor pacing riders back into the peloton and mechanics hanging out of car windows.
      Meanwhile, La Vuelta seems to both suffer and profit from following Le Beeg Shew. A “last-chance-saloon” for some but when LeTour is (usually) dull, it doesn’t take much to seem exciting though this year’s “Ambush of Formigal” certainly rekindled the spirit of the golden age of cycling.
      I agree a bit with Augie March – if The Condor wants to win LeTour he’s either a) gotta be more explosive/effective on the big climbs or b) a whole lot better against the clock unless ASO wants to build a route designed for him or c) needs to pay Froome to stay home.
      Now bring on Il Lombardia!!!

      • +1 to most of that.

        And I argued at the time that the 2015 tour was designed if not for Pinot (before he became the TT beast he is this year) and Bardet then for Quintana, a route the Miguel Indurain dismissed as “soft”.

        Quintana’s best shot at the Tour is if Froome rides the Giro which I, and every other proper cycling fan, would love to see, but I’m sure Brailsford has vetoed this because the team’s sponsors only care about Le Beeg (dull) Shew.

        • Sure, Sky won’t let Froome do the Giro if they don’t have another candiate for the TdF. Or maybe after he will have won another three TdFs and set-up a new record?
          The other question is whether Froome can handle the bad weather or at least the colder weather the Giro often sees. But I would certainly be curious to find out whether Sky with Froome and their A-team could control the Giro as much as they can dominate the TdF.

  5. “there’s no debating team sizes and salary caps.”. Idk, 3 of the top 4 GC came from top 5 budget teams and the team classification was won by another top 5 team. Not saying we need salary caps, but this Vuelta shouldnt dampen the debate.

  6. Vive and viva Contador! We will miss him, although I surely hope for more still to come in his autumn. Do any of the up-and-comers look to have his combination of ability, tactical smarts and daring ???????

  7. Really enjoyable Vuelta, apart from the obvious it’s also been great to see some new winners and some really spirited breaks (Geniez being last man standing for example, seconds before the chasers).
    Everything the Tour wasn’t, and a good part of that is that it had the Quintana we had been hoping for in July (regardless of if you wanted him or Froome to win!).

    On a quite separate note, I saw a retweet from you INRNG about the UCI potentially dropping the 3:1 rule. Sounds like a very lucrative thing indeed for manufacturers, but also a bit against the UCI’s belief in the shape of a bicycle (not to mention my own). We all remember how stubbornly they stuck to that with Graem Obree. Do you know any more about it?

    • The trade is driving some change at the UCI, the governing body seems willing to allow more changes, we’ve already seen the disc brake trial and there’s talk of relaxing the 6.8kg rule although this could clash with the industry desire for disc brakes, ie if the weight limit was relaxed how many pro bikes would be <6.8kg. We'll see what a potential relaxation of the 3:1 rule brings, suspect diamond bikes will stay in place. For years the shop window for TT bikes has been triathlon and some harmony here is probably what the industry wants.

      • So now the industry wants the 6.8kg rule because it’ll encourage disc brakes. Wasn’t the industry against the 6.8kg rule for years because it stifled their innovation??? Funny how times change.

        • Just follow the money (potential profit). “We want the weight rule tossed so we can sell ever lighter bikes to the punters! Oh wait, disky brakes make ’em heavier…so now we want the minimum weight. Much better anyway, as NOTHING will make Joe Crankarm’s rim-braked bike look more obsolete than a whole peloton of bike with disky brakes. And best-of-all, there’s no way Joe can simply bolt ’em on his current ride – he’s just gotta buy a new one. And don’t forget UCI rules-makers, WE sponsor a lot of top teams out there!”
          Ol’ Henri Desgrange must be doing 360’s in his grave.

          • Totally agree – Desgrange is hoping we put wood wheels back on the bikes! I agree with the spirit of what Desgrange wants, the arms-race is ridiculous. Each year the bike companies pop out a brand-new model, and say that last year’s model is “74% less compliant on the lateral whatever…” It’s just ridiculous hearing that stuff.

            And then rich punters as you say go out and buy the newest bike with disc brakes and deep profile rims and take them on a group ride…. and still get clobbered.

            It’s always hilarious seeing an old guy all decked out in the latest kit/5kg ride and then getting spit out the back on a group ride’s first false flat and having to ride solo to the coffee shop.

  8. Great synopsis of the best GT this year by far! RE: Stage 15…..One nugget of info I didn’t read here or anywhere else (sorry if I missed it) is that the Brambilla inspired break included Ivan Rovny. No sign of lingering hostility from their 2014 Vuelta ‘disagreement’….maybe due to Contador’s leadership and presence? Always a good chuckle to watch a cycling donnybrook….more flailing spaghettini than bruising haymakers.

  9. Question – Quintana lead Contador by 3.28″ going in to the start of stage 15. Contador goes tearing off with a few helpers. Why did Quintana follow, when the logical step would have been to have let the break stew in their own juices and be reeled in?

      • Valverde was already (and this is just after kilometre zero) marking Froome.
        Why would Quintana gamble *at kilometre zero* on a move that has never (to my albeit limited memory and knowledge) been undertaken before by a race leader in a GT?

        I will concede to Gabriele that Quintana has attacked *quite* far from home before but never as far out against Froome., and rarely in a GT.
        And, sure, Quintana was looking for more time. But to gamble 116km from home in a per-chance breakaway? No way.

        I remain quite convinced (can you be quite convinced 🙂 ) that the attack was pre-meditated by both Tinkoff and Movistar. It is completely illogical or over-risky otherwise.
        Which would make it all the more brilliant, if it were planned, by the way.

  10. Is a stealthy 5th place of much value to anyone?

    I’m not knocking Talansky, but riders like him and Dan Martin, for example, are never going to win a GT. Even the podium is a very long shot, which depends on a good deal of luck and possibly misfortune for other riders. So why aim at an anonymous Top Ten instead of stage wins?

    • It’s valuable right now as teams chase a World Tour spot. Of course many if not most fans care little for the UCI rankings but for riders points are a currency and equate to salary/value. As much as we may dislike it, the system as it is rewards cruising around for a steady 8th position over doing two audacious raids to win a couple of stages.

    • While his ride might seem anonymous because Talansky wasn’t on TV, he was tied for fastest up the Aubisque. He is rider who wasn’t going to excel on the sharp climbs and spent the last third of the race climbing the standings by taking advantage of his strengths. This is smart riding that I can appreciate. He had a plan and executed it well. For a rider drifting for the last 2 years, a 5th place from following an intelligent plan is of great benefit. In the past, he has been willing to attack (e.g. at Paris-Nice and the Dauphine) and, while entertaining, he lost as often as succeeded from these rolls of the dice. After restoring his own confidence in Spain, let’s see if he can challenge for a podium next year in a GT by combining smarts and daring.

    • While I agree that Talansky and his ilk aren’t going to win a Grand Tour and that riders who ride ‘a la Zubeldia’ to sneak into the bottom half of a GT top 10 are boring you can’t have just 2 or 3 people going for GC and everyone else just hoping to nick a stage win. If nothing else it would make TTs totally pointless.

  11. Once again, the best grand tour of the year. Delighted for Nairo.

    If there’s one thig I’m hoping for next year, its a proper 3 way slug fest in one of the GTs (presumably Le Tour) between Nairo, Nibali and Froome.

    Froome riding the Giro would also be interesting

  12. OBE’s transition to a formidable stage racing outfit is interesting, although I’d like to think Chaves’ and OBE’s challenge isn’t to grind out a win, but rather to make that most difficult final step – to have the ability, confidence and panache to ride aggressively from the front as he does when chasing.

  13. From the “stating the obvious” department comes the notice that plenty of “woulda, coulda and shoulda” have been posted by fans of guys who failed to win La Vuelta 2016. There’s always next year folks!

  14. Interesting thing about Quintana’s ability to challenge Froome in a TT given their weight and power differential (57kg to 71kg). When going uphill, Quintana has to haul a bike that is the equivalent of 12% of his body weight. To Froome it only represents 9.6% (I’m assuming here they ride at the UCI minimum). Seems things don’t favour the true fly-weights.

  15. Just a quick observation Inr, when posting a reply to a comment via a mobile browser they format fine and in sequence, but it seems on the web browser version, they’re all just chronological and not in the sequence of replies

    • I know, it’s the software that formats the site for mobile devices to make it more compact. I’ve asked them to look at making “nested” comments like the desktop version available as an option but nothing’s happened.

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