Vuelta a España Stage 4 Preview

The Vuelta reaches Spain and a calmer stage awaits, a likely sprint.

Vincenzo Nibali shark

Stage 3 Review: a break and it included Thomas De Gendt. But as the first mountain stage this was going to be a nervous affair and the day’s move never got much room. Team Sky got to work, deploying their mountain train and many riders were dropped on the two final climbs. It was on the final climb to La Comella that the fireworks were lit and the lead group was thinned right down. Among those sipping a can of cola de pelotón was Alberto Contador who had the cameras tracking him on his way to losing 2m33s. Ahead Chris Froome attacked and only Esteban Chaves could match the acceleration with Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru giving chase over the top of the climb and catching the lead two. But all along a larger chase group was closing in and from this Vincenzo Nibali surged to take the stage win. There was a touch of his win in Sheffield on his way to the Tour de France but let’s remember he’d been distanced earlier.

The stage did plenty of damage with Miguel Angel Lopez, Rafał Majka, Wilco Kelderman, Steven Kruijswijk losing over a minute and only 60 riders finishing within 10 minutes of Nibali, Froome et al. A hypothesis here is that the hallmark of a vintage grand tour is the number of times the leader’s jersey changes shoulders. Chris Froome is now the third leader in three days which is a promising start but the question is now whether it will change again before the race reaches Madrid.

The Route: the Vuelta reaches Spain and rides to Tarragona, the seaside resort on the Costa Dorada. There’s 198km and the day’s climb offers 13km at 2.8% average and because of yesterday’s racing the mountains jersey is secured for today at least by Davide Villela.

The Finish: Tarragona is famous as a seaside resort but the race doesn’t take the most scenic route as it sweeps into town passing by the local refuse incinerator plant and then goes straight back out to finish in a nondescript residential area, all this via many rotondas – roundabouts – and the road rises and falls in places, it’s hillier than the profile suggests – and the road rises to the line.

The Contenders: it’s back to the same sprint contenders. Based on what we saw in Gruissan, Matteo Trentin is the quickest of the lot, he was also winning the intermediate sprints and he won’t have been troubled by the mountains yesterday either and the twisting finish is fine as he has a strong team and he’s good for uphill sprints too.

Sacha Modolo (UAE Emirates), Edward Theuns and John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport) should be close too, with Blythe often placing well but with few wins to his name. Other sprinters in the mix include Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-Scott), J-J Lobato (Lotto-Jumbo) and Jonas Van Genechten (Cofidis).

Matteo Trentin
Sacha Modolo, Edward Theuns
Blythe, Degenkolb, Cort Nielsen, Lobato, Van Genechten, Debussschere

Weather: a fine day for a race, sunny with a top temperature of 28°C

TV: It’s on La1 in Spain and Eurosport around much of the world and often on the same broadcaster you watch the Tour de France on. The finish is forecast for 5.40pm CEST.

Daily Díaz: 193 km from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean sea. First Spanish finish of the race, or perhaps should we say Catalan? Let’s forget for a moment the conflict between institutions based in Madrid and Barcelona, and the divisions inside the Catalan society itself about whether or not the territory should become a state. It’s summer and Tarragona is a gorgeous city to visit. Let’s grab an ice cream and take a look at the Roman amphitheatre by the seaside. Time for some music: Manel is a Catalan band that has achieved some popularity outside Catalonia. Their song Al mar! (Into the sea!) is probably fit for a pleasant August afternoon. Enjoy! Spotify / Youtube

Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel

94 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Stage 4 Preview”

      • A whole host of hopefuls gone already. Alaphillipe dropped off very early, despite it looking like a good stage for him, then secondary hopes like Dennis, Soler, Mas and more central, Majka and Contador, among others. The latter only had Stetina, who was struggling to ride slow enough for Contador to hold the wheel. I was hoping (from a spectacle point of view) the more single significant climb format of the Vuelta might suit Contador, after he showed some form on isolated climbs in the Tour but where repetition of climbing seemed to be the main problem.

        Will be interesting to see if the early order of Froome versus Chaves then Bardet and De La Cruz is shaken up much over the 3 weeks. Maybe Nibali will get better, as we’ve seen before, as he was clearly suffering before the opportunistic win, as you say.

    • Possibly. Then again most grand tours have a bit more of a run up to the mountains, he’s still probably odds on favourite for the TT and might find some other climbs he can do well on, perhaps even winning a stage or at least staying with the GC leaders.

  1. It did seem a bit surprising that the peloton (Quick Step appeared to do most of the chasing before the climbs) put so much effort pulling back the break. None of those out front seemed to be long term threats. The sprint was in a strange place so close to the end, though from a quick perusal of the upcoming routes it does appear to be a bit of theme. Chris Froome clearly feels good putting the team to work, snatching sprint seconds, then dropping all but Esteban Chaves on the final climb.

    It is a bit early to be drawing too many conclusions but a longer climb at the end would have seen some fair size gaps to most of the field. What seemed to be a large number of contenders could be whittled down to a very select group before the end of the week.

    I would assume QS will not let a big group push on, so a sprint seems likely though perhaps someone might try going from a few kms out, with all the twists and turns in the finale it might be difficult to bring them back.

    • I think its a select group now. The main players appear to be Nibali, de la Cruz, Froome, Bardet, Chaves and Aru (yesterday’s top 6). I don’t think anyone but these will contest the podium although you might argue that both Yates brothers, Tejay and Pozzovivo are all still less than a minute from the lead but they have no history of winning grand tour podiums. Many of the other “contenders” are already more than 1 minute down (and now revealing their colds and aches and pains as mitigations) and in the case of Majka and Contador 3 minutes down.

  2. Perhaps Trek will admit thst they are best served with stage wins which gives Degenkolb a good chance.

    Was beautiful to see the Chaves of Giro 2016 back, he has had such a rotten year

    • Really hoping Chaves can take the lead in the next week or so. Froome will likely retake it in the TT but I am dreaming of Chaves soaring away on the Angliru to take the overall by a slim margin

      • The only other time Chaves threatened a grand tour podium he famously folded at the end. I remain to be convinced he will last the 3 weeks.

        • No, he didn’t “famously fold”. He fell ill and bravely defended his second place. He then backed it up with a second grand tour podium and a monument win in the same year. Does not winning a race count as “folding” in your worldview?

          • My abiding memory is Nibali riding away and him having no answer. All riders who lose time blame “illness”. We have several doing it in this Vuelta right now. I call it folding. As to the second podium, yes, fair enough. But he never threatened to win. In my world there are pretenders and actual winners. Chaves has yet to make the latter group in grand tour terms in my view.

  3. It was good to see Froome answer some of his critics who say he is boring. His attacks really thinned out the chasing pack, and perhaps if it wasn’t for some crappy motorbike work by the camera crews he may have kept them distanced coming into town.

    I think the main thing is that he grabbed time where he could and put his rivals in the hurt locker.

  4. “A hypothesis here is that the hallmark of a vintage grand tour is the number of times the leader’s jersey changes shoulders”

    Interesting hypothesis. I just checked out the record books and apparently Eddy Merckx wore the yellow jersey for 96 days during his 6 TdF, that’s an average of 16 per race which seems ridiculous considering he didn’t even win one of those. Chris Froome is only on 12 per race (excluding 2008).

    Those Tours must have been pretty boring!

    • They certainly were boring at times but the races were followed differently, an hour of live perhaps and often just via the press. But there were regular complaints about journalists running out of superlatives for Merckx’s performances and his inevitable victories.

      • Looking back now those Giros that were stuffed full of flat stages for Cipollini and raced piano until the last hour would have been boring as hell to watch live from start to finish.

    • Admittedly I didn’t follow cycling beyond Liggett’s highlights show in the noughties, but I don’t recall Armstrong getting the ‘boring/killing the race’ stuff. Maybe the journalists were overawed by his personality or something.
      I think Froome’s biggest problem, apart from cycling in an era that still feels the Armstrong aftershock, is that he is the 1st dominant rider in the internet age. This has enabled healthy scepticism to morph into unhealthy and overly-addictive cynicism. I notice from some Twitter feeds that even some journalists don’t have the armour to resist the allure of being Salem’s Witchfinder General.

      • Good points both about the way we consume.
        For what it’s worth the first Grand Tour I watched completely was the 2011 Vuelta and I’ve been a fan of Chris Froome ever since then. Initially, when I heard so many people complain about any GT since 2010 being boring I thought they might be right and I’d missed out by being relatively new to the sport. But then I looked into it, watched some highlights of old races, read stories from them etc. and it’s just not true. Just the benefit of hindsight being anything but 20:20 and also rose-tinted.

      • ‘Maybe the journalists were overawed by his personality or something’ – yes, or something.

        I was certainly complaining about US Postal making the race dull, but as you say it’s the internet – prior to that, the number of people who had to endure my grumbling was significantly lower.

        As for any suspicions, I am just as suspicious about Froome as I am about any of his competitors – people who say they ‘know’ one way or the other are only trying to convince themselves.

  5. It doesn’t look good at all for many of Froome’s rivals. Bardet, Aru and Nibali all distanced on the final climb, and with some ease. Chavez can expect to lose minutes on the final time trial. Bardet and Aru, I guess, might have felt they weren’t in the best position (Chavez was closer) as Froome attacked, and Bardet might point out that he didn’t allow Froome to continue moving away, as he tried to bridge. However, it doesn’t look right now as though they’ll be able to take too much time out of him on the climbs.

    The Angrilu might be different, because it’s so steep and irregular, but it does not look good at all.

  6. Having a night to think about yesterday’s events I wonder if David de la Cruz might not turn out to be someone contending for the podium here? He was 9th last year (after a bad time trial where he lost 3.35 to Froome over 37kms) and 3rd behind Landa recently in the Vuelta a Burgos. Wondering if that time trial result was normal for him I found out it wasn’t. He is capable of top 5 in ITTs but on occasion has a bad one and finishes mid twenties. Now if he can climb as well as a Nibali, Bardet or Aru and can do one of his decent ITTs that puts him in podium range. If he can perform he is certainly someone more dangerous to Froome than Chaves who, although he was the only one that could go with his surge yesterday, is very inferior when it comes to the ITT. Chaves lost 3.13 in last year’s 3kms shorter ITT and can expect the same again. And this is the conundrum for the Nibalis, Bardets, Arus, et. al. You could say that Froome is now already in his regular defensive mode. I don’t think he’ll keep the jersey to Madrid (2 seconds is nothing) but he can ride in such a way that, even if he loses it, it comes back to him by Madrid. Its the others who have to drop him not vice versa and yesterday was a possible warning that that might be hard to do as he seems much more focused and, dare I say, fitter and more aggressive than in the Tour. There will be future mountains in this race that are not followed by descents to save the likes of Nibali, Aru and Bardet if their climbing continues as we saw on La Comella.

    • There’ll also be mountains whose characteristics suit Froome less, and where his team won’t be able to pump out a tempo to becalm the front of the elite group/peleton.

      • Froome has won on steep Spanish finishes (Pena Carbarga twice). He has finished 2nd here three times which must mean something too. I can’t see any finishes which suit most of the other contenders more. If yesterday is any guide I think he’d be happy to go head to head against any of them. And don’t forget he has time trial time in his pocket as a get out of jail free card. A couple of 20 second losses won’t trouble him.

        More pertinent, perhaps, is that if the others struggle on a relatively benign stage like yesterday’s then what will THEY be like when its a wall at the end?

      • Watching the highlights last night, and at the end de la cruz went to the front briefly, and the conspiracy part of my brain thought that he might provide a lead out for Froome….! Then Nibali jumped and made it moot.

  7. I’m with others and suspect it doesn’t look good for the rest – although it is too soon to draw conclusions, I suppose.
    Froome is in red because he had the tactical sense to go for the 3 seconds at the sprint: what I don’t understand is why I realised they should all do this beforehand and so did Froome, but the others did nothing? I think it’s symptomatic of their timidity. Nowadays in grand tours, everyone (bar Contador, who might go for a stage win now) queues up behind Sky and waits for their tactics to play out. They seem so utterly convinced of their defeat that they rarely try anything first. Maybe they’re right, but it makes for dull racing.
    Since Sky’s tactics came along, like many, I find GT’s mostly dull these days – with the odd interesting days few and far between – it’s a procession up a mountain. Oh well, I have one day racing (and only watching the highlights of the Vuelta means you can watch it on ITV in the UK and avoid Kirby). I don’t blame Sky for the tactics – they work – but I do wish that others could come up with something to counter this and I think it’s time for cycling to try any rule changes that can stop this (e.g. smaller teams, restricted team budgets, etc.).

    • Not for the first time, you give little credit to Sky for their tactics and put the blame on those behind them for the “timidity”. The Sky tactic is to go so fast that others are discouraged and persuaded not to attack for fear of blowing up. It clearly works and many other teams see their helpers (or even some lesser team leaders) disappearing before the Sky team principal is left alone to launch his own attack. In that scenario, what other rider is going to counter before hand when Sky (or any other potential team) still have domestiques to do the catching? It would be suicide. Indeed, this was pretty much what happened in the Tour in 2016 where Thomas and Poels brought back anyone dumb enough to attack first.

      Of course this doesn’t speak to why the likes of Nibali did not contest the bonus seconds. To me that was just dumb stupidity. But then Froome is the one who has lost this race by 13 seconds before and so knows that every second counts.

      As to your rule changes, the last desperate arguments of someone who can’t be the best and so looks to change the rules to hobble those who are. A plague on such base thinking.

      • There’s nothing desperate or base in wishing money didn’t make such a difference, and that Poels, Thomas, Landa, Kwiatkowski, Nieve, were all racing for themselves and against the rest, instead of shoring up a guy who’s already the best, and creating chaos instead of preventing it. It’s just love of cycling, which by all means amounts to hating these “UK Postal” tactics and whatever makes it possible (not talking doping here, mind you).
        The worst thing is that Froome is a really likeable, offensive, hot-headed rider, and also very strong. But his overwhelming team force doesn’t let us see how deep he would go in its absence, if he had to win all by himself.

        • On the contrary Ferdi, it is both desperate AND base. If all the riders you could name as “contenders” were to have their own dedicated team then there would be 50 teams in every race. Strict equality in sport is communism. Sport is ALWAYS about getting an advantage and building a team stronger than the others have is part of that game in what is TEAM sport. It might also be noted that even in sports that do have capping and even drafting rules (i.e. NFL) we still see dynasties that mange to win again and again and again. New England Patriots anyone?

          But most desperate of all in such arguments is that they ignore the facts of what happens on the road. Sky never win the most races. Sky don’t win most of the biggest races. Sky don’t usually finish as the UCI’s best team of the year. They’ve only won one grand Tour in their history (granted its multiple times) and only 2 of 5 monuments. Other teams with lesser budgets have better records over the period of their existence. Yet its this supposed “dominance” (which actually is nothing of the sort) which is claimed to be the problem.

          No, Ferdi. The “problem” is that someone you (as well as others) don’t like wins at all. This is why you bring in unrealistic fantasy nonsense about riders, in the abstract, competing with one another. Cycling has never been that. It never will be that. Its team sport. And having a better team gives you a better chance because they can protect you for longer. I fail to see why that is a problem.

          • Ronde: your reasoning about cycling as a mere team sport and trying to have the strongest team including by buying rivals is indeed Armstrongian, and wrong in that it turns it into mere business management and fails to see cycling races as a game and as theatre, as a dramatic representation. You should watch many more old cycling videos instead.

      • Re the bonus seconds, hope i’ve got this right but didnt Froome get 7 ( 4 + 3) and Nibali 10 (for the stage win) so Nibali actually gained time on Froome?

      • Sky’s tactics work – as I said – and evidently you are happy to watch Sky win and the quality of racing is of lesser importance. That’s not the case for me: I don’t support any particular team/rider and that’s why I’m not enthused by watching dull racing.
        As for ‘base thinking’, is it not fairly ‘base’ that the reason Sky are so dominant is because they have the money to employ riders who could otherwise be team leaders as domestiques? Those riders ‘can’t be the best’ because they have to work for the leader.
        Restricting budgets and team sizes would not be ‘changing the rules’ (it’s not really changing the fundamental rules of cycling is it?) to stop the best from winning – it would be changing the rules to make cycling more interesting; to make the best person do more of the work himself, rather than having such a strong team to rely on. (Nothing to do with Sky: same was true in the Armstrong era, for instance.)
        I don’t say you are wrong to enjoy watching ‘your’ team win, regardless of how interesting the actual racing is, but you seem to be unremittingly committed to taking issue with anyone who does not share your enthusiasm for this. Did you watch grand tours before the ‘Sky train’ came along? If you did, did you not find it more entertaining?

        • In what sense are Sky “dominant”? They have only ever won one grand tour out of three in a season even if you only use grand tours as a measure. This is not “dominance”.

          • Dominant when they have their best rider to support – obviously, he still needs to pull it off at the end of the climb, for instance.
            You can discount the Giro, as Froome doesn’t do it.
            They’ve dominated the Tour.
            They haven’t quite won the Vuelta with Froome, but have come very close, but they still ride the same way in the Vuelta – the ‘train’ still dominates the race. And now others have copied the tactic so if Sky’s train isn’t there another one is.

          • I think this is a very salient point. Not only have they not won one of the other GTs, they haven’t been anything like a dominant force in one day races.

            Even here at the Vuelta, while they looked pretty strong yesterday, if something happens to Froome they’d be completely stuffed, with no Thomas or Landa to fall back on.

          • If you look at the races Sky actually target they are pretty dominant. They have won the Tour every year since 2012 bar one. They have also dominated its standard preparation races; Paris-Nice, Romandie and the Dauphine. The only one they have failed at (winning year on year) is the Vuelta where they probably view it as a bonus after the serious business of the Tour has been sorted out. Until Kwiatkowski they didn’t really have a front line rider in one day races (though EBH might have been viewed as one when he signed). Other teams and riders have been equally dominant in their chosen sphere even in the same period. If anything Valverde’s record in Spanish stages races and Ardennes classics is even more impressive. Quick Step this year (and in others going back ages in their days as Domo Farm-Frites and Mapei) have had a pretty firm grip on the cobbled classics. It doesn’t seem to upset people quite as much though.

        • Surely what’s “more interesting” is a subjective criterion? If you support one rider or team then them winning every race you watch will be very interesting. Its a mistake to think there are objective criteria for what is “interesting” in cycling. People are able and allowed to find whatever they like interesting. We can only ask that it be fair and “interesting” will take care of itself.

          • Is it possible to understand the position of the viewer that doesn’t take sides, or, more precisely, takes sides with all the contestants involved in order to maximise the aesthetic-emotional experience?

        • J Evans do you think cycling was more interesting when Hinault was dominating or Merckx? Do you think watching Indurain win a grand tour was more fun? Do you think Sky invented the “train”? It seems to me that you’re the one who needs a little perspective. You seem to think there was some fantasy cycling that took place in a mythical past that was somehow better than it is now. When was this exactly? And when was this era of fairer cycling because I suggest to you it has never existed. The best always had good riders working with or for them. This is how cycling works.

          • Hinault and Merckx, I can’t say – I didn’t see them race. Indurain also won a few dull Tours in my recollection, but he was also challenged – riders would attack him, although it did seem fairly hopeless. Even in a close race like this year’s Tour, I think only Bardet actually attacked Froome.
            That’s why I’m in favour of change: Indurain and Armstrong would largely win their Tours in the time trials – so they now have far fewer TT kms.
            Limiting teams to 7 – maybe even 6 – riders is no more of a rule change than that was.
            There have always been dominant teams and they’ve always been pretty dull to watch, and I’ve always wanted the organisers to do something about that.

          • The Merckx era must have been incredibly boring if variety of winner is what you were after. I didn’t see Hinault but he was a renowned attacking rider so I presume pretty exciting. Indurain was pretty boring but was very strong in the TT and less so in the climbs meaning at least there was the potential of him being attacked. Froome is the strongest in the time trials (apart from outright specialists), probably the strongest in the climbs and has by far and away the strongest team to suffocate the race. It makes it a bit predictable. I mean Chaves was able to follow Froome on the climb yesterday but there’s nothing to get excited about there as Chaves will probably ship 4 minutes in the time trial.

        • I’ve been watching cycling since 1983 Mr Evans. Long before Sky existed. I was a Sean Kelly fan. Trust me when I tell you that a bike race is a bike race and that riders make the race. I would never criticise someone for winning in any way they like (outside of cheating).

          Fundamentally, cycling is NOT an individual sport. Its a team sport where individuals win. This is a huge fact that you have, as yet, not grasped. Cycling is not mano a mano from start line to finish line and so your fantasy notion that it is misleads the rest of your thinking.

          • ‘Trust me when I tell you that a bike race is a bike race and that riders make the race.’ – I haven’t said any differently. I’m suggesting changes that mean one team cannot dominate so easily.
            ‘I would never criticise someone for winning in any way they like (outside of cheating).’ – I haven’t criticised Sky.
            We seem to be discussing different things.

          • Cycling is cycling. Hinault, Fignon, Roche and Kelly were no more or less interesting than Contador, Nibali, Froome and Quintana are. (Ditto Indurain, Chiapucci, Rominger and Zülle in between.) Everything changes but always stays the same. Enjoyment is there if you want to find it. Some prefer to moan and be miserable. They are their own punishment.

          • I think the Sky ‘dominance’ is rather over-sold. The mere presence of a team who are happy to work at the front all day changes the tactical (and strategic) landscape for other teams, who can simply surf off the back of the Sky pack and hope to benefit from that work without burning up their own teammates – who might be useful at other points. In turn that means that Sky remain at the front with nobody helping, which makes them look more dominant than they are.

            Sure, Sky have some serious firepower and set up the mountain stages in the time-honoured fashion, but the end result in most stages these days is that Chris Froome is then left alone with his equally-fresh rivals to duke it out.

            My challenge to you is what do other teams gain by riding at the front instead of Sky, given that Sky are happy to do it?

          • I’ve no interest in seeing other teams do the same as Sky.
            As I’ve said, I’d like to see measures put in place that restrict any team from doing this.
            It’s nothing to do with Sky, it’s nothing to do with how cycling may or may not have been in the past.
            See Ferdi’s comment.

          • Having watched the Tours since they were broadcast on British TV the discipline of US Postal and Sky teams do stand out. The big thing that has changed since Armstrong started the domination of the modern era is that the main contenders rarely, especially in these teams, do not have an ‘off’ day, which, to use someone else’s language, is suspicious.
            What I think people remember from the intervening periods is the excitement (and I know he precedes Armstrong) Pantani, Landis, Rasmussen, and Contador all won their tours with magnificent stage victories, where they athletically duelled with their competition and eventually trounced them. But, that excitement comes tarred with the doping stick. Few remember Sastre and Pereiro as winners.
            Even before Sky and Postal Jan Ulrich’s win was notably dull.
            The best Tour’s in my memory were those in the eighties. Untouched by EPO (possibly) the main drugs of choice were steroids and amphetamines – the prospect of blowing up and/or having a bad day were much more evident and the costs of a three week tour writ large on the faces of the competitors. This is true of a lot of sports in the modern age. Drugs destroy our humanity (or human frailty).
            But my point is that drugs have created unreal expectations, excitement and consistency, which ruin the spectacle of human endeavour/failure.

          • I disagree on this.

            I’ve noticed off days making a come back since the biological passport came into effect.

            Wiggins had them – 2011 Angliru, 2012 Toussiere definitely 2013 Giro.
            Froome’s had them – last days of 2013 Tour, Alpe D of 2015 Tour, Peryguedes this year.

            Similar with all other contenders. Not saying problem is gone, but the above isn’t really true, things have been all over the places with Grand Tour’s hierarchy’s changing almost day by day if you look at the Giro’s and Vuelta’s of recent times… in both 2013 & 2015 Tours many also though Froome was fallible in the later stages had Quintana’s tactics been correct…

          • I probably should have been more nuanced regarding off-days. They do happen more these days than they used to, but I don’t think your example of La Toussiere is a great one, as Wiggins was not a man for the steep gradients, and got caught out by the ramp. Same goes the Angliru. His thing was milling out a tempo – that’s why Froome looked like the better rider, he could attack on a gradient.
            I still think it’s a world of BBs, cortisone and a.n.other. Blood passports and out of competition testing limit what can go on, but I’m sure they’re doing whatever they think it takes.

          • Yeah I wasn’t necessarily going for the best – just taking examples from Sky as you’d cited them specifically – there are more from across the board – but just to note La Toussiere isn’t that steep? Never goes over 10%… Wiggins had been with and was later ahead of the best on harder climbs than that in 2012.

            I likewise don’t think it’s an extreme bad day though but in fairness, it’s never been that common for someone to have a proper bad day and win a tour? Froome this year and the above are good enough instances to cause questions to your assumptions.

            You may well be right – and I think anyone with a passing interest is already on high alert without you pointing out the obvious – but for me personally, I think we need to now subscribe to proof over speculation – which this blog is great in doing. So please think what you think, but I don’t see it being fair to throw shade without backup – as you’re just as in danger of slandering clean athletes who might for all you know be honest and working their nuts off to entertain us throughout each year.

            To be honest – even if they’re doped to gills what they’re doing is so damn impressive I find any armchair critiques hard to stomach.


          • For all that they are meant to be tested 365 days a year it seems that riders are only ever caught just before grand tours. I don’t know if this means they are tested more in the run up to a Tour or if they dope in preparation and mis judge their ‘glow’ time or what.

          • This just is not true. In 2015 alone:

            Ulissi was caught and banned in January.

            Lloyd Mondory (AG2R) banned March.

            Paolini banned during TDF not before.

            Danielson after 2015 TDF.

            Caruso of Katusha caught in March 2015 banned in August…

            5 secs of google disproves your statement…. grumble….

          • I understand what J Evans is driving at, but I don’t believe that unilaterally reducing numbers of riders making up a teams is an answer. If you reduce all teams equally by 1 or two riders, the strongest teams are still the strongest teams. For example ‘Sky’ with 5 riders against any of the other teams in the peleton with 5 riders and the same tactics work. A salary cap is not necessarily workable, because the marketable value of a cyclist is not directly related to their current ability or form. It may relate more to last season and their agent’s negotiating skill.

            Perhaps a handicap may achieve what J Evans is after, where the number of riders a team is able to enter is inversely proportional to their collective world tour points or something.

            Personally though, I like the grand tours as they are, each one produces its own story and drama, and if I ever find it dull, it is on the odd occasion were there are lots of pan flat stages.

          • I think for me the problem of the ‘Sky dominance’ comes down to three things:
            One, that Froome, like Armstrong, like Indurain, like Quintana, seems to polarize people. People either seem to fanatically support him (them) and see every move as a masterstroke, or think he spoils racing and is incapable of an impressive ride. Likewise Quintana is often the greatest GT racer currently riding, or a lazy wheelsucker who will never ‘make it’.

            Two, that Sky might not win huge amounts (same number of Monuments as that struggling team, Cannondale; ‘only’ one GT success, limited luck in short stage races), but that their strength in depth makes them an inescapable presence at the front of every GT. They might not have won the Vuelta in a long time, but their train is very often driving the front of it; they rarely come away with low or no results, which is far more than can be said for nearly any other team (Movistar are the only one close really, with Orica and Quickstep the few others that consistently have such luck in GTs). They never seem to have an annus horribilis – 2014 was their closest to one since 2011, and that included many stage wins in major WT races, and the ITT worlds.

            Three, that buying riders that were once leaders or exceptional ‘off-the-leash’ stage hunters/one-day winners and using them as domestiques in a donkey-like mountain train is never going to be popular. It’s true that Kwiatkowski for example has had the chance to go for (and win) significant one-day races, but he’s done so largely alone; and he’s not had the chance to go stage hunting, and if he did he’d be too broken from his hauling work. Or Poels, who could be a leader on nearly any other team. The impression, rightly or wrongly, that riders of great dynamism and success can be tamed into carthorses will always make Sky look bad, and the effect is doubled when that train is so dominant (Pantano’s similar transformation at Trek has had far less attention). Silly media stunts like the winnebago and the ‘race hub’ definitely don’t help lessen the impression of splurging budget and arrogance.

            As always with all sports, they’re blameless (or nearly), if you like them, they’re monsters (or nearly) if you don’t…

          • what I don’t understand is, on the money side of things… if Sky (or News Corp or whoever they are) are smart enough to realise that they can dominate a global sport for the price of an average left-footed midfielder or whatever, then why haven’t a couple of other multinationals thought ‘oh yeah, we could have a slice of that…’
            I get the doping thing etc, but even so, if it works for one it usually works for others.

          • Noel, son of Murdoch is apparently a cycling fan.
            Other multinationals avoid it because the taint of doping far outweighs any positive PR, and is likely to happen. You’d be mad to sponsor a cycling team – presumably, those who do so have greater faith in ‘their’ riders: why, I do not know.

          • I think even without the taint of doping, sponsoring a cycling team is not necessarily the best use of sponsorship budgets. The target audience is extremely limited and it’s very hard to have a comprehensive advertising plan based on a multi-million dollar sponsorship expense (I’m referring to primary team sponsorship only).

            For example, US Postal, and I think this will come up at the Lance trial. Let’s assume that Lance’s argument that Postal gained $300 million dollars worth of “exposure” for their advertising/sponsorship fees. That might be true, but how would that translate into extra revenue/net income for US Postal? Their business model was largely based on selling postage stamps, and it would be a very safe assumption that by the late 1990’s, postage stamp sales would have nearly peaked, to be slowly replaced by online email. Look right now in 2017, international postage sales have been dwindling and replaced by the UPS/Fed Ex’s of the world and email. So in that case, yes, US Postal gained exponential “exposure” for it’s “brand”, but in reality it resulted in a total waste of sponsorship dollars. And that is assuming there were no scandals.

            A similar argument could be made for many other sponsors. There are some though that a cycling sponsorship would make sense. I wouldn’t be surprised if Team Sky has gained some value from their sponsorship, or Cofidis. But I’m not sure of the specific quantification of this “some value”.

          • @CA, complete digression, but apparently the issue for US Postal was that they had contracted a number of freight planes to vary mail from the US to Europe, but would end up paying for these to return empty. So it was a deliberate attempt to raise brand awareness in Europe, and try to fill up the planes in the other direction.

            Not sure it worked, as they ended up getting FedEx to send their mail instead.

          • Hi J, sorry – I wasn’t clear enough. My contention is that if Sky weren’t drilling it at the front as a team, other teams would be putting riders up there to work together to achieve the same result. We quite often see this on sprint stages in the grand tours, when Sky are willing to let other teams do the pulling – it’s rare to see one team doing all the work.

            On a mountain stage, currently Sky will happily sit there en masse so there’s no point in other teams wasting their energies. If Sky weren’t willing to do that, you’d see the workload passed around more as other teams had to work as well.

            My argument is that it makes Sky look more dominant than they actually are because it changes the tactical space that everyone else is working in such that they spend time on the front out of all proportion to their actual strength. It has ancillary benefits in that Froome is always up front and protected, but has weaknesses too – and weaknesses that other teams are attempting to exploit.

          • The “sprint teams” control is also, and even more, a matter for concern, and it also complements Sky tactics. If Sky was likely to be ambushed on “sprint stages”, they’d be less in control. I am genuinely concerned at my son getting bored watching cycling races, and not getting as excited as children of yesteryear.

          • The 1983 Tour de France was basically a multi-player mano a mano between Fignon, Van Impe, Winnen, Bernaudeau, Arroyo, Delgado and a few more who at one point looked like they could win the race. Watch the videos. Very little team tactics.

    • I actually agree with J Evans that the others’ have completely let the presence of Team Sky dominate them. For the record, Team Sky did not invent these tactics though!

      And, the Tour is making smaller teams next year. Don’t forget however that it hurts the other teams, arguably more than it hurts team Sky.

      Look at it this way, Team Sky already devotes 100% of it’s team to the GC. But for any team that has 2 objectives, losing one of it’s team riders has a much bigger effect. If for example, a team has a decent sprinter and a decent GC guy, but they “know” they’ll never win GC so they drop 1 GC helper, then this further strengthen’s Team Sky’s advantage over the bunch.

      The only way to strengthen the competition against Team Sky is to drop the prize money for the consolation positions and lower prize money for the secondary jerseys. If significantly more prize money is awarded to 1st on GC, then the other teams will have little choice but to fight tooth and nail, rather than defend their 2nd, 3rd, etc. positions on GC. Right now the riders and teams fight to defend their positions and take very little risk to attack, assuming that Froome is their superior.

      You need strong incentives to make riders fight for a legacy, rather than settle for 7th on GC because the prize money is decent and they get world tour points.

      • I agree with this in part. I don’t believe that they are not already fighting.
        Removing the lower place money means that there is little incentive to settle for a podium place, and riding to consolidate would have limited benefit, but if the gap to the leader is sufficient, then this situation would perhaps also be demotivating and riders would stop competing and save themselves for the next event.

        I think its just the nature of GT racing. Like it or leave it there is no perfect solution to please everyone

        • Yeah, exactly, and we should all temper our expectations. People complain every GT now because riders aren’t attacking a la Pantani v. Lance OR Contador v. Rasmuschicken (weren’t those exciting attacks people?)… but we also complain when these guys dope so what’ll it be people? haha

        • Teams usually lose riders as they go along – had Sky started with 7 and lost 2 they’d have ended up with 5. Then, you would perhaps see a difference.
          I agree that the reduction to 8 will hardly affect Sky. A reduction to 6 would: unless they dropped the riders they use on the flat they would have fewer mountain domestiques.
          You can also see this in WC and Olympics – having smaller teams (as well as the riders working with people they don’t normally work with) results in less organised and more chaotic racing.
          You seem convinced that those of us who wish to see more exciting racing via the means of not allowing bigger teams to control races so easily feel this way because they have a grudge against certain teams/riders. In my own case, this is untrue: I don’t care who wins bike races – I don’t support anyone or dislike anyone. This seems to be the case with many others who post here.

  8. As is said some surpise failures yesterday (Majka, Contador, Dennis, Jungels…) but also some surpise good performances : Roche, who has not climbed so well in years, and Van Garderen too. An interesting way to look at the GC table is to estimate who, well placed now, will lose ground in the coming two weeks. De La Cruz on the longer climbs, Roche for the same reason, plus some TdF riders for whom fatigue might accumulate and show.

    Well done Sky and pleased for TVG too.

  9. Though Moscon was superb yesterday, capable of dropping Poels (who’s been ill) and Nieve (who came back to help) on his first acceleration then kept driving on.

    I had it in my head he was more of a classics strongman than a hill climber… anyone know more about him?

    Kwiatkowski mk2?

    • The Cycling Podcast mentioned Moscon yesterday. It seems Sky are at something of a crossroads regarding which way he should go. Could he become a top stage racer or concentrate on one day races? Also bear in mind he is the current Italian ITT champion. This is his first grand tour for Sky so I’m sure they will learn much about him in the next 3 weeks.

  10. Sky’s opponents are learning to race in a different way now, yes it might be a bit boring. But the sky way of riding will be exciting to watch if we get more riders in the mould of Dumoulin, Dennis, who only benefits from steady tempo in the mountains.

    As for the Armstrong era, as a european I can say that his wins were seen as boring. Simply because he was so dominant. There were very few riders at his physical capacity, and he could destroy them mentally with that cold gaze even before the race was on.

    After his second win, it seemed impossible to beat him and since he was american, I guess he didn’t really appeal to most europeans

    • I agree to a certain extent… certainly if you drop Dumoulin and to a lesser extent Porte into a GT it means that Froome can’t afford to sit tight.

      That said… I can’t help but think a contador in his pomp would just be riding off the front at will.

      • I agree that nobody could touch Contador in 2009. But that year there was no big team beside his own to do a stiff tempo in the mountains. In all other years he has had his trouble. Rasmussen had his number in 2007, The Schlecks in 2010, 2011. He is/was a gift to cycling because he never gave up, and won so much that second placings didn’t matter to him.

        I’d say Froome is equally tenacious. I think to come from where he came from to where he is now, you have to be a fouriclasse rider. he has certainly learned to race and to place himself in the peloton. Someone here said it would be more interesting if he was on a small team, and that’s a good observation I think. If so, I believe we would see Froome race a lot like Contador. He has the guts.

        But alas, the world is what it is. Money breeds more money, so he is at Sky. But this Vuelta will still be exciting I believe. There are many riders at or around the same level, but are there anyone with a mindset a la Lance, Contador, Froome out there waiting to step up?

  11. Looking at the overall standings I was surprised how close Barguil was to the front. I had expected him to sit up once he saw what was happening yesterday, lose minutes then he can do what he likes going forwards. Seems bizzare to me that he’s want to be so high, although it’s very early days. (eg De Ghent losing 7 minutes on stage 2 as a contrast)

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