Vuelta a España Stage 17 Preview

A mountain stage across tough terrain with a very hard final climb that attracts attention for its steep slopes but the real difficulty is the changing gradient and the accompanying changes in pace.

Stage 16 Review: as a rule when the race visits the Logroño racing circuit you can take the day off. Stultifying road stages that end in a certain sprint, time trials on roads big enough to land an airliner… this is not a land of surprises. Chris Froome won the stage and extended his lead over his rivals. Wilco Kelderman was second, as predicted but still impressive and Lennard Kämna made the top-10, even more impressive for a neo-pro riding his first grand tour.

The Route: 180km and it’s all about the finish. The Portillo de Lunada is the highest climb of the day but it’s a small, steady climb, 8km at 5-6% for most of the way. The next climb is the Puero de Alisas, 10km at 6% and steady for the most part and on a regular road, the same for the descent – past some cycling art on the way to – Bustablado.

The Finish: 7.2km at 8.7%, hard enough if this was a perfectly linear ramp. But it’s the very opposite, a road of every changing gradients with viciously steep sections and even one part surfaced with concrete to make it just that bit harder. Things leave the village OK but soon after comes a cattle grid and it’s irregular from here on. This is the difficulty because unlike, say, the Zoncolan, the gradient changes a lot meaning riders have to change gear, rhythm and so on rather than sit back and spin an appropriate gear. With 1km to go they reach the Collado de la Espina, the pass, and the route dips and then levels out to finish next to the Vaca Pasiega, a statue of a small cow.

This video shows you the climb in more detail and features Óscar Freire who appropriately enough shows up late but still gets to the top first.

The Contenders: this is a good day for the breakaway, many riders will have used yesterday’s time trial as a relative rest day so they can come out swinging from the start today. So the likes of Rafał Majka, Romain Bardet, Adam Yates and Julian Alaphilippe come to mind for the steep climb at the finish although Bardet and Ag2r La Mondiale face a dilemma because they’re down to one car in the race following the exclusion of DS Didier Jannel after Team Sky filmed two riders holding onto the team car and the Velocast podcast posted the video. not only does the DS go home but they can only have one car in the race. Now if Bardet or a team mate goes in the breakaway are they supported by the sole team car or must this vehicle hang back to support the majority of the riders behind the break. Each rider and Jannel gets a 200 Swiss Franc fine from the UCI. That’ll teach them!

Other climbers are Joe Dombrowksi who was 160th out of 164 yesterday, perhaps saving himself, Dimension Data’s Lachlan Morton and Caja Rural’s David Arroyo… or pick your own.

Alberto Contador is good on these steep climbs, his efficient out of the saddle climbing style is ideal for the changes in slope here but Trek-Segafredo will have to drive the pace to contain the breakaway.

What can Vincenzo Nibali do? He’s almost two minutes behind Chris Froome and over forty seconds clear of Wilco Kelderman on GC and he surely knows he can’t take back time on Froome today, so perhaps he sits tight hoping for a stage win?

Miguel Ángel Lopez has won two stages but prefers the longer climbs at altitude but has been riding economically too, he knows how to pick his moment. His 6th place overall means a well-timed attack just as the slope ends could see him clip away while others sit tight.

Michael Woods is a steep climb specialist but his problem is the hardest rampas come early in the climb.

Today is a real test for Wilco Kelderman, he is sitting high on GC but this irregular finish won’t be to his liking and he hasn’t got team mates to control things so we can imagine he’ll sit on the back of Team Sky’s train.

Rafał Majka, Alberto Contador
Bardet, Yates, Alaphilippe, López, Nibali, Froome, Woods

Weather: cloudy with the chance of rain and a cool 21°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 Xpm CEST.

Hypsometric curve of Spain, by Wikipedia’s PawełS

Daily Díaz: From the Inner Plateau to Northern Spain across the Cantabrian Mountains, we’ve seen similar stages in previous years. Keep in mind that half of the country sits above 700m above sea level – as the chart above shows – making Spain quite a puzzle when transport infrastructure has to be built. In the 1950s, Franco government decided to dig a tunnel near Espinosa de los Monteros (KM91, right before the highest point of the stage) that would allow trains to travel from the plateau to the coast in a much shorter distance. La Engaña tunnel (see the piece of news), 7km long, was finished in 1959, but has never been used. The regional governments are thinking of giving it some value, and perhaps turning it into a cycle way to promote tourism in an otherwise economically (and demographically) depressed area.

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

144 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Stage 17 Preview”

  1. I don’t think Alaphilippe will waste any energy on such a hard stage with the next two stages much more suited to Quickstep abilities. Nicolas Roche has said to be chasing stage wins now. Given his form is still good I’ll say Roche, Yates and Majka competing in the break of the day, followed by the GC battle led by MAL.

    I wonder if Froome will be able to hold on today and on the Angliru, he looks to be on his climbing limit recently!

  2. I’m going to give one ring to Brendan Canty if he can make the break. A long shot to be sure, but he came sixth from the break the other day after a crash, has rested yesterday, can climb (has a Tour of Austria stage win) and will be desperate to show himself with Cannondale’s future unlikely.

  3. Bardet has tried a few times and come up short, surely he still wants at least one stage win from this Vuelta. Going on previous perfomances he will have to be in the break because he can’t outclimb the GC group at full pace like Lopez has done twice.

  4. Feel like this is a climb for pacing yourself, survive the early steepest bits and just ride a tempo you can manage. Can see a Nibali or a Contador try on the steepest bits and actually lose out in the end.
    In another matter, how much better/worse is Zakarin than Kelderman at the variable mountains?

    • I doubt Nibali will try much today. Sky train appears too strong. He would hope that Contador tries another long range attack to weaken the Sky Train, and maybe then he might think of something.
      I think he will now try one last attack on Saturday-Angliru stage on the descents to destabilize Sky. Honestly, Froome is way too strong to drop anyway, even without his team. The Red Jersey is all sealed up barring a crash or a complete bad day.

      • The descent of Lunada today has very bad asphalt, is very “botoso” and rough, and if it rains and is wet can be very dangerous. Maybe Nibali wants to risk under those circumstances.
        The same for the day of the Angliru, rain is expected and the descent of the Cordal is also very twisted and slippery.
        Eye to descents with bad weather that could play an important role in the race!!

  5. Poels’ performance seems to be one of the most comment worthy.

    Not sure he can have been holding much back to finish just over a minute down and well in the top 10.

    A key domestique for the next few days that traditional logic dictates he should have been riding conservatively.

    It’s not like he’s moved far up enough on GC to make any strategic difference. And not really troubling the team rankings.

    What was that about?

    • For one, Poels may well have been the strongest rider in the race these last few days, we don’t know. He’s always at his best in the third week. He’s only now gaining his full strength.
      I also think Poels wants to show his GC credentials in anticipation of a chance next season. Giro with Thomas, like this year with Landa, maybe?

    • Putting himself in the shop window for a team leader job elsewhere, a la Landa. Not next season obviously but I’m sure he’d lie a go for himself sometime so he might as well show what he can do.

      • Wout Poels is signed with Sky through to the end of 2019. He has said before, last year I think, that he would like to lead at the Giro, as Martijn says, they could be going with another dual leadership there again next year.

    • Poels would have been used as a reference man for Froome. Sky have done this before, (eg with Kwiata in the Tour), ideally the reference man is well down on GC allowing Froome to be in the following car, and still have plenty of time for warm up.

      • Stannard was the reference for Froome, not Poels. Poels’ start time was too near to Froome so he couldn’t have helped.

        I don’t see anything weird with Poels going all out. He’s one of the strongest riders in the race and if in with a sniff of a top 10 overall, you go for it surely?

        • Stannard’s time was one of the surprises of yesterday. So often he takes it easy in the time trials in the traditional domestique style. It was nice to see him show what he can do. Quite a few classics riders will be pondering that as they prepare for next Spring and a certain flat race with cobbles.

      • Good point.
        I thought Poels may take a breather yesterday, but it was Moscon instead.
        It’ll be interesting to see in which order the Sky train de-couples today.
        The tactic of giving very strong super-domestiques something of a break every day or two must be so tough to counter for the other teams.
        Nigh on unbeatable when paired with a rider like Froome as leader.

    • On ITV4 last night David Millar thought they let Poels go all out in the ITT to ‘reboot him’ (his phrase) after the rest day! He said that some riders need a hard effort after the rest day to get back to race pace, and with today being super tough they used the ITT to do that.

  6. I disagree that this was a ‘stultifying’ stage. It was a proper time trial, not a fiddly time trial crit around a town centre or a partial hill climb to soften the blow on the likes of Chaves. If you want to win a grand tour you have to be able to do these and in their own way they are interesting to watch. Plus at just over 45 minutes they are hardly a flat sprint stage!

    • Agreed Richard. As TT’s go, I thought it was a very interesting one, with just the right amount of technicality at the beginning and the end, and challenging-enough rolling roads in between.

  7. I guess it will become quite tactical and conservative now. The gap between 10th and 11th is quite big so everyone in the top 10 knows if they can hold on they’ll have a top 10 place in Madrid. Kelderman in 3rd will be wary of Zakarin just 25secs back, and likewise Contador will feel Lopez is too close to comfort.

    I imagine only Contador and Lopez are the riders who are willing to risk everything and go all out because that’s their style and neither will be too fussed if they finish in Madrid in 5th or, say, 7th.

    I think the others will just try to hold on and grind through the next few brutal days as best they can.

  8. One thing you might have missed not watching yesterday was Bardet took a tumble – he was back on the bike quickly enough, but bruises might make it that much less likely for him to go in the break.

    • Is Bardet really a professional? His attitude towards the ITT and his TT bike (widely reported) is an abdication of duty. If I were his team boss he’d be out the door.

      • Strong words Cobblers.

        Do you feel the same way about Chaves, who got caught by his 2-minute man yesterday?

        Some guys are better in some disciplines than others….

        But if you feel that a guy who’s podiumed at Le Tour twice is not professional, then so be it I guess.

        • Chaves is just a light climber who can’t TT. He’s not the first and won’t be the last. The difference is Bardet has actually shown contempt for the TT bike suggesting that its not the way his French flair style of riding works. I thought he wanted to win the Tour de France though. He won’t with that attitude. And I’m glad.

          • I think its more likely he hates it because he’s no good at it. Would be a little naïve to take his defensive stance so literally. We can debate for days about the merits of different style of riders Froome vs Bardet\Contador for both the spectacle they create and results they achieve. There is obviously no denying that Froome is now a true cycling legend and yet Bardet is an out and out bike racer through and through. whether you choose to admire the style of one more than the other probably comes down to what type of person you are and everyone is entitled to their own choice.

        • I made a similar comment a few days back – want to be a GC contender? Don’t go to a French team! They are historically very poor at (team) TT, and that’s mostly an indication of poor preparation. Out of the many French teams, only FDJ seems to have put some effort in recently to improve in this department.

          • Maybe it used to be when the likes of Anquetil, Hinault and Fignon were just innately superior to their competitors and only had to turn up. Interestingly though all 3 were excellent in the time trial, Anquetil and Hinault two of the greatest testers of all time. Maybe the French attitude to the TT started with Fignon in 89 turning up to defend a lead against Lemond’s tri bars and aero helmet with standard bull horn bars and his pony tail flapping in the breeze?!

  9. Wow, lets get excited over who finishes 7th. Froome should have been declared the winner at the first rest day, then we could have all gone home to Mother!

  10. Sky you bunch of grasses.
    Another reason to hate them.
    Actually, I think this is a really good thing: rather than having stories about this going on, film it and shop the offenders. Plus we need more ‘beef’ between the teams.

  11. Hard to see how anyone attacks on this final climb, let alone someone who can threaten the race lead. But what alternatives do they have? Its attack here or on the Angliru. Time to settle for what you’ve got? Some may decide so. I noticed yesterday that Moscon was clearly told to soft pedal, doing a time of over 56 minutes whilst wearing his national ITT jersey. Meanwhile Poels seems to have been allowed to ride a proper time trial to gain a top ten finish in the race. Team play will now become very relevant as the guys in the top 6 or 7 who are not called Froome will largely be riding alone at the end of stages (as Nibali was on stage 15 which was why his attack was always doomed to failure). What stood out to me as well on stage 15 was that Froome was not left alone at any point. He never put his nose in the wind. Some see a strong team, and an ability to pay for it, as a flaw in how cycling is run. They speak of unfairness. They think all the good riders should be shared out equally somehow so that everyone has a chance. We, they say, will get a better race as a result. Is that what happens in the NFL where there is budget capping? Why do New England Patriots seem to win their conference every year and get to the Superbowl every 2 or 3 years? Building a great team even, in the American phrase, a dynasty, is not made impossible just because you say how much money teams can spend. Coaching and the different ways teams have of doing things are not equal. Were we to find a similar situation in cycling it would still be seen as unpalatable and this is because the reasoning of those who say they want fairness is not actually motivated by wanting to be fair. Its motivated by mean-spiritedness towards those who do their job best. It is no coincidence that those who talk about “fairness” most on forums also have a barely disguised hatred of Team Sky. Yet Sky are just being professional. Sky are just doing their job which is to win bike races. Take away some of their cash and they will still be doing that. Why else do you think they signed up Bernal, Sivakov, Halvorsen and Lawless? If anyone had noted British Cycling’s laser focus on Olympic success in the 21st century then they should have known Team Sky, formed from that success, would take the same approach. They are only doing this to win.

    • You’re failing to address the point. What many of us are concerned with is a kind of cycling that is controlled, rehearsed, measured towards maximization, calculated towards optimization, predictable, and utterly emotionless and cruelly deprived of any capacity to move anyone interested in something else than plain stupid “who wins”. Cycling being a sport where runner-ups have often been more celebrated than winners. Don’t look for ulterior motivations. The concern is the kind of cycling we’re seeing and how to put it behind us.

      • I just find it egotistical that not only do you have preferences over who should win but you actually want to dictate HOW they should win too! Winning is hard enough as it is without saying every winner must be entertaining. Its actually quite narrow-minded to only want one kind of winner you know.

      • Yup, I’m not against Sky, Froome, or anyone else: I’m bored. Simple as that. As AK put it at the bottom of yesterday’s post, sports change rules when a new tactic starts dominating everything. I would think most neutral cycling fans are bored of watching the train go up a mountain – not Sky’s fault; the tactic works. Just dull.

      • If professional sport was meant to be entertaining football teams would play 1-0-9 rather than 4-4-2. Brazil vs Germany was entertaining, but it wasn’t football.

        • But football – like other sports – has changed its rules to make it more interesting:
          it’s cut down on hacking; stopped the backpass to goalkeepers; changed the offside rule; changed the ball… I’m sure there are many others football-watchers are aware of.

          • Correct. The bigger picture is that entertainment is in the advantage of every team and every rider (on the long term). If we see many boring stages, then less people are interested to watch cycling. Sponsors will pay less. Teams pay their riders less salary. Some races will be discontinued. Etc.
            If team Sky does not care about the future of cycling, then ASO and/or UCI have to do something.

        • football – 3 points for a win instead of 2
          rugby union – 5 for a try instead of 4
          I’m sure there are many examples from many other sports.
          3 points for a win is a much greater change than reducing team sizes – let’s start with 7 and see how it goes.
          Froome would probably still win, which is fine, I’d be happy to see him race and beat the rest, but I’d be much more entertained seeing him do this mano a mano and over greater distances, hopefully, and actually being challenged, rather than trundling up a mountain behind a line of his domestiques and then blitzing the final few km.
          And that’s the thing – it’s not about Froome. In a few years it’ll be different rider, possibly on a different team. And it’ll be just as tedious to watch.

          • Pro sports ARE an integral part of the entertainment industries. To deny that is to deny the sun of the light. Entertainment, with a sheen of tribalism and nationalism, that’s what it is. I don’t really mind all that, I like being entertained, I like being baffled by superhuman exploits and surprised by unexpected twists of the plot. But please don’t try to make pro sports anything bigger or more important than Hollywood productions. if you are not feeling entertained anymore, then move on, try a Nabokov play or so.

      • What would be the problem of forbidding the consultation of the power meters during the stages and the team orders by radio?
        I think a much more spontaneous and attractive cycling would be achieved.
        That would favor the bravest and courageous cyclists, with a better race vision, and would result in a greater spectacle for the spectator.
        Is it really crazy to think of such a cycling?
        I am not talking about limiting other technical advances, only this two and the change would be substantial, in my opinion

    • RonDe, I think that your choice of analogy is poor. Bill Belichick is one of the greatest football coaches ever and is also a great player picker (quite uniquely, he’s head coach and general manager for the Patriots.) Despite this, the NFL has spread the glory around since introducing greater revenue sharing and a salary cap. Since 2007, the Patriots have won the superbowl twice (in eleven years). In that period, there have been no fewer than eight different champions. Further, almost every one of the 32 franchises has made the playoffs during that period; fifteen franchises have made the superbowl. We can say, then, despite having an alltime great running every aspect of the team, and having the good fortune of the greatest quarterback of all time within that structure, they haven’t dominated in the way the Steelers did in the 70s, the 49ers did in the eighties, and the Packers did in the 50s and early 60s, before the cap was introduced.

      And it’s not all about making it ‘fair’ in a communist way. As you would imagine, in the United States, where professional sport has always been about making a profit, there’s a business argument for this system. Basically, it’s this: fans like competition, and if you build a structure that facilitates greater competition, and where any team can beat any other on any given Sunday, and where most teams feel they have a shot at at least the playoffs at the start of the year, more fans will watch your sport than if one team was clearly the best, or the same four teams dominated the top spots every season. So even the rich teams (like Sky or BMC, or the Cowboys, Broncoes and Giants) that ostensibly give up something through revenue sharing or caps, actually get richer because the rising tide of the sport lifts all the boats on it.

      In cycling, you might have X number of World Tour franchises. They each have their own sponsorship, and can run their own houses, but their wage bills would be capped at X level that _all_ the teams could afford. A portion of their money would be pooled and redistributed so that salaries at least would be more even (in the NFL there is a hard cap and a hard floor for this). What this does is it immediately makes the game more competitive. No more Sky trains of automatic dominance. It means that people would look at a Grand Tour and think that perhaps ten riders would have a realistic chance of winning (in a close odds way, rather than two or three having a shot and one of them being prohibitive favourite). Further, riders would be more vulnerable without high cost supporting riders to protect them, so, you might have thought, that they would be more open for attack and bad days. But more than that, it would be hard for a team to dominate over the years, because as non-leaders emerged as potential team leaders or role-players, it would be almost impossible to keep them. It would mean there was a certain churn at the top — a good thing, as supporters of specific teams would always feel like their boys would have a shot at glory. It would also, probably, force teams to rely on improving their organization and training and planning, as that would be a far greater avenue through which to gain an advantage than pure force of money. Eventually, as people realized that the product was a thrilling, competitive sporting product, more people would watch cycling, more money would enter the sport, and all the teams would get better and the riders better paid.

      And since you argue that really money is a small part of Sky’s success, and it’s all about their genius for organization and scouting, you wouldn’t worry, right?

      • Frank (and any interested others):

        If Froome wins this Vuelta Sky will have won 6 out of 24 grand tours since their formation.
        They have won 2 out of 39 monuments raced since their formation.

        On this basis some now describe cycling as a whole as “boring”.

        Exaggeration much? On the basis of actual results there is no basis in fact for their “automatic dominance” or strangulation of the sport. And, yes, I argue that whilst money is not irrelevant “improving their organization and training and planning” is something Sky have ALREADY done that others haven’t. For example, how many more times must I hear about Sky warming up and down on the rollers before and after stages, something many others never did? Now they all do. Brailsford, Ellingworth and others at Sky past and present can also lay lots of gold medals on the table due to their professionalism and attention to detail. They haven’t won by chance.

        But really my response to this is “Be careful what you wish for.” Things have a way of not turning out as planned. You cannot manufacture entertaining races. Riders will always calculate their best means to success and they won’t care how entertained Frack C., Richard S., and several anonymouses out there were by their chosen way to win.

        • Not cycling as a whole, grand tours – as everyone uses the train method. It’s not about Sky or Froome.
          Let’s try changes and hope for more exciting races – see if it works.

        • If we take the Tour de France as the most prestigious event, and the one which teams put most resources, given its massive advantage in terms of international publicity, only four teams have produced winners in the last ten years.

          I know that you cannot enforce exciting racing on teams, and that teams will always find ways of getting around it; however, that doesn’t mean that you can’t create an environment that would lend itself to more variation and excitement, as the NFL has done. Further, other sports change the rules in a more direct way to affect the play _during_ matches/events. One example would be the backpass rule and liberalization of the offside law in favour of the attacking team. This has been a process over the last 15 years, but it means that attacking teams have more of an advantage, the ball is in play more, the offside trap can’t be used to smother play in the way it could in the past, and there is more room in midfield for creators to create because teams defend deeper. This is all good for the games themselves.

          So there you have two examples: one where you structure the sport to create a competitive environment and one where you change the rules of play itself to create a more exciting structure.

          Sitting and sucking your teeth, worrying about nebulous, wantonly vague things that might happen, and falling back on cliché like, “be careful what you wish for” doesn’t constitute an argument against rules changes.

          Ultimately, of course any rule changes would have to be carefully considered an assessed; nobody would be in favor of crap rule changes. But is professional road race cycling in rude health? Could it improve? Could it attract more fans or deal with the complaints of current fans? It’s like you don’t want to try.

          • “One example would be the backpass rule and liberalization of the offside law in favour of the attacking team. This has been a process over the last 15 years, but it means that attacking teams have more of an advantage, the ball is in play more, the offside trap can’t be used to smother play in the way it could in the past, and there is more room in midfield for creators to create because teams defend deeper.”

            And yet for all that, football has ended up a much more tedious spectacle than it was 15 years ago. Go figure.

    • I’ve got no beef with Sky winning as such. I like a lot of their riders – Kwiatkowski and Thomas are amongst my favourites. I’ll admit to a rather large bias against Froome though. For two reasons, well no three. He looks an absolute shambles on a bike, not even you would deny that surely. As a cyclist I find him embarrassing in a way. Secondly he is always looking at his power meter and talking on the radio. Formula 1 drivers always being told what to do over the radio put me off that sport and I find it a similar turn off here. Sport is at its best when its impulsive, even if its not scientifically the most assured way of winning. Thirdly I cant stand his hyper high cadence pedalling style, I always want to shout ‘change f*cking gear’ at the TV screen when he’s going uphill. Nobody finds pedalling like that comfortable, he’s doing it because he’s been told its 0.7% more efficient or something and that annoys me too. Now I’ve got that out the way and established that its just Froome I don’t like and not Sky per se, I think there should be a salary cap in cycling. It should be across a team, if a team wants to spend it all on one rider and then employ 24 amateurs that’s fine. Having the best riders spread out absolutely would make the racing more entertaining. There would be more competition and less chance of one of them being given an easier ride than the rest. That would be a good and improved situation. It wouldn’t remove the ‘Sky train’ situation, just make it less likely and harder to do. Also using this year as an example, what’s to say Landa couldn’t have won the Tour and Poels this Vuelta? Do you want your golden boys reputation sullied by people saying ‘oh he only won because such and such was held back’, like you say about Wiggins? I’m sure you and others will respond by saying its nothing new, and in a way it isn’t. Postal did similar things but it was far less common for Armstrong to be shepherded right to the end of a stage, most of his memorable moments (however sullied they now are) were mano a mano against Ullrich and the likes. I don’t think his ego would have allowed a team mate to come close to upstaging him in the way that Landa was close to doing at the Tour this year. Also, though Quick Step have a similar level of dominance and squad depth in the Classics they use it in a totally different way. They throw them all at it from various distances and whichever one makes it stick wins, also at the moment at least they are against rather than including the best rider(s) in that discipline.

      • Nothing in sport stays the same forever.
        What you have are two dominating personalities – Brailsford and Froome – whose systematic approaches are well matched.
        At some point, when either / both call it a day, Sky will have to change its tactics.

        It was telling that when Brailsford, and Froome to some degree, tied up with the British road team, they carried out the same tactics and it hasn’t been half as successful. Partly this may have been down to numbers of riders but the peloton wised up to them.
        The train is only perfect with the right end man – Froome as it stands.
        If he wasn’t there, what use would it be, other than doing the work for everyone else and giving opponents a free ride?

        • Excellent points. You can bet that Kelderman and Zakarin are enjoying hitching a ride day after day. Yet there is a lack of commenters criticising them for it whereas Froome gets blamed day in, day out.

          • You are obsessed with Froome.
            People on here are complaining about GTs generally – not Froome. Read what they actually say – they are not fixated on Froome.

          • You miss the point a lot on this, perhaps on purpose. Zakarin et al are not benefiting from the Sky train. Froome gets his team mates to ride at a tempo that deters his competitors from attacking him. Riders, Zakarin as an example, can come round if they want but a Sky rider, Moscon say, will chase them down going in to the red whilst Froome stays at his tempo. Moscon will then fall away. Then Nibali can then attack, Nieve will jump out at above threshold and bring him back and sit up and have a rest. Froome stays at tempo behind Poels. Basically the other riders are forced into the red if they want to attack. If Froome was on his own he would have to go into the red to respond. Multiple times if he had multiple rivals, whilst others sit on his wheel. That’s why being in the lead is the hardest place to be. Froome having several team mates to do this for him means he does not have to go into the red, he can save his threshold effort to sprint away at the end. He effectively does not have to defend his lead because other people do it for him. Froome conserving his energy and then sprinting away to win does not benefit Ilnur Zakarin, Wilco Kelderman or anyone else who has come with the intention of winning this race.

            Clearly any sportsman will do what it takes to win, hence doping, hence defensive tactics in football, hence fouls, hence handballs. This does not mean they should be allowed to and the organisers should just let them. A tweak here or there to make it harder for them in the interests of entertainment is fine.

          • Yes they are fixated on Froome. Stop pretending they aren’t anonymous. Any other rider could win this race and no one would mind. If Froome wins we need to change the sport.

            That is the fact.

          • Richard S: this is exactly the point I tried to make the other day: it’s not just that Froome benefits from the pacing and slipstream, it’s that it transforms the whole tactical calculus for all concerned. I still think that Froome is stronger than Nibali, but not as effortlessly so as he appears, and having lots of people attack on various stages would make it super interesting.

        • a) Smaller teams (Olympics) and the more erratic style and longer distances of one day racing (worlds) has generally done for ‘Team GB’. A train works on the flat (Cavendish 2011) or long hills (TDF 2012 to present) not so much over several shorter climbs against several riders (there are several world class puncheurs, none of which are British).
          b) It seemed to work ok for Wiggins, just as well as it has for Froome. Sky can sign another rider capable of holding it together over climbs for 3 weeks and not falling to pieces in a time trial and it will work for them too. Lets face it, those tactics probably would’ve got Landa the Tour and for all we know Poels this Vuelta if Froome wasn’t around.

  12. If I was Nibali I’d attack with my teammates near the Lunada mountain top. That descent is a tricky place to put Froome under pressure. Contador could aldo improvise an operation, Froome will leave him space.

    • So let’s get this straight: you want Nibali to attack over 70kms from the finish? And who do you think would pay most for this effort? Do you think Kelderman and Zakarin are going to go with Nibali, thinking to make their own gains, or sit tight on the Sky train knowing full well that all Nibali will do is kill his own team and ruin his chances? Please note that for all Contador’s attacks he has actually finished worse, day on day, than he probably would have just by staying in the bunch. Nibali and Kelderman and Zakarin want to get a result. Contador has the luxury of not having to care where he finishes.

      Video games have a lot to answer for. Too many fans think real world races should be like them.

      • If I was Nibali, only overall victory would mean anything. Stages and podium included. And descents are where Froome can be distanced or made to lose his cool.

          • Froome crashed on a descent a few days ago.
            Nothing to do with video games, more to do with having real world races in the past.
            Evidently, you want everyone to sit behind Froome and he wins – that’s your sole interest: Froome winning.
            You seem unable to comprehend that others don’t share your view that this is fascinating to watch – and you put that down to them being ‘haters’, not fans of racing.

          • I agree with Ferdi. The descents are where Froome is most likely to make a mess of things however much he has improved this area of his game. He isn’t likely to lose two minutes uphill so you might as well try and make him lose it through a mistake downhill. If Nibali gets to the bottom of the hill 5 yards to the good and with Froome sat on his bike then all he has to do is sit up and get back in again.

          • Anonymous I don’t care what the others do. Let them attack from 100kms for all I care. Will they win by doing that? Contador always seems to end up behind the lead group. Entertainment = you lose.

            And no, I don’t think these people are “fans of racing”. How pretentious. You think Froome is NOT racing? He is racing the smartest of all!

            You just keep enjoying your noble failures who entertain you. I have no problem with it. Just don’t complain if someone else wins, OK?

          • Again. No-one is complaining about who wins.

            Nowhere did I say that Froome was not racing. No-one has said that. No-one has said he’s not racing smart.

            You think the people on here are NOT fans of racing?

            You are blinded to all reasonable debate by your fandom.

            You’re not even debating the points people make.

            No-one is criticising Froome.

            People posting here are looking for rule changes in order to stop the train style dominating GTs.

            You respond by saying that Froome is better and that the attacks of others don’t work. We know that. We can all see that. We’re not saying otherwise.

            People are frustrated by your posts not because they hate Froome, but because all discussion is met with your same response: Froome is best.

          • No, they’re – as you can see from the comments – complaining about HOW someone wins.
            If others choose to read that as being about Froome that’s their fixation.

      • Professional sports is entertainment. This is why we watch it, and that in turn is why sponsors pay. Of course the public loves a winner, but they prefer a bold and charismatic winner over a boring one. In some cases, they even prefer bold and charismatic losers over boring winners. And people love heroes. Having the dirty work done for you by others because you pay them is not very heroic, even if it is quite effective.
        If the sport wants to keep entertaining, it should tailor the rules such that a bold style of racing based on individual merits is less of a disadvantage.

  13. I think the salary cap discussion needs to continue. That combined with teams being able to buy/sell players (ie transfer fees ala EPL) would be interesting. On the flip side, I suppose a company like Sky probably wouldn’t have begun sponsorship unless they were pretty sure they could dominate. And to further contradict myself, I don’t think we’ll see another Froome for at least ten years, so maybe all the problems of team sky domination will be gone in a couple years.

    • Yes. See my post above. Sky are professionals. The aim is winning. If Team Sky had achieved nothing then the parent company would likely have folded the team. As to Froome, he looks dominant now but I’d be amazed if he had more than 12-18 months left at this level. Maintaining your position is the hardest thing of all and time doesn’t stand still. See Contador for comparison. But then Sky have been planning ahead recently with new acquisitions. Whilst they win they will stay around but all sponsors leave eventually anyway.

    • Sky do not dominate professional bike racing. If I remember correctly Quick Step are top of the team standings as they are most years. Sky have dominated the TdF for the past few years but success elsewhere has been elusive. Rigoberto Uran & Chris Froome have managed second places in the Giro & Veulta. Wout Poels won Sky’s first monument last year and Michael Kwiatkowski another earlier this year. Perhaps from a British perspective Sky seem über successful but that is because for most UK media cycling = TdF.

      I would suggest team of the year this year would be Sunweb, a team with a very much smaller budget than Sky. Winning the Giro, Green & mountains jerseys at the TdF, possibly a podium at the Veulta plus a whole load of promising performances from young riders. Seems to me more success than Sky or anyone else.

      • I also dislike the way QS absorbs an unhealthy share of classics talent, and puts a large share of it out of contention (Trentin has been great for years, and he’s almost never had a chance to win a classic). Fortunately, they often jam their tactics (I loved that Stannard Het Volk victory, RonDe), also due to the fact that classics allow less time to think and correct than GTs. I also hated the Mapei classics monopoly back in the day. And I also didn’t like the way La Vie Claire dominated the 1985/86 TdF, and still, at least they had internal battles, which is what should happen at Sky, in true cycling tradition.

        • I agree that rule changes need to be implemented, but I think that legislating for amounts of internal team discord would be overkill.

          They should keep changing the rules, keep the sport evolving. But each team should aim to do what it takes to win given the confines of the laws of that era: it is not the duty of the team to entertain, it is the duty of the authorities to set the rules so that teams are forced to be entertaining as a side effect.

        • Quick Step have a couple of dogs bodies, unfortunately for Trentin he is one of them. But they generally have 2, 3 or 4 leaders that attack at various points. Terpstra winning Roubaix whilst everyone watched Boonen being an example, or the way Lampaert and Gilbert worked together at Dwars Door this year. If the pack had caught Gilbert towards the finish of Flanders then Terpstra could’ve took off for the win. At Sky there is no question of anyone being leader other than Froome. Its not like they fire other riders off and allow them to race. If at the Tour this year they kept firing Landa, Thomas and Kwiatkowski up the road that would’ve been great entertainment.

          • +1 Richard S. But yes and no. If Sky used all his potential leaders to race, it would be different. It would be a “choral” team, which is a classic formation. Gan, Bianchi, Zor, T-Raleigh, Café de Colombia, Kas, were fantastic “choral” teams back in the day. So were, um, PDM, Once, Festina. But Froome would n0t accept to ride in “choral team”, because number ones never would. Real number ones always had weaker teams than “choral” teams, who would be the ones on the attack.
            But still, in the case of QS at the classics, their “chorality” still strikes me as too overwhelming, but thank God they don’t have Sagan or Van Avermaet. Or Valverde for the Ardennes. And, by the way, let me put a bad word for the Banesto/Movistar structure here. It is they, from the Indurain days (when they were Reynolds they were much more fun), who started seriously conceiving a completely controlled GT. They didn’t have enough money, and Indurain was very much left to himself in each of his GT victories, but still they tried. And they have continued trying. What they do to the Ardennes is pretty much what Sky do to GTs. And I don’t like it.
            So it’s not only about budget capping, of course, not even chiefly. I think the clue is seriously limiting the equipment (in many varied possible ways: gearing, radios, cyclo-computers, carbon-made elements…), and, in parallel, to seriously adapt the courses to 21st century equipment, so that the effort remains comparable to the efforts deliverd in, say, 1950 (so, much, much, much, longer, slower, harder races, which might include dramatic increase in the use of non-paved roads).

            Other rule changes would be useful (limiting access to food to feedzones was a crucial rule that meant timing your eating in a strategic way, that typically, ask Guimard, allowed for collective team attacks when the other were busy eating, and had to chose between chasing and getting fed. I never understood why they changed that rule, in what way it was expected to improve racing).

        • Perhaps we should just apportion the wins at the start of the season on an equitable basis Ferdi? After all, in all sports no matter what rules they change, players, riders, whatever, who want to excel always find a way to dominate if they can. After all, that’s the point of sport.

          It almost as if the idea of competitive sport itself is… elitist.

      • That’s cool that you consider Sunweb to be the team of the year, but if you ask the average person on the street, or the average TV viewer, to name a cycling team then I’d guess 9 out of every 10 would say Sky, and Sunweb would probably be way down the list, if they even are mentioned.
        Presumably Sky are happy with the commercial return they are getting for wining the TdF.

        • That is a pretty UK centric argument, the answer to your question will vary country by country. In Belgium QS are most definitely number 1,in Spain Movistar etc. Sky are not purely a UK company but the main focus is there, so Sky will be happy with the exposure from all the TdF wins but happy too in Italy and Germany.

          To reply to an earlier point, the concept that professional sport teams should not strive to be and remain the best is rather näive. In all professional sports money is the key and those with most resources tend to be the most successful. Innovation and “pushing the boundaries” is also vital. Not to say I dont think the current financial situation in cycling is a good or sustainable one, it isnt, but the solution is not to try to artificially recreate some mythical past of swashbuckling cycle races.

          • Of course there will be geographical variation, but I still doubt that the average German would mention Sunweb ahead of Sky. Professional sports teams are about making money as well as winning races. If you don’t make enough money then the team folds, or at the very least you end up with revolving sponsors and your riders don’t know if their contract is worth the paper it is written on.

            You seem very dismissive of Sky’s achievements. Yes, Sunweb have had a great year, winning the Giro and getting some podiums – not forgetting the BinckBanck Tour (!)

            Sky will have won both the Tour and the Vuelta. Paris – Nice, and the Classica San Sebastian this year by way of comparison.

            I guess your view of ‘success’ isn’t limited to actually winning things. Incidentally, just because I am British doesn’t mean that I like Team Sky. As a good lefty I despise Rupert Murdoch and would rather get rid of my TV than give Sky the time of day.

          • The average German would barely know the name of Team Sky, cause he doesn’t care much about cycling. He may know Lotto for Greipel and QS cause of Kittel and Bora cause of Sagan and they advertise a lot in Germany, Grohe cause everybody read that name in his bathroom. Then Trek for Dege and Contador.
            The name Sky though is widely associated with the ones you have to pay too much money for football coverage to, but not for cycling at all.

  14. The places to attack on these types of final climbs are on the flatter sections. It’s possible to create massive gaps on those, and then hold them on the steeper parts. The amount of additional effort to gap an opponent when it’s at 25% is just too much.

    I remember when I was little, listening to Phil Liggett commentate on the Tour, about how the great climbers could dance on the pedals in a low gear and attack away from GC types on the steepest sections. Maybe, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t going up places with 20%+ ramps, the low-cadence preference wasn’t a thing, and riders just weren’t as skinny, back then. These days, I think the thing to do would be, as I say, gain the gap on the shallower incline and hold it on the steeper ones.

  15. I do like reading the comments here and the different opinions , especially RonDe and Ferdi , you guys should do a cycling podcast together that would be fun

  16. Hello INRNG – Given the discussion over recent days, I wonder if you would consider penning a post on the pros and cons of the train approach to racing GTs (historically and currently, sprints and mountain trains given the typical terrain of the 3 GTs), tactics that teams can employ to unpick it and rule changes that would level the playing field for those without the will (or whatever) to compete with it. The kind of spectacle that this might deliver, and whether it would ultimately be any more fulfilling.

    There is clearly a lot of passion being expressed btl in regards to what the ‘best’ shape the future of cycling might have. Additionally JV and O Tinkoff have been vocal and reporters seem to be asking questions of riders.

    I think the debate here could benefit from your opinion – perhaps as a post all three GT review – if you’ve not already covered it somewhere else or don’t see the whole debate as a poisoned chalace. I note in the time I have followed you that you seem (wisely perhaps) to keep to cycling itself.

    • +1

      I’d be interested to read a piece like that to, perhaps including a deconstruction or defence of the idea that Sky win because of better organisation etc. There are many interesting thought experiments to pursue here, for example what if there was another team or more employing the same tactics as Sky would that be a stable or unstable scenario? My guess is the latter, it would quickly unravel as team leaders would then be forced to attack to gain any advantage. Perhaps that is in fact what already happens but it is hard to see because Sky on the front is so visually striking and to many inherently offensive and therefore hard to see past. I anticicpate that the Tour 2018 will see exactly this with Movistar, Sunweb, Orica and AG2R pushing Sky harder than ever. Also is the dominance of one team the inevitable outcome of the existing rules, even if the difference between teams is actually very small? Did it happen a lot in the past too but the internet age didn’t exist to see it and dissect it ad infinitum?

  17. Yes, Contador has a checkered past. Yes, his strategies usually backfire. Yes, he is irrelevant for the GC. But boy, did he had a stage today. He made me a fan!

  18. Glad things got interesting. Nibali looking very good now. I will eat many words if he pulls it off.

    Feels like we saw something real from Froome for the first time in a while, in all the mini-attacks, defensive rides and knowledge of previous years it’s hard to know where Froome really stood?

    Having seen him win on long climbs, short climbs, steep climbs, plus seeing him allow himself to be dropped and reel people back you never quite know these days where he is – today seems to have given us something real.

    1:16 with the Angliru in a few days isn’t much.


  19. Contador!!!! All credit to Denifl, he had a great day and his post-stage interview was beautiful, but it’s also a real shame Bertie didn’t win after such a gutsy ride.

    This is also the first time in the entire race that it looks like we might still get a battle for red. Nibali and Zakarin did what they often do towards the end of a 3-week stage race: grind it out as they lose form less quickly than most others. Today, on the steep slopes, Froome was feeling all his efforts since the start of July. With Saturday’s race over the Cobertoria (8.1km at 8.6%), the Cordal (5.7km at 8.6%) and finish at the Angliru (12.5km at 9.8%), Froome will not be confident at all to win the Vuelta.

  20. Oh man.. It’s gonna be a thriller on the Angliru! They did a good job pacing Froome on the steep slopes today, but as I was thinking about after the TT; the steeps slopes are the only places where the Sky train is not a physical help as there is no slipstream really when you’re almost at walking pace.

    • That stage on Sunday will be the real check for who’s the strongest in this race after three weeks. Those three consecutive very steep climbs with the hardest coming at the end will decide the race and the “robots in black” will be of little help to their leader once the Cobertoria climb starts. Mano a mano! May the best man win.

  21. New territory now for the Vuelta. Contador now driving this race despite SKY’s best efforts at control. I think the rule book just flew out of the window today.

    All this race will be about for the next three days will be what to do about Contador trying to win a stage. He’s a man on a mission.

  22. I wonder how using traditional round chain rings for today’s stage because of the steep final climb has affected Froome’s performance. The non-round rings he typically uses all the time are way non-round. As anyone familiar with non-round rings will tell you it must have felt strange riding on round rings again and especially under full steam. Seems like a strange decision to me, and I would have opted for a 11-36 cassette instead of the 11-32 he used and stayed with his usual non-round 38T.
    Curious to see what he will use on Saturday.

    • Interesting. I’m not an expert at this stuff, but I recall reading that Wiggins/Froome probably miscalculated gearing on the Angliru 2011 too. Would be a strangely basic error to repeat though, if that’s what happened.

      • To be more precise than in my first post on this: He used a 34T round chain ring in front today because there can’t be a 34T non-round chain ring for the Dura Ace cranks he uses because of the bolt circle diameter. So they didn’t miscalculate their gearing for that climb as he was still spinning his cranks most of the time. But he could have stayed with his non-round 38T if he used an even larger cassette (made by Sram) in the rear. 38:36 gives you the same ratio as 34:32. There is even a 11-34T cassette now from Shimano.
        Anyway Saturday’s stage with its even more demanding climb up the Angliru will show if today’s choice will be considered a mistake.

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