Seldom have I seen a Grand Tour like this one. Normally I watch the Tour de France on a daily basis and the days conform to what you would expect, either a GC day in the mountains, or a massed sprint on the flat stages.
So this year I decide to watch the Veulta a Espana and I’m thrilled from start to finish. The race gets underway with a short team time trial with BMC winning and Chris Froome’s team of Sky in third place.
With a very high number of mountain top finishes and some other very lumpy stages its easy to see why most teams have left their sprinters at home.
Chris takes the lead on Stage 3 by a mere 2′ but takes every opportunity to grab time, even taking bonus seconds on an intermediate sprint!! By Stage 7 he has increased his lead to 11′ and then has an impressive win on Stage 9 surging out to 36′ on a very nasty uphill finish.
First Stage win
At the end of Stage 11 Chris has a commanding lead of 1.13′ over Nibali but of course now the commentary team of Paul Sherwin and Bob Roll are advocating that he should give away the jersey and save his team from doing all the daily hard work of grinding down the opposition.
However, Sky has the team to crush the opposition and by setting the tempo they can wear other teams down who then can’t support their stars on breakaway attempts. With a Grand Tour of this type with climbers going to win the overall every second counts and the smallest error in any department from hydration, feeding, to going into the red zone, or a mechanical, or even a crash can wipe out all the hard work in one fell swoop.
Stage 12 sees that scenario come to life as Overall Leader Chris crashes on a simple left downhill turn for no apparent reason. The levers get damaged on this crash and he take a spare bike………..
Simple crash but bents the levers
Within a very short distance on the next right hander the front wheel slips away and he is on the ground again! He wasn’t really up to speed when this happened and apart from the mental feelings he was able to dig deep, and with the aid of two team members made it to the finish only losing 20′.
How did this happen?
With his lead down to 53′ the numbers flip flop on the next 3 stages and as he enters the individual time trial his lead has crept up to 1.01′. Time trialing is one of his strengths and he wins Stage 16 with his overall lead up to 1.58′
Second Stage Win
Stages 17 and 20 are the two toughest climbs for everybody and as they start up the tortuous climbs of Stage 17 it appears Chris has put too much out there on the Time Trial. He loses most of his gains to Nibali and finishes with only a 1.16′ advantage. This is really “edge of the seat” stuff and on paper it all comes down to the fearsome Angliru on Stage 20.
Alberto Contador is on his last professional ride of his career and has spent the last week breaking away whenever he could and clearly wants a win on this tour.
Stage 18 looks like the GC riders should all finish together and save themselves for the “big one” of Stage 20. Like the rest of this race more surprises and Chris gains another 21′ on this stage which he maintains on Stage 19.
Special gearing for this big monster and once again Contador hits the break and very few can stay with him and he is clearly a man on a mission. Chris and a team mate set off and as they approach the top they are not that far behind as Chris further extends his overall lead to 2.15′ and I must confess I’m somewhat relieved after 3 weeks of nail biting stuff.
Contador wins this epic stage and his career on a high note. I do think that perhaps Chris let him have this one as a fitting tribute.
A great way to finish a career
All that remains is the usual run into Madrid and several laps of the city. At this stage Chris is the leader of 3 of the 4 jerseys and as we get into the intermediate sprint Chris is right up there with the leading sprinters. Some say this was foolhardy as a serious crash at this stage could have ruined all the hard work. The number 2 rider in the Green Jersey competition, Trentin, wins the intermediate but now has to win the stage and have Chris finish worse than 13th. Chris as a GC man never really has a chance at a Green jersey and its pretty clear he WANTS IT!
Trentin wins the stage but Chris finishes 11th and takes the Green. What a race! ….. perhaps the best I’ve ever seen.