The Vuelta a España is the youngest of the three and has had an entertaining, sometimes explosive history. With its expansive arid landscape, merciless heat and brutal racing, there is something of the Wild West about the race. So without any further swinging of the lasso, here is the first of Soigneur‘s rest day galleries… and if we stretch the metaphor too far, forgive us, we‘ve been out on the blazing prairie rounding up cattle, and that sun‘s gone to our heads.
In its original late Spring slot, the Vuelta saw riders like Sean Kelly, Freddy Maertens and Eddy Merckx competing for the win, carrying their form through from the Spring Classics. It was an interesting dynamic - the Classics specialists versus the Spanish climbers, but the Vuelta was often accused of being boring. Long hot stages across kilometre after kilometre of featureless dry brush did not make for exciting television. Over time the organisers have shifted the focus towards shorter stages and more climbing. This year‘s race features ten summit finishes. The sprinters and Classics men stay at home and the Vuelta is now the last chance for GC riders and pure climbers to grab some Grand Tour glory before the end of the season.
Stephen Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) both want to purge their memories of the Giro d‘Italia, and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) is still looking for his eighth Grand Tour victory, after his Tour de France campaign went awry on a traffic island near Cherbourg. And there are many others in the peloton who have travelled to Galicia looking to salvage their season.
Never was this more apparent than in the bombastic victory salute of Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) as he won stage six into Luintra. Having sat out the Tour de France at which he was aiming to shine, because of a four month suspension for terbutaline, Yates‘ whole career has been under question, so this maiden Grand Tour win must have been a huge release of emotion for him. Other redemptive stage wins went to 35 year old Sergey Lagutin (Katusha) and Alexandre Geniez (FDJ), whilst Jonas Genechten‘s (IAM Cycling) win on stage 7 will have boosted his chances of finding a new team for 2017.
Amongst the GC favourites, until yesterday, there had been little to split them other than bad luck. Contador and Kruijswijk‘s crash woes have continued, Quintana has looked stronger than in July, and Chris Froome (Team Sky) has been playing a cagey game. Then came the fabled slopes to Lagos de Covadonga. Quintana unleashed his full force, Contador all but fell out of contention and a battle royale is shaping up between Movistar and Team Sky.
This last chance saloon is still serving drinks, but as the second week starts there are only two gunslingers still standing. Alberto Contador, El Pistolero himself, is wounded, will he find the strength to return?