Words by Mikkel Condé
Photos by Sirotti
Alberto Contador surprised many just by taking part in this year’s Vuelta a España. His own proclaimed objective was to take a stage win in the last week, nothing else. He was definitely not targeting the general classification. However, after two weeks of racing, there are doubts about who the strongest rider in the race is. Despite fracturing his tibia during the Tour de France, Contador, obviously, has been able to train more than he let to believe. He took the red leader’s jersey after the time trial on stage 10 and much will have to go wrong if he’s not to wear it in Santiago de Compostela on Sunday. One of the reasons why Alberto Contador has been able to keep his lead relatively easy is Movistar’s and Katusha’s lack of control. No less than six times has Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez missed out on a stage win. On stage 3, he hesitated. On stage 6, he attacked too early. On stage 7 and 9, Katusha failed to catch the break. On stage 11, Purito hesitated once again, focusing too much on the other GC riders. On stage 12, Katusha decided to go for Dani Moreno (on his birthday) instead of Purito and missed out on valuable bonus seconds. On La Camperona, a climb tailor-made for Purito, once again, Katusha failed to catch the break. The same thing happen on Lagos de Covadonga the next day. Finally, on stage 16, Katusha took control from the beginning of the stage. However, this late in the race, Chris Froome had come into shape, and distanced Purito on the final climb. Therefore, with only five stages to go, it seems like Purito won’t even make the overall podium. The lack of control in the peloton has also meant that the stage wins in the mountains have been relatively cheap in this year’s Vuelta a España. Not to take anything away from the winners but we must say the peloton hasn’t done much in order to catch them. Alberto Contador knows he can’t follow explosive riders like Valverde and Purito in a sprint. Therefore, Contador was happy to let the breakaways take the bonus seconds out of the equation day after day. This tactic was only to be expected. The unexpected part was that Movistar (Valverde) and Kastusha (Purito) didn’t go for these easy seconds on the line. Katusha is still without a win in this race. Surely, they can’t be satisfied.
Another headline of the second week of this Vuelta has been Chris Froome and his way or riding. When at his best, we are used to see Froome at the front of the peloton dictating the pace. This time, he has been at the very back, only focusing on his power outputs. He hasn’t tried to follow the powerful accelerations from Contador, Purito and Valverde. Instead, Froome has kept his own pace, never going over his limit. Obviously, he knows exactly how many watts he can push on the climbs without breaking. The Spanish trio in front of Chris Froome, in the general classification, hasn’t been able to work together well enough to distance him when he was struggling at the back. Something either Valverde or Purito will end up regretting dearly. On stage 16, for the first time in the Vuelta, Froome took control of the race and put in a strong attack on the final climb. With only Alberto Contador able to follow him, Froome rode himself right back onto the podium. Before the last five stages, only three seconds separates him (3rd) and Alejandro Valverde (2nd). We can expect a great battle in the last week. Naturally, Purito won’t give up the overall podium without a fight. Despite taking part in all three Grand Tours this season, this is the only one he has a chance of getting a good result out of. He’s only 50 seconds off the podium and, as we have seen so far, all the top GC riders are capable of beating each other on a good day. Stage 18 and stage 20 are the two last uphill finishes in the race. This Vuelta has already been very tough and the final part in Galicía is much harder than it looks. Everybody can have a bad day. It will be very interesting to see who takes the three spots on the podium next Sunday.