That year, it appeared that Chris Froome was on cruise control, and all but poised to win his first official Vuelta after returning year after year only to fall short. Though he was later awarded victory in the 2011 Vuelta when Juan José Cobo was flagged for biological passport violations, the Vuelta was proving a tough nut to crack for Froome despite reeling off three yellow jerseys in four years.
Flash back to the start of stage 15 in the 2016 Vuelta, Froome started the stage in second place to Nairo Quintana at 54 seconds back. With a 37km individual time trial waiting in stage 19, everyone assumed if Froome could keep Quintana on a relatively short leash on the otherwise routine climbing stage up the Formigal summit, the Vuelta would be his.
Of course, as anyone who watched the stage blow up in Froome’s face remembers, that’s not what transpired.
Under the instigation of attacks in the opening kilometers by the now-retired Alberto Contador, the bunch blew up just after tracing through a technical neutralized start zone and narrow roads in the first 20km. Froome was caught out of position, while Contador, Quintana and some attentive allies linked up to blow up the stage.
Contador, Quintana and a few Movistar teammates, along with a pack of hungry stage-hunters, all piled on. Froome’s fortress cracked and then crumbled unexpectedly late in the season, and though Froome fought with all he could on the final climb, the damage was done on the flats.
When the dust settled less than three hours later, Froome was still in second place on GC. But instead of being within striking distance of Quintana, he was 3:37 back.
As expected, Froome later clawed back 2:16 to Quintana in the Calpe time trial four days later, but thanks to the gains — or losses — at Formigal, Quintana hung on to win the Vuelta by 1:23.
Sunday’s rescheduled sixth stage revisits the same climbs and roads of that famous stage from 2016.
Though the stage start is in nearby Biescas, and the course is 28km longer, once the route hits Sabiñánigo, it’s on the same trajectory as 2016. The stage tackles a third-category and a second-category climb before the long, gentle ride up to the first-category summit at Formigal, a popular ski area in the Spanish Pyrénées.
On paper, it shouldn’t produce that many GC fireworks, unless, of course, you get gapped and caught out by a pack of attacking riders.
Ineos Grenadiers will be sure to have its guard up Sunday. Instead of Froome, however, the team is racing to protect Richard Carapaz. Froome, of course, is trying to produce a comeback of a different kind, and is using this Vuelta for what he hopes will be a springboard back to the top echelon for 2021.
Since that 2016 Vuelta, a new generation of riders has taken hold at the front of the race. Primož Roglič (Jumb0-Visma) carries a slender lead into the stage, and forecasters are calling for a chance of rain and cold temperatures.
And how did the name “Froomigal” come up? It wasn’t hard. Add Froome and Formigal, and perhaps a few glasses of rioja, and there you go.