Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta Roundtable: Can Quintana hold on?

Can Quintana hold the lead? Is La Vuelta really that great? What can other grand tours learn from this crazy race? Let's roundtable!

It’s official: the La Vuelta a España is already the most exciting and compelling grand tour of the year. After just 11 stages, the Vuelta has already served up plenty of dramatic uphill finishes, cat-and-mouse action between the GC favorites, and a crazy summit finish atop Lagos de Covadonga. The diminutive Colombian Nairo Quintana holds a tenuous lead in the GC, but Chris Froome and his evil power meter look strong heading into the race’s back half.

Can Quintana hold the lead? Is La Vuelta really that great? What can other grand tours learn from this crazy race? Let’s roundtable!

How does Nairo Quintana win (or lose) this Vuelta?

Andy Hood @Eurohoody: He needs to drop Chris Froome like he’s never been dropped before. The 37km time trial along a hilly, windy route on Spain’s southern coast is ideal for Froome. I personally do not think he will take three minutes on Quintana (that would be almost five seconds per kilometer), but I think Froome could take around two minutes, so Quintana needs at least another minute on Froome to have a realistic chance to win. Froome has been flogging away at the Vuelta since 2011, and desperately wants to win. And with Froome’s form on the rise, things could get complicated for Quintana unless he manages to make some serious gains in the Pyrenees.

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Fred Dreier @freddreier: Quintana loses the Vuelta by failing to put a finishing bullet into Chris Froome on these uphill finishes. Quintana has the explosive acceleration, so he can get the gap, but he never pulls away enough time. And on Lagos de Covadonga, he shouldn’t have played around with Contador for so long. It looked like he assumed Froome was toast. On the stage 11 climb, he missed an opportunity to drop Froome at the finish, after Froome put in a serious dig. I think all of these missed opportunities will come back to bite Quintana when Froome puts minutes into him on the stage 19 time trial.

Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: Quintana’s got about four big mountain days to put time into Froome, and I think he can do it, but he’ll need some help from teammate Alejandro Valverde, who’s nearly even with his Sky rival in the overall. If they can isolate Froome on the big uphill finishes, like stage 14 to Col d’Aubisque, and then take turns punching the accelerator (something that’s given Froome fits so far this Vuelta), Quintana might, maybe have a chance.

How does this year’s Vuelta rate against the Giro and Tour in terms of excitement and watchability?

Andy: So far, it’s been wildly more unpredictable than the Tour, against a much deeper field than the Giro. Sometimes there is some ingrained “race weariness” in the Vuelta because it comes so late in the season (and has progressively become more difficult over the past five editions), but the Spanish grand tour delivers a much more dynamic, unpredictable race. The GC field is as deep as the Tour, and we are seeing that great Froome-Quintana matchup that fell flat in July.

Fred: No comparison, the Vuelta is the best. Of course that final week of the Giro had some great fireworks, but day in, day out, this Vuelta is worth watching. I’d love to see Contador or Chaves make a real legitimate push to challenge Froome and Quintana in week three. That would dial up the excitement to another level.

Spencer: It’s definitely more exciting than the Tour, which really just came down to a few dramatic days midway through the race. But the Giro had a lot of action in the final half, with Kruijswijk crashing and Nibali attacking Chaves. Certainly the first half of this Vuelta has been more exciting than the first half of the 2016 Giro, however.

What aspects of this year’s Vuelta would you like to see applied to the other grand tours?

Andy: The Vuelta started the trend toward shorter stages more than a decade ago, and that continues to deliver fruit. Long, seven-hour stages are part of cycling, but they are not very much fun to watch (and likely to race). Shorter stages with explosive climbs serve up unpredictable fireworks and create a much more exciting product for the viewing public.

Fred: As much as I love the uphill finishes, my favorite part of this Vuelta is the absence of a team that is strong enough to control the race. Movistar can control the group until the base of the climbs, and then it’s game on. Sorry, Team Sky’s Tour squad. I respect the hell out of you, but wow, you’re dull as dishwater to watch.

Spencer: I agree with Andy that shorter stages with tough finishes deliver great races. Also, we should have more confusing overall classifications, like the combination jersey — math nerds love it!

Quintana was messing with his bike computer during the Lagos de Covadonga climb. What was he actually doing?

Andy: Hmmm I have no idea!

Fred: Replying to Contador super-fans on Twitter… “Sorry guys, I’m about to drop your boy Bertie like a sack full of hammers!”

Spencer: Pokemon Go. Gotta drop ’em all!