The Vuelta a España is over, so we cycling fans can finally switch off our televisions, close our web browsers, and get on with our lives. I don’t know about you, but I already miss this year’s edition, which was the most entertaining grand tour of the year.
What will we remember from this year’s race? Was the course too hard? And what did Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome learn about each other? Let’s roundtable!
What was the most memorable moment from this year’s Vuelta?
Andy Hood @Eurohoody: The shootout at Formigal — only the Vuelta delivers the right mix of weary legs, mixed teams, searing temperatures, explosive stages and unbridled ambitions to create the magical moments like we saw in stage 15. The Tour is too controlled, and the Giro is too intense. Pure Vuelta.
Caley Fretz @caleyfretz: It has to be stage 15 to Formigal. The drama of that stage has only been rivaled by a few grand tour stages in recent history. The 20th stage of the 2015 Vuelta, when Tom Dumoulin lost red, and Fabio Aru’s daring move on stage 20 of the 2015 Giro come to mind. Stage 15 of this Veulta enters the stage race Hall of Fame.
Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: Pierre Latour winning stage 20 ahead of Darwin Atapuma. Not sure I’ve ever seen someone battle so hard, look totally cooked but somehow win on a brutal summit finish.
Fred Dreier @freddreier: Two come to mind. The Formigal illustrates why the Vuelta is the most exciting grand tour. Cycling can feel formulaic and controlled in the modern era, so it’s great to see major riders take huge chances in a grand tour. My second memorable moment will be all of the the steep, terrible final climbs, such as the Alto Mas de la Costa on stage 17. Those climbs made every stage worth watching.
What lesson does Nairo Quintana/Movistar take away from the victory?
Andy: That they need to be creative to knock Froome out of his comfort zone. If Quintana waits until the final climbs, he will never drop Froome to gain enough time in the mountains to compensate for the time trial losses. To win the Tour, Movistar needs to race a la Contador, not this wait-and-pray tactic they’ve deployed of late each July.
Caley: Froome’s real strength lies in his team. He must be isolated to be beaten. Easier said than done when he brings his A team in July, of course. They need to get creative. Even this Vuelta, it was Contador’s daring that set up Quintana’s win. Without Contador in the race, would Quintana have won? I’m not so sure.
Spencer: Creativity pays off. That said, there aren’t many chances like stage 15 in the Tour de France, and if Sky has the A team, sneaky tricks aren’t guaranteed to work.
Fred: In order to beat Sky, you need to wear them down over the course of two weeks, and then take chances. If you tried a move like that too early in a grand tour, Sky could shut it down. The fact that Quintana and Contador made their move after 14 days of racing meant Sky simply did not have the firepower.
What lesson does Chris Froome/Sky take away from the loss?
Andy: That Froome can win two grand tours in one season. The gaff on the road to Formigal cost Froome the Vuelta, even Quintana admits that. Despite not winning, Froome comes out of this Vuelta with his confidence even higher. And if he returns to the Vuelta with a stronger team (or the Giro), he can truly aspire to win the Tour and another grand tour in the same season.
Caley: A singular focus on the final kilometers of hard stages can create vulnerabilities early on.
Spencer: Teamwork makes the dream work. Froome is damn good, but he needs support to win grand tours.
Fred: The grand tour double is within reach for Froome, but Sky need two separate A teams to make it work. If Froome’s Vuelta squad was even 80% of his Tour squad, he’d probably be in red.
Was this Vuelta too difficult?
Andy: Some of the stages were unnecessarily too long. Keeping the Vuelta hard over shorter distances is better for everyone. It is OK to throw in the occasional 220km stage, but the 120km stages are much better. Venga!
Caley: Nope. But I didn’t have to ride it.
Spencer: I don’t think so. We saw a variety of winners, many first time winners, and a true battle for the overall.
Fred: Both the Tour and the Giro beat the riders up with days worth of multi-col stages, so this Vuelta seemed pretty tame. Yes, there were punchy, terrible climbs near the finish of most stages. Honestly, I’d rather watch a short climb with a few steep climbs, than some slog over 4 Cat 1 climbs that finishes up an HC.