Pro Cycling: Vuelta A Espana (Tour of Spain) 2014

The third and final of Cyling’s Grand Tours got under way yesterday (23rd August) in Jerez, the home of sherry. The race started with controversy as Lampre withdrew last year’s winner, Chris Horner, from the race due to low cortisol levels, caused, according to the tram, ny cortisone injections following the serious injury he suffered in the early season. This raised a few eyebrows as the UCI does not measure riders’ cortisol levels and cortisone unhectuons are allowed as they are in most sports. Lampre, however, are members of the Moment for Credible Cycling, a small group of teams who have stricter guidelines than the UCI.

The favourite for the race is the young Colombian rider, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who won the Giro D’Italia earlier this year and finished second in the 2013 Tour de France. He will have to share the team lead with Alejandro Valverde though, due to team seniority reasons. Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Andrew Talansky Gamin Sharp) all return after crashing out of the TdF, but their fitness is in question, Froome and Contador both played down their chances in pre-race interviews. Old favourites like Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Ryder Hasjedal (Gamin Sharp) and Sammy Sanchez and Cadell Evans ( both BMC) are also present for the race, but mist be outsiders at best. Omega Pharma-QuickStep also have Rigoberto Uran up their sleeve, but Tom Boonen gets the lead for the team.

The ponts competition looks like being hotly contested too with Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Fabian Cancellara (Trek), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano), Nacer Bouhamu (FDJ) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) all present.

Wid card team MTN-Ohubeka will make history as the first African team to compete in a Grand Tour. IAM Cycling, a promising new Swiss team, also get a wild card and will be hoping for stage wins.

It looks like being a good one.

Yessss! I think my work schedule will allow me to watch at least some of the mountain stages. The 2013 Vuelta was very, very good; here’s hoping this year will match it.

As an American, it is a bummer to see Horner withdrawn. It’s a weird situation since he got a therapeutic use exemption from the ICU and clearly has had bronchitis for a while now so there was a reason for the treatment and all. As a casual fan, I can’t decide if the MCC stuff is a benefit or an extra layer of unevenly applied (not all the teams have signed on) pseudo rules that just muddle the waters worse.

You’re not alone, a number of commentators have made the same point.

The first stage was a short, technical team time trial through the streets of Jerez. Cannondale set the time to beat and a lot of teams preferred caution to risking accidents by chasing. Movistar, however, seemed inspired by their home crpwd to throw caution to the wind and put in a storming performance to take the win.

Stage 2 from Algeciras to San Fernando was the closest thing the Vuelta has to a flat sprinters’ stage with only one category 3 climb. As expected it ended in a bunch sprint won emphatically by Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) ahead of John Degenkolb (Giant), who appeared to be hampered in the bunch, with Roberto Ferrari (Lampre) taking third place. Bouhanni is an aggressive young French sprinter of Algerian descent and is probably the fastest flat out sprinter in the race and already has the points jersey from this year’s Giro to his credit. The complicated count back system gave the GC lead to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), but was so complicated that Valverde didn’t realise and had to be fetched frpm the team bus to collect the red leader’s jersey.

Stage 3 from Cádiz to Arcos de la Frontera was a much hillier stage that pundits thought would suit Michael Matthews (Orica) or Phillipe Gilbert (BMC), but Gilbert still doesn’t appear to have recovered the form which saw him win the 2012 World Championship and the final sprint saw Matthews overtake Dan Martin (Gamin Sharp) on the line. Martin beat his handlebars in frustration, but it was good to seethe young Irishman back on the podium after his bad crash on the the first day of the Giro. A surprise third plac e went to Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), not normally known for his sprinitng prowess, but it showed how much the hills and the fast pace of the peloton had taken out of the other sprinters. Sagan and Cancellara in particular looked to be struggling. A brave breakaway ride by Luis Mas Bonet of the wild card Caja Rural team saw him scoop up all the mountain points to secure the polka dot jersey before being caught by the pack. The bonus seconds scored by Matthews gave him the leader’s jersey by 4 seconds.

Oh man that crosswind battle on Saturday was great. I luuurves me some crosswind action.

There was some good racing, but no major surprises in the eight ays leadong up to the first rest day on Monday. The only real surprise was Lampre’s Winner Ancona putting in a heroic breakaway performance on Sunday to put himself into contention and make himself Lampre’s main GC contender in the absence of Horner. The first week took pace in an Andalusian heatwave with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius and produce the usual Twitter complaining from riders not suited to the heat… The big losers were Haesjedal and Talansky, who found themselves on the wrong side of a split in the peloton and dropped out of contention. Contador looks to be in much better condition than expected, but Froome looks to be off his best.

To no-one’s surprise, yesterday’s time-trial was won by Tony Martin. Fabian Cancellara finished second, but was penalised for drafting and demoted to third place behind Rigoberto Uran, who is becoming a very good time-trialer The best of the GC contenders was Contador, who put on a very good performance to finish fourth and put himself in the red leader’s jersey. The big upset, though was race leader, Nairo Quintana crashing after hitting a crash barrier. He wasn’t hurt badly, but the time he lost dropped him to eleventh place in the GC. Froome had a very bad time-trial, by his standards and fell further behind.

GC top ten after stage 10:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 36:45:49
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:27
3 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team 0:00:59
4 Winner Anacona Gomez (Col) Lampre-Merida 0:01:12
5 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 0:01:18
6 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha 0:01:37
7 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC Racing Team 0:01:41
8 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:02:27
9 Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:02:38
10 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale

Breaking news - Quintana has abandoned the race after crashing in today’s stage.

Of course, the interesting stages are on days where I’m working late. sigh

Wheeey! That final climb Saturday was something else. And Froome just let everyone know he’s not out of this race yet.

Great, great stage. Absolutely classic mountain stage with only the very, very best left to fight for the stage win and GC time. Froome tried and tried and tried, but Contador kept his cool all the way up the final climb before slipping away for the stage win. The guy with the broken leg beat the guy with the broken hand. Contador is well ahead in the GC and tomorrows final stage is a very short time trial. Unless he crashes his Vuelta victory is in the bag.

I don’t want to start anything or derail the thread, but I’m genuinely curious about this.

In a sport that’s basically just about muscle endurance, in which literally all the top contenders have been caught cheating in recent years, what’s the appeal?

I ask both as a biker (for transportation, not sport) and as a player of a sport that used to be fake (roller derby) but isn’t anymore.

What’s the appeal of NBL? NFL? Biathlon? Track and field? Muscle endurance is a ginormous part of cycling, but there’s quite a bit more to it than that.

If we were talking about BMX competitions or something, I’d agree. But I’ve been biking for so long that it’s pretty indistinguishable from distance running for me. (Actually, it’s easier for me, because I have terrible running form.)

If the top marathon runners were exposed en masse as frauds, I’d be asking the same question.

The other sports you mentioned involve a significant amount of skill or strategy. Cycling is just endurance & enough sense to pace yourself.

On the off chance that you’re not just trolling:

A: Doping is a problem in many sports. And cycling being very much an endurance sports has had it’s fair share of doping, to put it mildly. It’s still a big issue. There are signs of improvement, but it’s all baby steps. The greatest problem (though that’s definitely not limited to cycling) is the code of silence: If you get caught you keep you mouth shut and take your two year suspension, then return to ride or get a job with a pro team (like sports director). If you start revealing names of riders, staff and doctors who were in on it you instantly become a pariah. But, again, these issues are not particular to cycling. And this is excluding the apparent matchfixing rampage in all kinds of sport.

B: Just endurance? Maybe for individual time trials, if the course is flat and without difficult corners. Again, endurance is and always has been a very big part of cycling. But there’s also plenty of team work and tactics. Riding alone is very, very different from riding in a peloton with 200 other people.

That’s a good point. I guess the answer to the rampant doping is just “other sports do, too, so we don’t care” then?

More like: “If you don’t want to watch cycling because of rampant doping then that’s a perfectly valid reason. Snubbing cycling and then watching a host of other popular sports with a hefty doping problem not so much”.

That’s fair. For what it’s worth, I think similar things about baseball home run records. And I don’t watch many sports, besides.