2019 Vuelta a España: Winners & Losers

2019 Vuelta a España: Winners & Losers

In 2012, Primož Roglič made the decision to switch from ski jumping to road cycling. In 2016 he signed for LottoNL–Jumbo, who are now Team Jumbo–Visma. With 3 Grand Tours to his name, including 4ᵗʰ place on GC at the 2018 Tour de France, he wore the Maglia Rosa for 6 stages of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, but finished 3ʳᵈ with a lack of support at key moments from his team. The 2019 Vuelta a España saw him win his first ever Grand Tour, taking the red jersey in the Stage 10 Time Trial and holding it to the finish in Madrid.

While Roglič is obviously one of the big winners from from the race (both literally and figuratively), he is far from the only one who can come away and consider themselves a winner at this year’s Vuelta. Today, I will be looking at some of the others who should be feeling very happy looking back at the race, along with a few who may have been left feeling otherwise.

The Winners

Team Jumbo–Visma: Maybe I am being critical, but I felt that Roglič was really let down by his team at the Giro. Losing Steven Kruijswijk and Tony Martin during the race could have proved costly but Roglič’s quality, a great team effort and no small amount of luck meant that they were able to keep their man top of the General Classification. Roglič has confirmed himself as one of the top GC riders in the peloton going forward, and with Tom Dumoulin joining from Sunweb and Kruijswijk (who had finished in the top 5 on GC in his previous 3 Grand Tours) still on the books, this is a team looking for more Grand Tour victories. Throw in a road captain of Tony Martin’s quality and a montain domestique as strong as Sepp Kuss (who was allowed to get in the break and win Stage 15) and this team is building into a legitimate contender against Team Ineos.

cycling roglic pogacarTadej Pogačar: At just 20 years old at the time of the race and riding in his first Grand Tour, the Slovenian was the great find of the 2019 Vuelta. Able to hold his own among his more experienced riders, he did such a great job about making his attacks stick and finished with 3 stage victories, a place on the GC podium and victory in the Young Rider classification. He proved himself one of the better GC riders in the Individual Time Trial on Stage 10, finishing 1’29” behind his compatriot Primož Roglič despite requiring a bike change during the stage. It’s early days, but it looks like this kid is a future champion.

Marc Soler: He may have been the third Movistar rider on GC, but I would argue that he had a better Grand Tour than Nairo Quintana. He looked good value for the stage win on Stage 9 before being called back to help the Colombian and finished with a better time on the Stage 10 Time Trial than all GC contenders other than Roglič. With Alejandro Valverde nearing 40 years old and Mikel Landa, Richard Carapaz & Nairo Quintana all leaving Movistar, there is every chance that he could be the team leader next season.

Brit Boys: Tao Geoghegan Hart was given a chance to be co-leader for Team Ineos but quickly found himself completely and utterly out of GC contention. The first half of the race left me feeling that he was going to end up on the list of losers, but he came alive and showed his quality with some great riding in the breaks during the mountain stages of the last week. Ineos have enough other options to lead the team, but don’t be surprised to see Geoghegan Hart to become a key mountain domestique. James Knox also looked comfortably at home in the well-oiled Deceuninck–Quick-Step machine. Riding well to keep his teammates in with a shout of competing on sprint stages, he looked good in the mountains when many others began to drop away. He reached the heights of 8ᵗʰ place on GC, before injuries picked up in the Stage 19 crash hampered him and saw him finish just outside the top 10.

cycling sam bennett winSprint Stars: The 2019 Vuelta was very much about the GC riders and the breakaways, but there were still some stages where the sprinters were able to show their quality. Sam Bennett of Bora–Hansgrohe and Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Fabio Jakobsen were the pick of the bunch with 2 stage victories apiece, while it was only good teamwork from Jakobsen’s teammates that saw Bennett miss out on Stage 17 as he was forced to jump too early to pull back Zdeněk Štybar, allowing Philippe Gilbert to take the stage victory. With Elia Viviani leaving for Cofidis, it looks like Jakobsen is in prime position to be the team’s main sprinter, while Bennett is surely going to have teams interested when he is next available.

The Losers

Fernando Gaviria: I’ve been a fan of Gaviria since his Deceuninck–Quick-Step days but he was anonymous in this race. The Colombian finished 3ʳᵈ on Stage 4 and never again made it into the top 10 on a stage, to the point that I was shocked to realise he was still in the race on the final stage. It looks like he has some serious work to do on his climbing to keep competitive in a 3-week race.

Fabio Aru: The Italian won the Vuelta back in 2015 and at 29 years old should be coming into his prime, but has only finished in the top 5 on GC in 1 of his 7 Grand Tours since then. He didn’t finish this race, but even before he abandoned he was being thoroughly overshadowed by his teammate Tadej Pogačar.

cycling movistar astana crosswindMovistar: With Nairo Quintana, Richard Carapaz & Mikel Landa about to leave and Alejandro Valverde nearing 40, it looks like Movistar’s competitiveness could be coming to an end. With the chance of a GC victory given Valverde’s form, it really felt like the team shot themselves in the foot with their tactics. I was critical of Quintana following the Tour de France and the same applies here, yet the team still sacrifice resources towards him rather than focusing on Valverde. Marc Soler looked set to win Stage 9 at his (and the team’s) home Grand Tour, yet they sacrificed him to try getting the stage win for Quintana, who could barely keep with him. With Quintana the only one of the GC contenders to get in the right side of the split during Stage 17’s crosswinds, the chance was there for Quinatana to possibly take the GC, but instead of sitting on in the 2ⁿᵈ group, Valverde and the teammates with him upped the pace of the group containing all the other GC contenders. Perhaps it was an attempt to dispose of their domestiques (it worked for Jumbo–Visma, but not Astana) but enough stayed in the group to stop the gap from getting too large and Roglič kept the red jersey, while Quintana gave up all the time he made up over the next few stages.

The Debrief: 2019 Vuelta a España

The Debrief: 2019 Vuelta a España

The 2019 Grand Tour cycling season came to an end recently with the Vuelta a España. 3290.7 km travelled over 21 stages ended in a new winner. Back in 2011, Primož Roglič switched to road cycling from ski jumping. Signed to LottoNL–Jumbo (now Jumbo–Visma), this was the Slovenian’s 5ᵗʰ Grand Tour, having won stages at the Tour de France (2017 & 2018) and Giro d’Italia (2016 & 2019). He looked good value for victory at the 2019 Giro, but fell away in the last week with limited support from his team, but rode a strong race over the past few weeks to become the latest Grand Tour Champion.


cycling roglic podium

General Classification (GC – Red Jersey):

  1. Primož Roglič (SLO) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 83 hours, 7 minutes, 14 seconds
  2. Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar Team + 2 minute, 33 seconds
  3. Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates + 2 minute, 55 seconds

Points Classification (Green Jersey)

  1. Primož Roglič (SLO) – Team Jumbo–Visma – 155 points
  2. Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates – 136 points
  3. Sam Bennett (IRL) – Bora–Hansgrohe – 134 points

Mountains Classification (KOM – Polka Dot Jersey)

  1. Geoffrey Bouchard (FRA) – AG2R La Mondiale – 76 points
  2. Ángel Madrazo (ESP) – Burgos BH – 44 points
  3. Sergio Samitier (ESP) – Euskadi–Murias – 42 points

Young Rider Classification (White Jersey)

  1. Tadej Pogačar (SLO) – UAE Team Emirates – 83 hours, 10 minutes, 9 seconds
  2. Miguel Ángel López – Astana + 1 minute, 53 seconds
  3. James Knox (GBR) – Deceuninck–Quick-Step + 20 minutes

Team Classification

  1. Movistar Team – 248 hours, 26 minutes, 24 seconds
  2. Astana + 51 minutes, 38 seconds
  3. Team Jumbo–Visma + 2 hours, 3 minutes, 42 seconds

Moments of note

cycling Jumbo Visma waterStage 1: The race started with a Team Time Trial. Favourites for the stage Jumbo–Visma were looking good value for the victory until crossing a patch of wet road caused by an inflatable paddling pool that had burst. Time Trial bikes are built for speed rather than control in poor conditions and the water led to pretty much the entire team going down at the next corner. Astana went on to win the stage, beating Deceuninck–Quick-Step (who had to avoid the remains of the Jumbo–Visma crash) by just 2 seconds. Thankfully, while it impeded the start of Roglič’s race, there were no significant injuries to hamper them in the coming stages. UAE Team Emirates also wiped out due to the water on the road and I feel that the injuries Fernando Gaviria suffered caused him issues in the following stages and led to him struggling to impact the race.

Stage 5: Stage 5 saw 3 men take the breakway to the finish line in the form of Burgos BH’s Ángel Madrazo & Jetse Bol and Cofidis’ José Herrada. Having already been almost knocked off his bike by his own team car earlier in the stage, Madrazo fell away on the final climb but came out of nowhere in the final kilometre to catch up and pass the other 2, winning the stage by 10 seconds, Bol taking second for a Burgos BH 1-2.

Stage 9: Marc Soler was looking good value for the stage win but was called back by the Movistar bosses to help Nairo Quintana go for the win. Pogačar followed Quintana as they went away from the rest of their GC rivals, but pushed on as the pair reached Soler. Quintana was unable to keep pace even with Soler’s help and was forced to settle for 2ⁿᵈ on the stage (though he still took the red jersey) as Pogačar took the win by 23 seconds.

cycling roglic ittStage 10: The Individual Time Trial was always looking like the stage that would give Primož Roglič the red jersey and that proved the case as the Slovenian beat CCC’s Patrick Bevin’s time by 25 seconds. Pogačar was hampered by a bike change partway through but still managed the next best time of the main GC competitors, finishing 1’29” behind his compatriot. Valverde kept himself in the fight by finishing 1’38” behind Roglič, but López and Quintana struggled (as usual in the discipline), finishing 2’00” and 3’06” behind Roglič respectively.

Stage 13: Nairo Quintana tried to earn time back on GC but was pulled back by his rivals 4km out from the end. Pogačar used the moment of catching Quintana to attack the group and Roglič was the only one to go with him. The Slovenians rode away together and Pogačar as allowed to take a 2nd stage victory, the pair finishing 27 seconds ahead of their rivals, while López lost a further 34 seconds, leading to Pogačar rising to 3ʳᵈ on GC.

cycling movistar astana crosswindStage 17: Primož Roglič’s race almost fell apart as crosswinds saw the peloton split in 2 almost immediately, with Nairo Quintana in the lead group with a few teammates and all bar one of the Deceuninck–Quick-Step team, while the rest of his GC rivals were in the second group. Luckily for Roglič, his time at the top was saved as Valverde and his teammates in the 2ⁿᵈ group pushed on (potentially an attack to drop all their rivals’ domestiques), stopping the lead group from opening up an unassailable lead. Astana then pulled the group home in the final kilometres, seeing Quintana’s group cross just over 5 minutes ahead of the pack, keeping Roglič in red. At the front of the race, Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s great Vuelta continued as Zdeněk Štybar attacked 2km out from the end, forcing Bora–Hansgrohe’s Sam Bennett to jump too early and resulting in Philippe Gilbert taking the stage victory.

Stage 19: James Knox’s crash that brought down half the peloton including the entire Jumbo–Visma team and bringing and end to road captain Tony Martin’s race. Whether you believe this was a planned move as Movistar said or not, Movistar picked this moment to attack and up the pace, leading to Roglič having to ride hard on his own to catch up to the Astana train attempting to get López back onto the lead group. The unwritten rule is that you don’t attack the lead jersey when they are stuck in a crash or taking a toilet break, and there were certainly a number of riders unhappy with Movistar pushing on. Eventually though, they sat up and the group came back together. Personally, while I agree that it is harsh to attack while the leader answers the call of nature, a crash is generally a racing incident, so it will be interesting to see if there is any change in protocol in future seasons. Interestingly, commissaires allowed the riders hampered by the crash to draft the team cars to get back onto the lead group, despite this being against the rules. I don’t understand why this was allowed following a racing incident and wonder if it was a reaction by them to Movistar’s attack.

Stage 20: In the last stage of racing for the General Classification, Tadej Pogačar attacks his rivals approximately 39km out. Knowing 2ⁿᵈ place on GC is at risk, Valverde is forced to put in an attack of his own, followed by Roglič and Rafał Majka. Pogačar won the stage by 1’32” (his third stage victory in the race) to propel himself back up to a podium place on GC and win the white jersey, while Valverde’s attack meant that he managed to hold onto 2ⁿᵈ by 22 seconds.

Stage 21: The final stage was a procession for GC ending with a final sprint in Madrid. Along with the classic celebratory drinks and photos during the ride, the major highlight from the first phase of the stage was Burgos-BH’s Jésus Ezquerra proposing to his girlfriend, who was riding in the team car. With the cameras on her braodcasting to the world, thankfully she said yes! In the final dash for the line, Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Max Richeze barged an opponent out of the way to make room for sprinter Fabio Jakobsen to just hold off Sam Bennett and take the final stage victory. While Richeze was relegated to the back of the field, he was there purely as a domestique for Jakobsen, who was put in a better position to win by his actions. I can’t help but feel that incidents like this require a punishment towards the team rather than the individual as the teams are built to sacrifice themselves for just 1 or 2 members of the team.

Bad Week for Cycling

Chris Froome: 4-time Tour de France winner, 2017 Vuelta a España winner, 2-time Olympic Time Trial bronze medallist, Sports Journalists’ Association Sportsman of the Year 2017… drugs cheat?

This been another bad week for cycling as news has come out that Froome returned an adverse drug test following Stage 18 of this year’s Vuelta, as his urine was found to contain anti-asthma drug salbutamol in concentrations of 2000 nanograms per millilitre – twice the amount the UCI allow without a therapeutic use exemption (TUE).

Cycling has a bad history of doping with big names like Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong having been stripped of Grand Tour victories following doping offences, and the sport has been working hard to improve its image to the general public. Froome’s dominance has caused many people to accuse him of cheating in the past – a view not helped considering the investigations into Team Sky and the ‘mysterious package’ that Bradley Wiggins received during the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine – and though I personally don’t think he has deliberately or knowingly done wrong, it does not look good.

Has the drug helped him? Froome regularly takes salbutamol as he suffers from asthma, like many athletes. Studies have found minimal performance benefits to using salbutamol, other than combatting the effects of asthma, and as it is a drug that clearly shows on tests – and being the race leader, Froome knows that he will be tested – it would seem a poor attempt at illegally doping.

15326609365_314eea7e61_o
Will we be seeing Chris Froome (right) at the Giro following the latest news? – Picture from Flickr – @ruby_roubaix

Has he done something wrong? Studies have suggested that dehydration can dramatically affect the concentration of salbutamol in urine, so this could always be having an impact on the result. However from what I have read it is only Stage 18 where the readings have seemed off as opposed to throughout the Vuelta, the studies also don’t usually result in the concentration doubling through dehydration. It is now up to Chris Froome and Team Sky to prove there is a legitimate reason for the adverse reading. That won’t be easy to do!

If Froome is found guilty, chances are he will be stripped of his Vuelta victory and he will also face a ban. Regardless of the result, this is yet more ammunition for those who want to look down on cycling in general and Chris Froome specifically. The timing could not have been much worse as it has recently been announced that Froome will be racing at the 2018 Giro d’Italia with a view to becoming only the third rider to hold all 3 Grand Tour titles at the same time, while he is also nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award on Sunday. In my opinion, his efforts this year should have been enough for him to win the award but he was already likely to miss out due to the negative perception of cycling and his perceived lack of Britishness. This revelation will likely stop him even making the top 3!

I for one will continue to hope that a legitimate reason for this result can be found as I do not believe Froome to be a doper. I sincerely hope that I’m not proved wrong.

A Race to be Remembered

Chris Froome continued his rise to greatness with victory on the 2017 edition of the Vuelta a España. The Team Sky rider took the general classification red jersey at the end of Stage 3 and refused to relinquish it for the rest of the 3 week race, while also going on to win the green jersey for the points classification and the white combination jersey all on the way to making history.

The entire race was a great spectacle, with a number of attacks – often from the retiring Alberto Contador – keeping many of the fights for the GC podium going down to the wire. The final standings for the race were:

  • General Classification
  1. Chris Froome
  2. Vincenzo Nibali
  3. Ilnur Zakarin
  • Points classification
  1. Chris Froome
  • Mountains classification
  1. Davide Villella
  • Combination classification
  1. Chris Froome
  • Team classification
  1. Astana
  • Combativity award
  1. Alberto Contador

2 out of 3 for my GC podium prediction isn’t bad…

There was plenty to talk about from this race, but I’ll leave the full breakdown to the cycling experts and instead focus on a couple of big talking points:

 

The history maker

This win has made Chris Froome only the 3rd rider to win the Tour de France and Vuelta a España in the same year. What makes this even more impressive is that he is the first to win it since the Vuelta was moved after the Tour. He may not have looked at his best for much of the Tour, but it looks like he timed his season perfectly to peak just in time for the Vuelta’s climb-heavy race. He was one of the few racers able to consistently stick with Contador’s breaks in the opening weeks (more on those later) which quickly helped him get a lead on GC and consistently place well enough to keep the battle for the green jersey going right to the final sprint. Once again he had a lot of help from a strong Sky team, with Wout Poels, Mikel Nieve and Gianni Moscon keeping him in the right position and pulling him through the stages where he struggled. It’s no real surprise to see Nieve and Poels make the top 20 on GC considering the work they did for Froome and the dominance of Team Sky throughout the race.

Over the last 3 weeks, Froome has once again showed that he is a strong climber but, more importantly a terrific time trialist, having won the Stage 16 Time Trial by 29 seconds to Wilco Kelderman and just under a minute to his closest GC competitors. He has done something unprecedented this year and will surely be targeting a record-equalling 5th Tour de France next year. He may not always be the most popular of sportsmen, but considering what he has done this year, he must surely be in the running for Sports Personality of the Year.

Farewell to a legend

Alberto Contador may not have got the fairy-tale podium finish that he would have liked to end his career with, but this race was a perfect example of what makes him such a great rider. The 7-time Grand Tour winner (not counting the 2 wins that were voided) struggled on the first couple of stages but as a result was allowed the chance to attack on pretty much every stage after. His attacks opened up the race to a point that the GC race was completely shaken up. There was something right about Contador’s last ever mountain stage being a victory on the Angliru and it was wonderful to see the peloton allow him to lead the way into Madrid on the final stage. It was a shame that he couldn’t finish on the podium for GC, but it was great to see him win the combativity award and I don’t think anyone can argue with that call.

Given his history I understand that he will not be universally loved, but he will certainly be missed moving forwards.

The importance of a good time trial

In a race that is over 3,000km long, the impact that a 40.2km stage can have on the general classification cannot be understated. Time trials do exactly that. They are the only stages on a race where a rider is racing purely on their own ability with nobody there to pull them along if they are struggling, and it clearly shows on the race results. All 3 Grand Tours this year have been won by riders with a strong time trial pedigree (Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome). On the Vuelta, Froome added almost a minute to his GC lead, which allowed him make up the time he lost with his 2 crashes on Stage 12 and take it easy on the more dangerous descents.

Esteban Chaves did lose time on the later stages, but his big loss was a poor time trial that dropped him from a possible podium to only just inside the top 10. It may only represent a small fraction of the total race distance, but a better than average time trial is now a must for someone who wants a realistic chance of winning a Grand Tour.

Teams to watch in 2018

Team Sky may be losing a number of riders at the end of this season, including Mikel Landa and Mikel Nieve to Movistar and Orica-Scott resepectively, but they have recruited well and bringing in quality riders like Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) and David de la Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) so I am sure they continue to lead the way in 2018.

Quick-Step will be interesting to watch next year as they are losing their 2 most recent GC riders (de la Cruz and Dan Martin) along with sprinters Marcel Kittel and Matteo Trentin. However they still have Fernando Gaviria, who won 4 stages on the way to winning the points classification at this year’s Giro d’Italia, so I still expect them to be pushing for the Grand Tour points classifications.

I am very much looking forward to watching Orica and Sunweb next year. They may have faded in the last week of the Vuelta, but I expect Esteban Chaves and the Yates brothers to be even better next year, especially with a domestique like Nieve joining the team. On top of this I expect them to work a bit harder on the sprints next year with both Matteo Trentin and Caleb Ewan on the books next season. Sunweb may be losing Tour de France King of the Mountains Warren Barguil but they have 2 impressive GC options in Giro winner Tom Dumoulin and Wilco Kelderman, who are both strong climbers and time trialists. Bringing in Edward Theuns from Trek-Segafredo will be a big help to them and they will also have Michael Matthews there looking to back up his green jersey from the Tour whilst backing up his team leader on climbing stages.

Astana will be interesting to watch but not necessarily for the right reasons. Fabio Aru is clearly a talented rider, but there were questions about his actions on the Tour as his teammates appearing to turn against him – Michael Valgren’s response to hearing his team leader had lost the yellow jersey on Stage 14 was to smile and say “Good” – and this apparent lack of teamwork continued into the Vuelta with the Italian riding off on his own rather than to the benefit of Miguel Angel Lopez. Sunweb kicked Barguil off the Vuelta for not supporting Wilco Kelderman, will Astana have the balls to do the same to Aru if he continues to be selfish next season?

Building Hype for the Vuelta

The 2017 edition of the Vuelta a España gets underway on Saturday and the provisional starting list has been announced. It’s time to begin the hype! With the Giro and the Tour out of the way this year, this is the final chance for teams and riders to prove their worth in a Grand Tour in 2017. This will also be the last time we see some of these riders in their current team colours as some will be retiring or moving to different teams after the season.

With this in mind, here are a few things to watch out for over the 3 weeks of racing:

 

Making history

Only 2 riders have ever won the Tour de France and the Vuelta in the same year: Jacques Anquetil in 1963 and Bernard Hinault in 1978. Chris Froome will be hoping to add his name to the list. Sky’s 4-time Tour de France winner has never yet won the Vuelta, finishing second three times, including last year when Nairo Quintana denied him the double by just 83 seconds. There is no Quintana this time, so despite a strong set of competitors including Vicenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador (more on him soon), Tour rivals Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru and the 2017 Tour’s King of the Mountains Warren Barguil.

Froome may not have often looked at his best in the Tour, having not raced much before the event, so you wonder if he has timed everything to give him the best chance of winning both races as opposed to just the one.

He may not have his star lieutenants from the Tour – Geraint Thomas, Michal Kwiatkowski road captain Luke Rowe and the departing Mikel Landa – however he still has a strong team around him including Wout Poels, who was a big part of his 2016 Tour de France victory.

Getting the double isn’t going to be easy, but I think this could be the year that Froome finishes in the coveted Red Jersey.

End of an era

This will be the last Grand Tour that Trek-Segafredo’s Alberto Contador races before retiring. The Spaniard is bringing an end to a 14-year professional career that has included controversy due to doping allegations (he had victories in the 2010 Tour de France and 2011 Giro d’Italia voided) but despite this still has victories in 2 Tours (2007 & 2009), 2 Giros (2008 & 2015) and 3 Vueltas (2008, 2012 & 2014) to his name. His recent results (he hasn’t made a Grand Tour podium since his 2015 Vuelta triumph) hint that finishing on the ultimate high of a final victory will be beyond him, but expect to see him pushing for a couple of stage victories and having a big impact on the race.

Three-pronged attack

The depth of quality that Orica-Scott have for General Classification is scary! For the 2017 Vuelta, Orica have decided to name Esteban Chaves and Adam Yates as co-leaders, while also giving Simon Yates the freedom to attack in the mountains. Chaves has not had the best of seasons as he recovers from injury but has done well in the last 2 Vueltas, finishing in the top 5 both times. The Yates twins are both very impressive young riders (Adam won the white jersey on the 2016 Tour, Simon did the same this year) and Simon also looked very good on a number of breakaways during last year’s Vuelta. I look forward to seeing the dynamics of the team as the race goes on and would not be surprised to see the twins go on an attack together on at least one stage. I don’t know how well Chaves will do this year, but I would not be surprised to see a least one Yates pushing for the podium.

Predicting the podium

I’m very much going out on a limb here but I think that with my increasing understanding of the Grand Tours it’s about time to start throwing out some predictions. This is a very difficult race to judge until we see how racers are performing (Quintana certainly didn’t live up to expectations on the Tour this year), but as of now my predicted podium is:

  1. Chris Froome
  2. Vincenzo Nibali
  3. Adam Yates

Screwing Up on a Grand Scale

The Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España: the 3 Grand Tours of cycle racing. The best cycle teams in the world fighting it out over multiple stages spanning a couple of weeks for victory in a number of different classifications including Points, King of the Mountain and the all-important General Classification. Victory in these races would be a highlight of a professional cyclist’s career, a chance for them to compete against the best of the best. Yet far too often, we see results being decided by outside influences that are out of the competitor’s control, but could be avoided by the organisers.

When Geraint Thomas began Stage 9 of this year’s Giro on Sunday, he was 2nd in the GC, only 6 seconds behind leader Bob Jungels heading into a stage that could make or break a rider’s GC hopes. By the end of the day, bloody and bruised, he had dropped to 17th in the standings, 5 minutes and 14 seconds behind new leader and GC rival Nairo Quintana. This was not due to him struggling on the Blockhaus climb, but instead was the result of a completely unacceptable accident 13.5km from the finish. With the peloton spread across the road fighting for position, a police motorbike was stopped at the side of the road where it shouldn’t have been. Wilco Kelderman did not have the space to avoid it and in the resulting collision the majority of Team Sky, including Thomas, were brought down, along with Adam Yates of Orica-Scott, who has gone from 3rd (10 seconds behind the lead) to 16th (4 minutes and 49 seconds behind). Both of these riders were contenders for the General Classification but can probably now consider their chances over! Sky’s second GC contender Mikel Landa fared even worse in the incident, losing almost 27 minutes to the leaders.

While this can be considered an unfortunate accident, it is not an isolated incident of a rider being affected by outside forces that should not have been present. I have only started paying attention to the Grand Tours at last year’s Tour de France and in less than 12 months have noticed a number of incidents:

  • On Stage 7 on 2016’s Tour de France, Adam Yates’ attempt to gain time on his GC rivals was hit when the flamme rouge collapsed right in front of him. He had no time to stop before hitting the marker and ended up riding the rest of the Tour with a cut chin. This incident could have been much worse had this happened when the peloton was passing, but it still meant that Yates lost his chance to build an advantage against his rivals.
  • Yate’s trouble with the flamme rouge was quickly forgotten after Stage 12’s incident. After high winds caused the stage to be shortened, much of the last kilometre was left without railings to hold the crowd back. They duly swarmed all over the road, leaving a space barely wide enough for the riders to pass through. This led to an incident where 3 GC riders (Bauke Mollema, Richie Porte and yellow jersey Chris Froome) crashed into the back of a motorbike that was forced to stop by the crowds, leaving Froome’s bike unusable. As the Team Sky car was some distance down the road, this led to the famous images of the yellow jersey running up Mont Ventoux to reduce the hit on his finishing time while he waited for his team to catch up with a replacement bike.
  • Stage 5 of the 2016 Vuelta a España saw Steven Kruijswijk’s season ended early after a collision with a bollard left him with a broken collarbone. This bollard should never have been left in the way and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, was left at an angle pointing towards the oncoming riders. In truth, it is lucky that only Kruijswijk and Jan Bakelants hit the post as the peloton rode past.
  • Just a couple of days before this latest accident, Stage 7 of the Giro saw a miraculous near miss as riders came around a blind turn to find a marshal standing in the middle of the road flagging to warn of a traffic island. Somehow the peloton avoided hitting him, but that could have been a serious incident. Surely it would have been better to use barriers to block the road on one side of the island so that the island was part of the edge as opposed to being in the middle of the road?

4 incidents and a near miss. From just 3 races. And these are just the incidents that immediately came to mind, so there may be others that I have missed. All of these crashes have involved riders that would be hoping to compete in the General Classification, so the race results are being heavily impacted by each of these incidents.

Crashes happen, I accept that. Bad weather or riding too close to someone in a group can easily result in a number of riders going to ground, that is to be expected in the sport. What cannot be considered acceptable is outside factors that are wholly avoidable being allowed to affect the outcome of an entire race!

Would this be accepted in any other sport? If a fan ran onto a football pitch and booted the ball into the net, we would not count it as a goal, so why should we allow a rider’s GC standings to be affected by an outside stimulus? To continue the football analogy, clubs and tournament organisers do not wait for something to happen and then say it will not affect the result, they take steps to stop a match being decided by outside influences. That is why you see stewards and barriers all around the grounds to stop spectators getting onto the pitch. I appreciate that each stage of the Grand Tours is too long to have barriers every step of the way, but there are things that can be done to help. Having more spotters travelling in advance of the race to ensure there are no unsafe obstacles in the way would allow race directors and stewards to take appropriate steps to ensure that by the time riders get to that point in the road there is no chance of an issue.

Hopefully the riders affected will be able to minimise the losses over the remaining stages. More importantly, fingers crossed this is the last time we see a rider’s race ruined by something completely avoidable.

 

What were your thoughts on the accident? Do you think more can be done? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge