Monday, 20 August 2012

La Vuelta: Stage 3 - A Lesson In Attack

If the Tour de France was a Sky lesson in tempo riding, then today's stage 3 of La Vuelta a Espana was a Contador lesson in attack. For those who thought the Tour lacked excitement then today's stage of the Vuelta lacked no such thing as Alberto Contador attacked 7 times on the final climb of the day in a show of intent and aggression. Tempo riding isn't going to be the order of the day here...

On the face of it the finish sheet tells a different story of today's stage as Christopher Froome actually gained 4 seconds on Alberto Contador thanks to the Vuelta's time bonuses - but today wasn't about stage placings, it was about putting down a marker and at times Froome looked on the ropes as Contador danced away time and again. Sean Kelly made a damning statement on the commentary when he said he would expect Froome to start the Vuelta fresher than Contador as he had good race miles in his legs from the Tour and Olympics, and if anything would probably struggle later on in the race - Sean Kelly I might add, is usually right. If he's right this time then things really don't look good for Froome, though today could well just be an off day.

Be under no illusion though, Contador didn't look like his former self. We are used to seeing him put the hammer down on pretty much every up-hill finish and often simply ride away. His attacks today, though putting the hurt on everybody, were fruitless when it came to the main favourites of Rodriguez, who managed to catch Alberto's wheel pretty quickly and even Froome who though didn't have the kick to jump on Contador's wheel did show the maturity to slowly drag himself back upto the front without any major panic - equally though, Contador only has the Eneco Tour in his legs after 6 months without racing. Dropping the likes of Jurgen van den Broeck by well over 3 minutes on a small 5km climb in your first major race back is no mean feat - even the 6 seconds taken out of Nico Roche, Igor Anton, Dani Moreno and Rigoberto Uran is a gaping hole when you consider the Spaniards lack of racing. It's easy to forget that this is the first climb of many and a small one at that, and it's only stage 3! Van den Broeck's race is all but over and he was considered a good 'favourite'. It's scary to think how well Contador could be riding by week 3!

Another factor that makes this race a completely different prospect to the systematic, well drilled, almost numerical Sky/Tour de France affair was summed up pretty nicely again by Sean Kelly in the commentary:

"He's amazing. It's incredible on this climb. It's because Contador is here, if he wasn't then the remaining favourites would probably just be looking around at each other instead of racing." Often a point has been made about how summit finishes can make a race boring because rather than promote attacks, they simply encourage defencive riding as the favourites keep an eye on each other waiting for the attack that inevitably never comes. Contador is of a different school. Rather than watch he prefers to just attack, which makes for fantastic viewing and with some other aggressive climbers looking to have their say it's hard to see how this Vuelta will fail to out-entertain the Tour.

Tomorrow will be an interesting stage as it plays even more into the hands of Contador who prefers longer, steadier climbs rather than shorter steeper stuff and stage 4 ends with a 13km drag to the finish - and this time its a proper uphill finish rather than the slight descent we got for the final 2km of today's stage. Had today been an uphill finish I think Contador would probably have won the stage, and almost definitely taken a few seconds out of Froome. Tomorrow will be a big test for the British rider, and anybody else who wants to challenge for the overall...

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