Monday, 10 September 2012

La Vuelta - What Have We Learnt?

So the Vuelta is over and it seems the winner was a predictable one, though the fashion in which he won certainly wasn't. It looked for a while that Alberto Contador was out of Vuelta contention and resigned to second place on the podium but thats the thing about cycling - nothing is predictable, the race can change like the direction of the wind. One bad day, or even one bad minute can turn a 3 week race on its head and just when it looks as though the podium is decided - BAM, it's all change. So what has the 2012 Vuelta a Espana taught us...

  1. Mountain Top Finishes Are Still The Best - Christian Prudhomme can keep his penchant for 'mountain followed by descent' finishes. They proved pretty pointless in this years Tour and didn't promote the aggressive racing that Prudhomme had predicted. Yes, sometimes a steep finish can nullify a stage but not here in the vuelta as riders battled tooth and nail on every finishing climb - the outcome of those battles didn't always change much but they were entertaining to watch, right from Contador and Rodriguez to riders like Ten Dam and Talansky, sometimes it's fun to watch riders suffer and the constant attacks were a very welcome medicine to some dreary racing in the Tour.
  2. Bonus Seconds CAN Work Wonders - Some smaller stage races are criticised for the use of bonus seconds which means that if they are relatively flat (like Poland) then it means a sprinter will gain automatic victory and it could prevent riders from taking risks as everyone wants to stay together at the finish rather than miss out on those valuable seconds. Put them on a mountain top finish in a grand tour however and they certainly make for some exciting finishes. Would Rodriguez have battled so valiantly if there wasn't extra time to gain at the top of those punchy climbs? Possibly not - in fact if the bonus seconds hadn't existed then it would have made for an altogether different race and ultimately less excitement. Big names actually wanted to win stages for the extra seconds rather than just make sure they didn't lose them. In fact, take away the bonus seconds and Contador would have been leading the race after the second rest day which could have made for a less exciting final week.
  3. The Vuelta WAS The Best Grand Tour of The Year - No, seriously, it was. Race organisers take note because this race had just the right balance of difficulty, varying stages and terrain and incentives. Could we be seeing bonus seconds in the Tour some time soon? Quite possibly. Less descents and more summit finishes? Definitely.
  4. Alberto Contador Never Gives Up - When Contador took the red jersey after an audacious attack on a flattish 'easy stage' he said at the finish: 'I didn't want to finish second, that's not how I like to ride.' That's a pretty definitive statement. Contador looked fragile in the mountains, more so than usual after his return from suspension and 6 months without racing and he looked a beaten man with only one mountain to come and a few days to Madrid - think again - not got the mountain legs? No worries, just TT everybody to near death from 50km's out. Easy peasy.
  5. Contador Is Still The Benchmark - Yep, I know many will not like this but Bertie is still the best in the business. Ok so Brad won the Tour but the big boys were out and the course was TT orientated, he never looked like losing in the circumstances - not to take anything away from Wiggins, he can only race those who turn up but anybody thinking Bradley Wiggins is the greatest grand tour rider in the world, think again. Contador came back from 6 months without racing and won arguably the most difficult grand tour of the year - naysayers will say the course suited him with all those mountains as much as the TT's suited Brad, only Contador was a beaten man in the mountains so suit him it didn't. His tactical nouse and gutsy riding saw him regain his grand tour Crown. I've heard lots of upset concerning ex-dopers finishing first and second in this years Vuelta and a bitter pill it may be to swallow, but both have served their bans and are there on merit. Contador is well respected in the bunch and for good reason. Rival Andre Talansky said this today when asked about Contador: "I have never done a race with him before. It was pretty cool to see. He commands a lot of respect in the bunch. It’s been interesting this season, because I’ve raced with Wiggins this year as well. When Wiggins is on the bike, he looks intimidating. He looks like a metronome, he’s so calm and in control. That’s how he won the Tour. With Alberto, you can see the way he rides with such passion. The way he attacks is like no one else. He’s got an instinct for the race. He’s a real bike racer. It’s been pretty cool to see him, Valverde, (Joaquim) Rodríguez. Purito (Rodríguez) had one bad day at a bad time, but he rode an incredible Vuelta." (Full Talansky interview HERE and well worth a read!)
So that's it, it has been an epic race and I will look back on it fondly though the end of the Vuelta always hits a note of sadness with me - its the final Grand Tour of the year and the season is coming to an end. Whats next, well if you are a Brit you should be enjoying the Tour of Britain right about now with Bradley Wiggins riding as an extra treat, it's not the greatest race in the world but it keeps the blues at bay for now. The World Championships will be along shortly too, but once that's gone we really are heading towards the closed season doom and gloom...

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