The Grand Tour season has drawn to a close with the completion of the Vuelta a España on Sunday. Canadian Cycling Magazine looks back at the last three weeks of competition.
Woods delivers the goods
Michael Woods just achieved the best Vuelta GC result ever for a Canadian. He also marked the fifth best Canadian Grand Tour result after Ryder Hesjedal’s 2012 Giro win, Steven Bauer’s fourth in the 1988 Tour de France and Hesjedal’s two fifths in the 2010 Tour and 2015 Giro.
Woods was one of the better climbers on several of the summit finishes, matching Froome and Contador on Santo Toribio de Liébana and Alcossebre.
Now that he has proved his mettle—and Andrew Talansky has retired and Davide Formolo moved on—Cannondale will have both Woods and Rigoberto Uran as their protected riders for Grand Tours.
By finally getting the Vuelta monkey off his back, the 2017 titlist and three-time runner up joins France’s Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) as the only riders to have won the Tour de France and Vuelta in the same season, and the first to do it with the Tour before the Vuelta and not vice versa. He’s also the first rider to win any kind of Grand Tour double since Contador in 2008 and the first to win back-to-back Grand Tours since Marco Pantani in 1998.
It was a typical Froome and Sky performance. Froome grabbed the jersey early and never gave it up, winning his first stages of the season in the process. Sky was dominant and had another rider finish in the top-10. Wout Poels, with his best Grand Tour result, was almost as integral as Mikel Landa was in the Tour. Gianni Moscon, Mikel Nieve and Christian Knees were also dear to Froome’s Spanish campaign, though Diego Rosa seemed a little off.
With swashbuckler supreme Alberto Contador set on maximum élan in his last Grand Tour, the contrast to Froome and Sky’s stultifying style couldn’t be more apparent. Their dominance can’t last forever, but while it does, you can be sure that Sky will send an elite squad to whatever race Froome seeks. Could we see the Brit at next year’s Giro, or will he hold out to make another Tour ho-hum and take his fifth yellow jersey?
Nibali, now a podium man?
The only rider who had a better Grand Tour season than Vincenzo Nibali was Chris Froome.
1) Chris Froome: 1st Tour, 1st Vuelta
2) Vincenzo Nibali: 3rd Giro, 2nd Vuelta
3) Ilnur Zakarin: 5th Giro, 3rd Vuelta
4) Alberto Contador: 9th Tour, 4th Vuelta
But are Nibali’s days of winning Grand Tours, after two Giros, one Tour and one Vuelta title, over? Of all Froome’s Vuelta rivals, Nibali cracked the least and won his 14th Grand Tour stage along the way. His third place in the long time trial was commendable and showed why he was Froome’s main rival. But Nibali couldn’t hold his gains from Stage 12 and Stage 17’s Los Machucos climb. And Zakarin was only 36-seconds out of Nibali’s second place.
Both Froome and Nibali are 32-years-old, but The Shark of Messina has been racing in the pro ranks for three more years. Nibali isn’t on as strong of a team anymore, and he certainly missed Ion Izagirre in Spain. Perhaps Domenico Pozzovivo and Gorka Izagirre’s inclusion in next year’s Bahrain-Merida line up will help.
During those 2010 to 2016 seasons in which he earned his four Grand Tours, Nibali was also on Grand Tour podiums four times. Perhaps this is his lot from now on: a Grand Tour major contender but no more a champion.
Contador delights in his last Grand Tour
As Contador himself said, winning on the Angliru, the only Spanish stage victory, was a beautiful way to conduct his swan song. Contador’s racing was a feast for the eye and imagination. His attacks didn’t always work, as on both the Sierra climbs during week two, and he was racing with a deficit straight from Andorra where, he lost 2:33 to Froome and Nibali and 1:36 to Zakarin.
But Contador was the straw stirring the drink for the majority of the race, with Angel Lopez joining him as firestarter in Week Two.
For a farewell ride, it was a dandy. El Pistolero’s instinctive aggression will be missed.
There’s something pleasing about the sound of those two names together, and their engaging three-way podium scrap with rampaging Contador was one of the subplots of the race. The Vuelta was Zakarin’s first Grand Tour podium, and Kelderman, although probably a bit glum to get sifted down to fifth on the Angliru, will take heart that it is also his best Grand Tour result.
Zakarin is 27 and Kelderman 26, and with what should be a shift in power over the next few years as Contador, Valverde, Nibali, Froome and Porte retire or just tire, both have a shot at winning a Grand Tour in their careers. Here’s hoping that their future skirmishes are as entertaining.
The Dutch, the Belgians, the Italians and the Poles
Three Dutch riders (Kelderman, Wout Poels and Steven Kruijswijk) were in the top-9, although no riders from the Netherlands won a stage. Belgian trade teams Quick Step and Lotto-Soudal took ten stage victories between them, with three Belgian riders grabbing victories. Quick Step had three different riders who won four or more stages in each of the 2017 Grand Tours. The country with the most stage wins was Italy with five. Poland also had three stage triumphs.
The Kazakh squad won three stages, won the team competition (surprise!) and had a rider come 8th on GC. But the team’s star, Fabio Aru, once more proved a disappointment. Even though the fellow was 5th in the Tour and 13th in Spain, Astana must be worried that their fantastic rider of 2015, the one who was runner-up in the Giro and seized the Vuelta title, has gone AWOL.
The team switched its focus to a rampant Angel Lopez after the Colombian’s first stage victory, frustrating Aru to the point that he seemingly attacked out of anger on Stage 18, only pulling back a few seconds. His capitulation on Angliru dropped him from 8th to 13th, helping Tejay van Garderen jump back in the top-10 for the first time since Stage 10.
There’s a good chance Aru will move to another team, probably UAE-Emirates, leaving Lopez as Astana’s main Grand Tour man. Davide Villella and Omar Fraile will join the Sky Blues next season.
It was a harrowing Grand Tour for Cannondale-Drapac. There it was, one month after its greatest Tour de France accomplishment, with a rider in 10th on the Vuelta GC and another leading the mountains competition, when suddenly it was in danger of folding.
On the Angrilu stage, after a tense but hopeful two weeks, team owner Jonathan Vaughters finally announced that a title sponsor had been found to save the argyle bacon. Next year, the team will be EF-Drapac (or something like that) possibly clad in pink argyle.
Cannondale was one of only three teams that placed riders in all three Grand Tour top-10’s. Sunweb and Trek-Segafredo were the others.