Review: The first nine stages of the 2017 Vuelta a España
Aug 28 2017 11:15 pm CET

Review: The first nine stages of the 2017 Vuelta a España
Review: The first nine stages of the 2017 Vuelta a España
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CyclingPub's Marcelo Hernández takes a look at the first nine days of the Vuelta a España, as the riders and team staff enjoy a well-deserved rest day.

From the beautiful scenario of the ancient roman city of Nimes to the unmerciful steep sections of the Cumbre del Sol climb in Alicante, the first nine days of this Vuelta a España delivered a lot of excitement and some of the best cycling in the world. As is usual in this Grand Tour, the route had plenty of mountain difficulties that in addition to the heat of the Spanish summer made this first week hard and exhausting, so the first rest day is surely well received by the peloton.

Chris Froome emerges from the first nine stages as the strongest rider and absolute dominator of the GC. Even though the advantage he holds over his rivals is not definitive, the Briton has been stronger than any of his rivals and his team is as powerful as usual. The ultimate prove of Froome’s dominance was his powerful attack in the last kilometer of the Cumbre del Sol, in the ninth stage, that earned him his fourth stage victory ever in the Vuelta and the first of this edition, but also made clear that, for the moment, no other rider is at his level.

The leader of Sky received the red jersey from Yves Lampaert, who won the second stage after a bold and unexpected maneuver on the final kilometer of the second stage, after stage 3 which was the first high mountain day of this Vuelta and his time difference against his rivals has only grown since then. After stage 3, Quick-Step’s David de la Cruz, and BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen and Nicolas Roche were only 2 seconds behind Froome, while now at the first rest day the second rider in the GC, Esteban Chaves, is 36 seconds behind.

Chaves is indeed the most promising GC contender after Froome. The Colombian rider of Orica-Scott had a very modest performance in the Tour but now seems to be fully recovered and has been a constant presence behind Froome’s wheel. After all, Chaves was the only one capable of following the attack of the race leader on the Alto de la Comella, the last climb of the third stage, and was the one closest to him on the Cumbre del Sol. Even though he lost 17 seconds to Froome on stage 8, he seems be the only one with a chance to challenge him in the high mountain stages to come. Chaves already knows what it is like to step onto the podium in a Grand Tour, having finished third in this race in 2016 and second in the Giro of the same year, so he is less likely to be affected by the stress and pressure of being in the spotlight.

While Froome and Chaves consolidate their positions at the top of the GC day after day, a little bit down in the classification the riders are very close to each other. Between the third place (Nicolas Roche), and the ninth (Michael Woods), the difference is only 50 seconds, being at 1’05” and 1’55” respectively. The BMC leaders Roche and Van Garderen have managed to do very well in the medium mountain stages of this first week, being able to stay in the main group on most of the days. This is an achievement especially for Tejay Van Garderen who suffered a nasty crash on the descent from Garbí on stage 6, and a second one and a mechanical issue in the final kilometers of that same stage but got only minor injuries and remains 5th in the GC at 1’27”.

A rider that doesn’t seem entirely solid is Vincenzo Nibali. ‘Il Squalo’ pulled off a stage victory on the third day but since then he hasn’t been able to stand out. He still is fourth in the GC at 1’17” and that is an respectable result but unless the Italian improves his shape and responds to the attacks of his rivals, he faces the risk of losing positions. In the ninth stage, after the final attack by Froome, Nibali lost ten seconds to Chaves, nine to Michael Woods and six to Ilnur Zakarin; these gaps maybe seem small but given the close differences in the GC, any second matters.

Alberto Contador, on the other hand, has revealed himself as one of the strongest climbers among the team leaders in this first week. It is true that he lost around two and a half minutes on stage 3, according to him and his team due to digestive problems, damaging his GC aspirations in a perhaps irreversible way, but after that disastrous day he has recovered and returned to be a protagonist in the mountains.

Contador was one of the only three riders capable of following Froome’s attack of stage 5 in Alcossebre, with Chaves and Woods, and has been the only rider feeling strong enough to attack the Sky leader, launching his attempt on the climb of Garbí in stage 6. Even though he couldn’t drop Froome, Contador gave a glimpse of his best shape and revitalized the enthusiasm of his fans. But the hardest stages of this Vuelta are still to come and Contador didn’t seem as strong on the Cumbre del Sol, so is still early to know if he is going to be able to totally overcome his time disadvantage and fight for a top spot in the GC.

But let’s not forget that while all this struggle for the GC is taking place, other riders with smaller objectives are delivering equally admirable performances, especially in the fight for stage victories; after all, most of these nine stages were won by the breakaways. The battle of Alexey Lutsenko on the climb of Alcossebre against a surprisingly strong Merhawi Kudus on stage 5, or the impressive descent of Matej Mohoric after the last climb of stage 7 to cross the finish line alone, are fine examples of the true feats of the riders out of the GC fight. Julian Alaphilippe is also on this list after winning the eighth stage with a devastating sprint that left his rivals Rafal Majka and Jan Polanc without any chance; just like Tomasz Marczynski who won a much closer sprint against Pawel Poljanski and Enric Mas on the finish line of stage 6.

With the most challenging of this Vuelta still to come, cycling fans must prepare for true battles on the Spanish roads seeking both stage victories and a good position in the overall classification. We can count on adventurers such as Thomas De Gendt, Marc Soler, Enric Mas, Jan Polanc, Jetse Bol or Richard Carapaz, to liven up the coming stages with ambitious breakaways, while the team leaders are surely preparing their ultimate weapons for the fight against Chris Froome for the victory in Madrid.

By Marcelo Hernández





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