Except for the difference in pedaling style, you could be forgiven for thinking it was the Contador Brothers on the attack in the Vuelta a Espana.
Stage 11 ended with a brutal 15.5 climb that Contador and Nibali tried to use the mountain to tag team race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky). On the road up to the Observatorio Astronomico de Calar Alto, both Contador and Nibali both made multiple attempts to dislodge Froome. The Briton remained calm and generally stuck to their wheels until he jumped forward at the finish to take second place and bonus seconds.
The duo did succeed in ruining Esteban Chavez’s day (Orica-Scott), kicking Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing) out of the top ten and seriously damaging Fabio Aru’s hope of accomplishing a high podium finish. For that, Froome will thank them and send a nice Sky-themed Christmas card.
It was an alliance built on desperation as Froome and Sky slowly crush the life out of this Vuelta. The Tour de France champion said he had “unfinished business” in Spain. Sadly, in place of the usual wild and unpredictable Vuelta, we have a Sky repeat of the Tour — and it’s a dull business to watch.
Not that Froome really cares about entertainment value and television ratings. For him, it was all about domination. “I’m really pleased with how today went and I think this is a huge step towards securing my position and my lead at the Vuelta. I think given the time gaps today, this is definitely going to be one of the crucial stages that shaped this Vuelta a España,” said Froome. He can taste this Vuelta and has just reviewed the victory dinner menu in Madrid.
Nibali did jump all the way to second on GC, a 1:19 deficit that must feel like five minutes — especially with a 40K time trial that benefits Froome. Esteban Chavez finds himself fighting off David de la Cruz (Spa) Quick-Step Floors for third, just three seconds ahead of the Spaniard.
Contador and Nibali keep attacking just as a kind of bed check — are you still the strongest, are you still 100%? Nibali detected fatigue but it wasn’t Froome. “I saw there was little bit of tiredness in the group and I said to Franco [Pellizotti] to go harder,” Nibali explained. “The first time it was Alberto Contador to go and I followed him, and I thought that we could do something together.”
Togetherness is a beautiful thing. But barring the Act of God, a terrible crash or sudden illness, Chris Froome owns the Vuelta. “I was happy just to sit back. They looked to gain more today, guys like Vincenzo and Alberto and Wilco Kelderman. So I sat back and left them to it,” said Froome. The “left them to it” sounded like a rich guy who just had a gourmet dinner and is now leaving the leftovers for the poor.