While Chris Froome (Sky) won the Vuelta a Espana, his second grand tour victory of the year, Alberto Contador (Trek Segafredo) owned the race. It was his show, his personality and his farewell that dominated the event.
Without Contador and his daring attacks and old-school improvisation, this would have been a dull and straightforward Vuelta. It would have been the Spanish version of the Tour de France, Froome shepherded up and down the mountains by five top domestiques wearing a Sky jersey and bib shorts.
Froome’s grand tour double was historic and impressive but it was not inspiring, dramatic or entertaining. It was careful, precise and scientific and full of “grinta” but anyone hoping for a GC battle was sorely disappointed.
Contador was the heart and soul of this Vuelta. His storyline was the only consistent narrative that had any passion or inspiration. In a way, he rode his own personal Vuelta and it seemed every fan on the roadside was there only for him.
Top rival Vincenzo Nilbali (Bahrain-Merida) built his strategy on hope: that Froome would have a bad day, that he would get sick, that he might crash and injure himself. Those were long shots and certainly not based on anything Nibali’s legs could accomplish. Instead, the Italian crashed on the descent before the Angrilu and was lucky to preserve his second place.
The rest of the GC was a fight for the final spot on the podium – interesting and not without moments of excitement but also not the fireworks we were expecting. Kelderman and Zakarin put in solid performances but they were never a challenge for Froome and his stacked Sky squad.
It’s not a surprise that the British press gave Froome plenty of praise but not a lot of love and fanfare. The achievenment felt predictable and pre-ordained and it was accomplished without daring. If you were writing a book about Froome’s triumph, the title would be something like “Nada Drama. Chris Froome’s Vuelta Victory.”
Without the daily attacks by Contador in the mountains, the Vuelta would have looked like a Sky training camp with other teams invited along to witness sports science at work. Alberto Contador finished fifth on GC and won the stage 20 on the Angrilu but make no mistake: it was his race from beginning to end. This was a Spanish grand tour and one man show: the Vuelta a Alberto.