Alberto wins Vuelta.
Overall winner of the Grand Tour GC standings: the Vuelta a Espana director Javier Guillén.
The Helta Skelta Vuelta tops this year’s Tour de France and Giro d’Italia for end to end action and close, punch-in-face competition.
When GC favorites Chris Froome (Sky) and Alberto Contador both crashed out of the Tour de France, Guillén went to the nearest chapel, dropped to his knees and prayed that the two champions would recover and ride his Vuelta.
Froome committed to the Spanish tour immediately but Contador and his Tinkoff-Saxo team ruled him out. After all, the man had fractured his tibia.
Sure, there was the his quote, the first words out of his mouth to his DS in the team car when he abandoned the Tour. Something along the lines of “I will ride the Vuelta.” Yeah, sure, buddy, appreciate the optimism.
After that hopeful statement, the news was uniformly dire. Just for example, a quote from El Pistolero on July 20th: It’s not easy, the leg is limiting me a lot,” he told the television station. “The inflammation has been developing and gone down a little, but I’m still in a lot of pain. I need to give it three weeks, because the wound could open again and the delay could be a lot longer. I will have three weeks without my bike, too much.”
As it turns out — and be sure to ask Alejandro Valverde and Chris Froome for confirmation, not “too much.”
Javier Guillén’s prays were answered and what was supposed to be the big season showdown in the Tour became the revenge showdown in Spain. They battled for three weeks, Froome getting strong and stronger, drawing close and close. It was fantastic racing and performance smack down.
Podium without Froome crashing on the cobbles and Contador not destroying his leg on stage 10 and Nairo Quintana not slamming his time trial bike into a guardrail and exiting the race: winner Alejandro Valverde, runner up, the puncher Joaquin Rodriguez and the fabulous Fabio Aru in the final spot.
Instead we were treated to a Tour de France battle six weeks removed from France and moved to a new location: Spain. Both came in short of racing days and hoping to ride into contention.
That was mission accomplished. Contador seemed to surprise himself in the first week and already some journalists including Cycle Sport magazine’s wise man Ed Pickering were calling him a “sandbagger.” Did he really pull off some kind a freak miracle recovery or was he fooling people all along?
Froome took longer do put his form together. His surprisingly underwhelming performance in the longer time trial was a shock. So were his initial attempts in the mountains. But day by day, he grew strong and stronger until it was a two man race.
Sadly for Froome, the Vuelta ended a week too early for him and he had to settle for a well-deserved second place. We appreciated his fighting spirit and unlike the duo of Rodriguez and Valverde, he raced for the win, not to protect a podium spot.
Once again the Helta Skelta Vuelta proved to be the most dramatic and exciting of grand tours. It was le Tour only with tapas and sangria.