Vuelta 2017 early impressions
You don't always get what you want. But you will get what you need
Andy Brown makes some observations after the second stage of the 2017 Spanish grand tour
The drama that is the 2017 Vuelta showed itself on stage two with Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step) stealing a bold victory and the general classification after soloing away from the pack with less than one kilometre to go.
Strong winds had been predicted for the 203km from Nîmes into Gruisson and the peloton had stayed together for much of the day with Trek Segafredo on the front initially. The pace gradually increased as the riders neared the finish and it was on the out skirts of the town when Quick-Step took advantage of the winds as the peleton took a left turn on a roundabout with 2.5km remaining.
It was a classic sprinters stage. There was the usual splitting of groups, sprinter’s trains forming and reforming. This was the organised chaos Lampaert made the most of – typical of the adventurous riding likely to be seen over the next three weeks.
Why? Because La Vuelta is a different kind of grand tour.
So, what do we know.
It is a mix of revenge, glory and taking centre stage and making a mark. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose. To that end it can make terrific watching at the side of the road – or at the mountain top as there are a series of finishes in the high peaks – and on television.
For Brit’s the question is can Froom win or not? The bookies say he can. He is a clear favourite. He coped brilliantly in France at the Tour, dominating thanks to a strong Sky team and he gained in form towards the end of the race. So, in theory he will be stronger now. The team is missing Landa and Kwiatkowski, vital to Froome in July, but gains the character and stubborn nature of Ian Stannard. It is still a formidable Team Sky outfit. But the tactics need to be more adaptable as the Vuelta is not predictable in any way. Things happen that won’t allow for the usual Team Sky suffocation tactic.
Expect drama and glory from Contador in his final ever grand tour. Watch and wait for Roman Bardet to prove to the French fans that he is more than capable of delivering. There is no Nairo Quintana to be frustrated by, but there is Fabio Aru and if he has sufficiently recovered from Tour he will be a threat. He has won the Vuelta and it will hold no fear for him. Aru’s problem is his team: Astana are not organised enough.
Then there is Vincenzo Nibali, another class rider and with true grand tour calibre and relatively fresh after skipping the Tour. He is one of the most experienced racers in the field and unlike Contador, he is strong and young. Again, his weakness is his team.
That leaves the Yates brothers and their teammate, the Columbian, Esteban Chavez. Any one of these three could prove a threat. It depends on what ambitions the Orica-Scott outfit has. GC win, a podium or a young rider’s jersey? In the Vuelta, it is often an all or nothing race. Do not rule out these guys. The Yates brothers are very capable on their own.
The best way to sum up Vuelta a Espana 2017 is to leave you with what Chris Froome has said: “It’s relentless. The course is more mountainous than the Tour de France and conditions are tougher. It’s quite common to have temperatures up in the mid-40s. It’s brutal.”
His last words are neat: “Typically it makes for a very aggressive race.”
We will see that in spades this next three weeks. Of the 21 stages, 13 are in the hills and tomorrow is where it all starts in earnest in Andorra.
If you don’t think Froome knows what he is talking about then check the Alto de Angliru. It puts the brute into brutal. No one can guarantee what we will get from the 2017 Vuelta. But what we need is entertainment – that will get, for sure.