La Siesta: Froome Masters The Walls

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Nine stages completed – all pretty entertaining – and we’re faced with the possibility of another three week period of Chris Froome in a Grand Tour leader’s jersey. At the 2013 Vuelta the jersey exchanged shoulders eight times with five swaps the following year and eight in Fabio Aru’s 2015 success. Not one of those races featured a rampaging Chris Froome and an ultra-organised Team Sky. Froome’s been hungry for Vuelta success as far back as 2011 but he’s never been able to arrive with legs this fresh. This year – putting Tour dominance at risk – Froome looks to have almost targeted the Vuelta. His rivals have been no match for him over a very taxing opening week.

Contador and Froome

No match for him but not devoid of spirit. Alberto Contador has lived up to his post-30 reputation as an audacious, perhaps reckless and certainly unpredictable thorn in the side of any Sky plans. When the road has risen up to double-digit percentages it’s Contador that has made the first stinging attack.

What’s more surprising – and disappointing – is that his charge was dented badly by a loss of over two and half minutes on the opening mountain stage. Combined with Trek’s very mediocre TTT, Contador sat 3:10 behind Froome at the end of Stage 3. Fast-forward six stages and over the Alto del Castillo, Xorret de Cati and Cumbre del Sol, and Contador sits 3:32 behind the Brit losing ten seconds in time bonuses.

Sadly – based on this season’s form – I think Contador will suffer again in the high mountains but it’s a testament to his ability that sitting in lowly 13th place he remains a big blot on Froome’s radar. If he does manage to dance Froome into submission I expect Twitter to go into meltdown and I’ll probably join the party.

Froome Stage 9

I’m pro-Contador right now because of the formality of Froome’s victories. I’m not anti-Sky in the same way others are. I wanted Pantani over Ullrich, Ullrich over Armstrong, Sastre over Evans and Schleck over Contador. I just don’t like watching the obvious outcome unfold.

I’ve enjoyed the mix of stage winners in the opening week. Nothing yet for Spain but two for Italy (Vincenzo Nibali and Matteo Trentin) and one each for a pair of my favourite young riders: Alexey Lutsenko and Matej Mohoric.

Lutsenko has been threatening a big win and delivered in style on Wednesday. He looks able of winning in a number of different ways and I’m still convinced he’ll rise to the top of the sport.

Alexey Lutsenko Wins.jpg

Then there was my 125/1 shot Tomasz Marczynski who won in spectacular fashion from a huge breakaway on Thursday. The break would dwindle as the GC riders loomed leaving Marcyznski’s lead quintet as sitting ducks. A defeated Luis Leon Sanchez dropped back from the group but Marcyznski managed to wriggle away into a fresh 30-second advantage. And then he went and won it!

The middle week is stacked with climbs and opportunities for the GC guys to go to war. An isolated Froome would encourage a whole host of attacks. Nairo Quintana’s responses to Froome last year suggest the Brit may not be capable of making long attacks in Spain. Picking off the Team Sky workers is the first and biggest challenge.

Sky have been made to set a lot of tempos on the opening stages suggesting they might just burn out. But who can take up the reigns? Only Orica offer the sort of threat that AG2R did at the Tour. The Australian team have had a good race so far (welcome back Esteban Chaves, we’ve missed you) but haven’t yet whipped up a storm.

I’ve still got faith in my pre-race picks Vincenzo Nibali and Ilnur Zakarin but a glance at their team rosters isn’t particularly inspiring. I expect that Nibali – who’s been in a stealthy defence mode since winning in Andorra – is playing the long game.

And what of BMC duo Tejay Van Garderen and Nicolas Roche? I’d love to know what Tejay expected from this Vuelta but he is riding superbly despite unfavourable terrain and a couple of nasty crashes. Will it last? It usually doesn’t…

Roche sits third and is having a wonderful race. With two Vuelta top six finishes to his name he won’t be in unfamiliar territory. On both occasions he had also rode the Tour de France; the same situation he finds himself in now. I expect him to fall away but am happy to be proved wrong.

Am I Dreaming? What I’d Like To See Happen This Week:

Lone Froome

I’d like to see Froome put on the back foot – who wouldn’t? If he responds by clawing his way back or demolishing his rivals then his Vuelta win will be twice as special. I want to see that one stage where things don’t go to plan for Team Sky. In an ideal world I’d like to see Froome lose the jersey before possibly winning it back.

Hello Old Friend

Nibali sits fourth with Aru sixteen seconds back in seventh. Both are proving they’re worthy of another Grand Tour podium but neither are rich in strong support riders. I’d love Aru to stumble onto the Bahrain bus one night (Nibali would never visit Astana) and exchange a kind word or two. Only good can come from having an ally in the top ten and a tandem attack may disrupt Froome’s rhythm in the front group.

Aru and Nibali

Points for Trentin

I have a bet on Trentin to win the points jersey which looked brilliant for… about three days? He sits just six points off the competition lead but the terrain for the rest of the race is brutal. A good Trentin should be able to join a few breaks but he hasn’t climbed well so far. Quick-Step have looked superb and maybe they could cook up a plan for him. Sadly, Julian Alaphilippe may prove the wiser choice.

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