“Fabio Aru can win this race” murmur the Italian’s hardcore following. “He’s climbed another place” note the believers as the former Vuelta winner creeps towards the top ten just 1:08 behind new leader Simon Yates. Unfortunately, the number of fans who still believe in the Italian is dwindling. You could even argue that nobody truly believes that Aru can have a say on this year’s Vuelta. When did things become so hopeless for Italy’s bright young climber?
There are three races each year which are a little grander than all the rest. The Giro, Tour and Vuelta are responsible for many of our favourite moments and the great stages have been documented countless times. Nevertheless, it’s unrealistic to expect every stage to capture the imagination and even the most ardent fans won’t be able to recall every winner from the last decade. Here are five current pros you probably forgot took success on the big stage; cycling’s very own one-hit wonders.
There’ll have been various points throughout Carlos Sastre’s career where he’d have been told not to look back; his solo stage victory ahead of a raging Jan Ullrich on Ax 3 Domaines comes to mind, as does his career defining attack on Alpe d’Huez en route to landing the Tour de France. However, now retired and rarely troubled by the cycling media, Sastre may find himself frequently looking back. When he does, he’ll be able to reflect on a wonderful pro cycling career.
Nairo Quintana held his nerve, and more importantly his legs, to swat away our ever-threatening Tour de France champion Chris Froome. Out-ridden by Quintana on Stage 8, Froome was faced with a 27 second deficit which would continue to grow. The Colombian went on to claim his first Grand Tour stage win since the Giro’s Cima Grappa time trial in 2014 and had opened a gap of nearly a minute by the race’s half way mark. The two would then leave the peloton behind on the Pena Cabarga but Froome denied Quintana a second stage win with his stronger finish.
After a weekend of ludicrously brilliant racing, yesterday’s Vuelta stage brought the GC showdown to a lull and today’s rest day allows for a longer pause for thought. Tomorrow racing resumes with – surprise, surprise – a summit finish on the Alto Mas de la Costa. You could argue the stage won’t play a role in deciding the classification but, on closer inspection, it’s got all the ingredients for more mayhem. It’s the day after the rest day, there’s a 21% section and the entire top five have reasons to ride hard. The following day won’t feature the GC contenders – a rarity in Spain – and could see the peloton slow to a crawl as they did on Stage 13. The varying intensity of stages has been a theme of the race so far.
The post-Tour lull has hit harder than in previous years. Both the Grand Boucle and May’s Giro d’Italia were given appropriate fanfare but the Vuelta has almost crept into prominence. The Olympics hasn’t helped matters, with road (and track) cycling continuing to gain in popularity and a dramatic men’s road race stacked full of big names. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to get excited about the Vuelta when the race wound up the most exciting Grand Tour of 2015. This year we see a familiar mix of leg-numbing climbs and riders seeking redemption.
It’s time for Spain’s premium stage race and this year’s line-up rivals even that of the Tour de France. For starters, the overflow from the Tour is of the highest class and we and gearing up for an exciting rematch between Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome. In addition to the pair, many have been referring to Astana’s elect as one of the strongest teams in recent history. It’s certainly not balanced, with a number of team captains- Fabio Aru, Vincenzo Nibali, Mikel Landa- expected to align their expectations. Their big names, however, will at least be supported by some of the domestiques who served the team so well in the Giro. In Andorra on Stage 11 we’ll see non-stop climbing in what may well be one of the hardest days in recent memory. A line up so strong and a stage so hard? Not bad for the youngest of the three Grand Tour siblings.