For the first week of the 2014 Vuelta a Espana, most of the pre-race favourites were quite content to ride alongside each other with only Thursday’s stage to La Zubia producing any indication of which rider may have arrived in Spain with decent form. However, the summit finish at the ski resort of Valdelinaires provided an early sign that Chris Froome may not be in peak condition while Nairo Quintana is far stronger than appeared to be the case on Thursday.
The Sunday stage was contested in the most miserable weather to date in the three week event with driving rain facing the cyclists on several parts of the course. After negotiating two medium sized mountain passes, there arose the possibility of Winner Anacona of Colombia donning the race leader’s red jersey as he led the favourites in the following peleton by approximately four minutes entering the final first category climb.
Anacona needed to win the stage by nearly three minutes to assume the lead in the general classification but with the Team Sky leading the pursuing peleton, the gap was closing but only very gradually. Two kilometres from the summit finish, Alberto Contador decided to launch an attack after realising that 2013 Tour de France winner Froome may be struggling.
Eventually, only Joaquim Rodriguez and Quintana were able to catch the Spaniard as they gained precious time on Froome and pre-stage leader Alejandro Valverde. Ancona’s margin of victory at the finish was insufficient for him to claim the red jersey with Quintana taking that honour.
Froome admitted afterwards that it had been a difficult day especially in the inclement weather but that there is still two weeks of racing remaining during which anything could happen.
Although Monday is a rest day, it is the following few stages which will probably prove decisive in the race at the riders contemplate several difficult rides in the mountains. Froome will be hoping that he can recoup most if not all of the 28 seconds by which he is adrift of Quintana when the cyclists tackle the 35 kilometre time trial on Tuesday before the mountain stages really increase in severity at the end of the second week.
The ascent of La Camperona at the finish of Saturday’s stage is likely to indicate which rider will be favourite to win 2014 Vuelta although with five category one climbs earmarked for racing next Monday, any time losses incurred before then could be recovered on that punishing day should any of the favourites still be in reasonable condition.
With only 30 seconds covering the first six riders in the general classification, the ensuing two weeks promises to be the one of the most exciting Grand Tour races for several seasons.