Just four weeks after the conclusion of the Tour de France, the 2015 Vuelta a Espana began in the province of Malaga last weekend with several of the leading contenders for honours in the French Grand Tour participating in this event. Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali and Tejay van Garderen were all declared as starters but with Albert Contador absent as the Spaniard also a competitor and won the Giro d’Italia earlier this year. A mountainous Vuelta has been planned but even before the more difficult stages are faced, the race to date has been controversial and a strange tactical affair.
Beginning on Saturday, the Team Time Trial was won by the BMC riders but with seven different surfaces prevalent on the 7.4 km course, the individual times were nullified with each of the 198 cyclists allocated the same finishing time for general classification purposes. Only those teams aiming to win the stage showed any real purpose which begs the question as to why the route was not altered in the weeks prior to the event.
A short but steep uphill finish on the road to Caminito del Rey was part of the agenda during the following days racing and it was during the ascent that the tactics to be employed by the Movistar team became evident. During the Tour de France, Spaniard Valverde was the prime helper for Quintana with the stronger Colombian eventually finishing second ahead of his team mate occupying third position. The roles appear to be reversed for the Spanish three week race but Quintana actually attacked on the final climb. When realising that Valverde was unable or unwilling to follow the acceleration, Quintana slowed allowing his compatriot Esteban Chaves to win the stage and assume the overall lead.
The following days racing was highlighted by the misfortunes of Nibali who was delayed by a crash and was forced to chase the main peleton as the riders approached the finish at Malaga. When accelerating away from the second group on the road, he was towed alongside his team car for several hundred metres by holding a water bottle at the same time as his team manager was driving and clutching the same bottle. He was thus disqualified for seeking to gain an unfair advantage. His Astana team still retain hope of winning the Vuelta with Mikel Landa and Fabio Aru, but Nibali was their principal hope of victory.
Several quieter days have followed but Friday’s stage to Capileira, plus four mountain passes and a summit finish in Andorra for Stage 11will test the riders, as will the ascent of Alto Ermita del Alba five days later which features a gradient of approximately 20% on part of the slopes.
When the Vuelta enters the final week, a 38km individual time trial is scheduled but there will be clear indications by then as to which riders have fully recovered from their Tour de France exertions and who is considered the stronger of the two Movistar riders.