2016 Vuelta a España Wrap-Up
By David L. Stanley
David Stanley is an experienced cycling writer. His work has appeared in Velo, Velo-news.com, Road, Peloton, and the late, lamented Bicycle Guide (my favorite all-time cycling magazine). He blogs regularly for Dads Roundtable. Here's his Facebook page. He is also a highly regarded voice artist with many audiobooks to his credit, including McGann Publishing's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories and Cycling Heroes.
His latest book is Melanoma: It Started With a Freckle. If you have spent time outdoors, you should read it. Really!
2016 Vuelta a España: What Can We Learn from This?
The 2016 edition of the Vuelta a Espana was one for the ángeles de las montañas, the angels of the mountains, as it featured ten summit finishes and only a handful of stages which could charitably be called plano. Although the organizers could not have planned it so at the time, it was a race that was perfectly designed for the two finest climbers/GC riders of the last several years, Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome.
But there were other storylines amidst this year’s Vuelta.
1) Adam Hansen. The toughest man in the history of cycling? His name is Mr. Adam Hansen. The Aussie engineer/software writing/man of steel has now raced and completed the last sixteen Grand Tours. That’s 10000 Grand Tours if you are fluent in binary, as is Mr. Hansen. He wrote the software that his Lotto-Soudal team uses to manage the team’s logistics. He also designed and built his own cycling shoes; lighter, stronger, and with a much higher cool-factor than anything out there.
But I digress.
It started with the 2011 Vuelta, and since, he has started, raced, and finished every Grand Tour; the Giro, the Tour, and the Vuelta. Along the way, he has won two stages; one on the 2013 Giro and another in the 14 Vuelta.
Do a little quick math. Most Grand Tours are around 2,100 miles. Times sixteen races: that’s about 34,000 race miles just in Grand Tours alone. Yes, he’s crashed. Yes, he’s broken and dislocated bones. Adult Homo sapiens have about 22 square feet of skin. Hansen has undoubtedly left 22 square feet of skin on the road. Yet, he gets back on the bike and makes it to Turin, to Paris, to Madrid. All you whiny-ass footballer/soccer players who dive to the turf and roll in agony when someone pulls on your jersey, take note.
Adam Hansen riding the Vuelta's stage 19 time trial
2) Tejay and Andrew. The omega and alpha men of US pro cycling in this Vuelta. TVG, in the words of BMC director Jim Ochowicz, is in a slump. Blessed with a stage racer’s physique and mindset, there was clearly a piece missing for Tejay this season. With a late Vuelta abandon, Tejay’s season was finished. Ochowicz said that they’d do a full evaluation of van Garderen, physical and mental, and they would help him through this slump.
“The season is over for him,” said Ochowicz to Cycling News reporter Daniel Benson. “He got into a slump. That happens to people in sport all the time. He's got to work himself out of that slump and we're all there to help in whatever way we can.”
Andrew Talansky leaving nothing on the table in Vuelta stage 3
On the other hand, Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac) showed the final week promise that led team director Jonathon Vaughters to nickname him “The Pitbull.” At 7:43 back, Talansky’s 5th place was a stellar result in a race that he said was “the hardest race I’ve ever done. By far. That includes the Tour, when I was 10th in 2013. It was a totally different race than the Vuelta I did in 2012, when I was seventh. I’ve only completed the Tour de France twice, but this is by far harder from a physical perspective. This is the hardest grand tour I’ve done. Everyone was at such a high level, so much climbing. The four guys ahead of me are all confirmed grand tour podium contenders, so I am in good company.”
3) Check the twin’s genetics. First it was Adam Yates (Orica-Bike Exchange) snagging 4th place and a Best Young Rider jersey in this summer’s Tour de France. For this year’s Vuelta, it was Simon (O-BE) who grabbed a brilliant stage 14 victory, and showed he could climb with the very best throughout to finish in 6th, 8:33 in arrears. The twins are 24 years old, just entering the prime of their cycling careers. All the pieces are in place for an amazing 2017 season for OBE because …
4) Esteban Chaves had an incredible Vuelta for O-BE to take third place 4:08 behind Nairo Quintana. The 26-year old’s climbing skills are second to none. He has courage beyond compare. Let’s not forget that he is Colombian. Whilst he and Nairo Quintana ride for their own ambitions and different teams, they will certainly work together if the opportunity arises.
Esteban Chaves leads Nairo Quintana in stage 17
If you think back to the 1980s, North Americans LeMond, Bauer, and Hampsten helped each other when possible. As Colombia rises to the top of world cycling, we can expect to see similar allegiances on the road. With an incredibly strong roster of riders set to return for 2017, O-BE should place at least one rider on the podium of each Grand Tour. If things come together for Gerry Ryan’s men, might we see a O-BE winner for all three Grand Tours? FYI: if you’re not watching the O-BE Backstage Pass videos, you’re missing the best stuff in pro cycling.
5) Quintana watched and learned. What was the most dramatic moment of the Tour de France? Quite probably, Froome’s daring downhill attack. You should recall that Froome caught his rivals asleep when he attacked over the summit of the Col de Peyresourde—the fourth and final climb of an edgy 184-kilometre stage from Pau—as he put together a bobsledder’s descent to win at Bagneres-de-Luchon.
What was the tipping point of this year’s Vuelta?
Stage 15. Early on the way to the summit of Formigal, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) put in the attack and was joined by Nairo Quintana. Froome missed the train, and not even several hours of Team SKY’s crushing pace was enough to pull back the group. The daring and brilliant Colombian put 2:40 into Chris Froome with that attack. From the point forward, Quintana had only to watch and respond, rather than launch constant attacks as he did in the Tour de France.
Nairo Quintana leads Chris Froome in stage 11
Tactically, it was an astute move that placed Froome completely on the back foot for the rest of the race and laid the foundation for Nairo Quintana’s win by 1:23 over the fit and eager Chris Froome.
What does this result mean for 2017?
A more competitive series of Grand Tours. Nairo Quintana proved to himself that he is the equal of Chris Froome. Froome was ready, and he came to Spain to win. He did not. Whilst this loss will not shake Froome’s self-confidence, it will further boost Quintana’s. Esteban Chaves, 27 years old next season, will have two tremendous 25 year old teammates in the Yates twins. We hope that a fifth place inspires Andrew Talansky to stand on the podium, and that some down time will heal Tejay’s mind and body. For next year, Contador and Nibali will certainly be players.
It was fine, fine Vuelta. We were witness to three Grand Tours filled with drama and humor, courage and skill. Next season promises to be even grander. As ABC Wide World of Sports used to say, “spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport; the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat…”
Perhaps the words of Adam Hansen are more succinct, "I just want to go home, sit on my own couch, eat my own food—and throw my suitcase away."