Vuelta review: Round-table (part 2)

Talking points

In part one of our post-Vuelta round-table we focussed on the race and the riders who made it so exciting. In the second half of our discussion, we turned our attention to some of the wider talking points thrown up by the race.

We’ve touched on this a bit already, but let’s return to Chris Horner for a minute. Guilty, suspicious or unfairly persecuted?

Chris: Suspicious. Based on his age, past performances, and former team associations, one has to be suspicious. At the same time, it seems like if you win a grand tour then you are automatically suspicious. It’s as if we won’t allow champions any more in cycling and because of that I think he’s also unfairly persecuted as well.

Suspicions unproven? (Image: Vuelta website)

Suspicions unproven? (Image: Vuelta website)

Jack: Highly suspicious, though without concrete evidence I wouldn’t go as far as saying he was guilty.

Ant: This is reminiscent of that time a few years ago when average guys suddenly started winning races. After the way that all panned out it’s impossible not to be suspicious, and that’s just the way of things now.

Tim: Suspicious. Regardless of whether he is clean or not though, this is the price the sport must pay for its past. We’ve seen that with Wiggins and Froome too, both of whom have less to be suspicious about than Horner. What I will say, though, is that I am amazed at the flimsiness of what some people (on both sides) are offering up as proof – a classic case of confirmation bias.

Kathi: I can’t suspend my disbelief on this one. Looked and felt too much like the bad old days.

Sheree: I just think that Middle-Aged Men in Lycra (MAMILS) everywhere should rejoice. Now where did I put that Mars bar?

The Vuelta is an important stepping stone towards next week’s World Championships. Based on what we’ve seen over the past three weeks, who are your tips for the elite men’s ITT and road race?

Chris: For the ITT it seems like it has to be Tony Martin or Fabian Cancellara – although I’m throwing all my hopes on an upset by young Taylor Phinney. As far as the road race, draw a name out of a hat, but after seeing Peter Sagan in Canada this week, I wouldn’t overlook the Slovak.

Jack: Agree with Chris – the TT is going to be a straight fight between Martin and Cancellara. I must admit, I was unsure whether I’d ever see Fabs win another TT world title [hides from Kathi] though after his showing at the Vuelta, I think he’s in with a great chance. As for the road race, I reckon PhilGil looks in good shape to defend his crown.

Sheree: I don’t believe Vuelta form is a determinant in the ITT. That said, I do think Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin will be on the podium, maybe just not the top step – that might be a certain knight of the realm. The road race is on Italian soil and we know one Italian is in fine form, along with a few Spaniards and a certain Belgian. Maybe this’ll be another year where the favourites mark one another out and someone in form but off the radar wins.

Kathi: I think Nibali fought too hard and too long in this Vuelta to be in tip-top shape. I’m going with Fabs for the road race – and possibly the double with the ITT.

No prizes for guessing who Kitty's backing for the Worlds ... (Image: Vuelta website)

No prizes for guessing who Kitty’s backing for the Worlds … (Image: Vuelta website)

Sheree: I love your faith in Cancellara, that alone should be enough to propel him to victory.

Tim: It’s hard to see beyond Martin and Cancellara for the time trial – I’m backing Martin (sorry, Kitty!) –  but I think the road race is genuinely wide open. It could come down to someone outside the top tier of favourites making a move at just the right time. If you fancy a long shot, how about Eneco Tour overall winner – and, of course, Vuelta vanquisher of PhilGil – Zdenek Stybar?

Ant: The road race is going to be a belter, if all these guys showing good form deliver on the day. Gilbert has impressed immensely as he’s ridden into form, and Cancellara has put in some explosive finishes which suggests to me that he’s thinking road race rather than ITT. Tim wrote an interesting piece relating Vuelta form to Worlds podium places, which would suggest that Horner could equally be a threat. As for the ITT, I am going to stick my neck right out and say Tony Martin.

This wasn’t a great race for sprinters, either in terms of who turned up or the nature of the parcours. Is this a problem?

Sheree: Not for me or, I suspect, the organisers! There were stages for the sprinters, it’s just that some of them were won by others such as Bauke Mollema. And, let’s not forget Daniele Ratto, a sprinter who won a mid-mountain stage.  In any event, grand tours are about all-rounders, not sprinters.

The sprinters were frequently outfoxed by attackers such as Bauke Mollema (Image: Vuelta website)

The sprinters were frequently outfoxed by attackers such as Bauke Mollema (Image: Vuelta website)

Jack: I wouldn’t say so – the hillier parcours results in exciting opportunistic attacks, like Tony Martin‘s daredevil move on stage six – one of the best stage finishes we’ve seen this season. Had Mark Cavendish been riding, would Omega Pharma-Quick Step have given Martin the freedom to try such a move? Almost definitely not.

Tim: I’d say definitely not in that scenario, Jack. I don’t see a problem with the lack of a strong sprint field – it was the making of John Degenkolb last year. As Sheree says, grand tours are not built to service the sprinters and that’s doubly so for the Vuelta, which is all about being the ultimate climbers’ race. There should really have been four or five bunch finishes – that’s enough – but the sprint field wasn’t strong enough to control them and the likes of Mollema and Stybar took advantage. And good on them for doing so!

Kathi: Not being a sprint-head, I don’t mind it at all. It means the stages are much more unpredictable and there are different winners. Other guys get a look in!

Ant: I don’t think it’s a problem at all. The lack of strong sprint-focused teams helped increase the unpredictability of the race, and we’ve had some thrilling finales as a result.

Chris: Nah, no problem. I like that the Vuelta kind of has a pure climber identity. The sprinters have plenty of opportunities throughout the season to get glory, especially early in the season.

Tim: Hang on, did we all just agree there?!? Quick, move on!

Having been so prominent throughout the rest of the season, what on earth happened to the Colombian challenge here?

Kathi: I don’t think Sky cared about the Vuelta so it seemed like, throughout the entire race, it was just every man for himself, if they could be bothered. So lack of ambition/care and attention for Henao and Uran. Betancur? Who knows.

Uran (left) and Henao both had relatively quiet races

Uran (left) and Henao both had relatively quiet races

Ant: They’re predominantly young riders, and it’s been a long season. I believe that Betancur has been struggling with illness, and I got the impression that Uran had already switched teams in his head. Not to mention, they’re probably in shock at discovering that Chris Horner is as old as their dads.

Chris: I have no idea but choosing Betancur was the demise of my Vuelta fantasy dreams.  He was such a drag on my team I will now call him Bet-Anchor.

Sheree: Let’s not forget those boys are all young and had already ridden one grand tour. They were just tuckered out come the Vuelta. It’s been a long season and the weight of expectation has lain heavily on their slim shoulders.

Jack: I’m not certain that any of the Colombian riders and their respective teams were ever seriously targeting this race. Uran, Betancur and – to a lesser extent – Henao all rode great Giros, and seemed to arrive having had the Vuelta just incidentally tagged onto the end of their season-long itinerary. Sky didn’t ever seem focused on winning the GC, perhaps confused by their two-headed attack, though overall I don’t think any of the Colombians were in good enough shape to ever really challenge.

Tim: I have to agree with what everyone else has said. A combination of factors – not least that the Vuelta was a secondary target (if that) after the Giro – meant it just didn’t happen here. But I fully expect them to bounce back strongly in 2014.

We had ten summit finishes last year and then 11 this year. What should the organisers do with next year’s race route?

Ant: Put a glass ramp at the top of the Angliru, angled at 35%. In relative seriousness though, I think perhaps dialling down the walls of death just a tiny smidge might be a good thing.

Chris: I say ride the exact same parcours as this year except in reverse with a sprint finish on that glass ramp. 🙂

Tim: Never mind glass, how about snow? Basically, just more of the same, please. Although there was one more summit finish this year compared to 2012, I thought there was more variety in the style of stages: short and long, monster climbs and punchy finishes. The only other thing I’d like to see added would be a technical downhill finish.

Sheree: Stick with the formula of short, tough stages with summit finishes. It’s not the finish, it’s what goes before it that tends to determine the outcome. Less is proving to be more in the final denouement.

Kathi: I agree with Sheree. Short stages, no time to mess around. It makes for good attacking racing and the guys can give it all.

Jack: Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken.

Give the 2013 Vuelta a score out of 10, and explain why.

Sheree: 10/10 because I enjoyed every single moment.

Ant: 10/10, muy impressionante!

Jack: 10/10. The most exciting grand tour since … last year’s Vuelta? Once again Spain has delivered the goods. Almost never a boring moment.

Tim: 10/10. Great racing throughout, lots of drama and a whiff of controversy – the perfect blend.

Kathi: 10/10. Great parcours, great stage wins from the young ones. Genuinely exciting and unpredictable racing.

Tim: Uh oh, please don’t say we’re going to be in unanimous agreement again …

Chris: 41/10 because we may never see anything like it again!

And finally, as is traditional, summarise this year’s Vuelta in five words.

Sheree: Panachetastic, piquant, pacy, provocative, picturesque,

Jack: What are boring sprint stages?

Tim: Climbing a stairway to heaven.

Kathi: Impassioned, spicy, bruising, heartbreaking, compelling.

Ant: Shark teeth versus false teeth.

Chris: Stunning, Passionate, Incredible, Caliente [that’s ‘hot’ in English – Ed], Yowsers – a.k.a. SPICY!

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