It’s time to interrupt the Vuelta for a brief moment to pay due respect to the riders who entertained us throughout August. Any fears of a post-Tour de France lull have now been banished by an eventful Vuelta (amongst other races) and it’s time for us to pick out a few whose panache, flair and results have caught our eye.
First up is Tim.
Tim: There’s something about Nacer Bouhanni that reminds me of Mark Cavendish. Both are passionate racers. Both can be sore losers. And both are undeniably fast. This year we’ve seen Bouhanni stake his claim at the top table of sprinters, winning his first three grand tour sprints at the Giro and adding two in this opening week at the Vuelta to take his 2014 tally to 11 victories (only Alexander Kristoff and Andre Greipel have more).
Like Cav, he rides with a fierce spirit which sometimes spills over into actions and comments that can make him unpopular. But it’s that competitive fire that also makes him such fun to watch. It’s a crying shame he’s going to Cofidis next season, although his signing might just help them to regain them their WorldTour status after a five-year absence.
Ant: I need a brief moment to recover from the shock of Tim comparing a rider to Cavendish! Jack, help me out.
Jack: Alejandro Valverde rode a good Tour de France, but will no doubt be disappointed to have fizzled out and off the podium in the final time trial. However, he’s reacted to the disappointment with a terrific win at the Clásica San Sebastián and an opening week victory at the Vuelta, as well as hogging the red jersey for several days. Not bad for a rider who was expected to be dropped as soon as the going got tough.
Ant: You know what? I grudgingly have to agree with you! Kathi, who’s your pick for the month?
Kathi: I’m nominating Alberto Contador because he’s come out of his Tour injury spoiling for a fight, he doesn’t believe in riding tempo, he takes the race to everyone else, he rides with elegance – and he might just win this Vuelta!
Ant: Ooh, poetic! And quite possibly prescient! Sheree, your turn.
Sheree: In August, following on from his maiden grand tour victories in the Tour de France, Alexander Kristoff won his second classic of the season in Hamburg [the Vattenfall Cyclassics – Ed]. It was his 14th win of the 2014 season and put him at the top of the leader board in terms of wins to date. The victory also gave him sixth place on the UCI WorldTour rankings – not too shabby! Kristoff started his winning ways in February with a stage victory in the Tour of Oman before taking a hard-fought win in the weather-scarred monument Milan-San Remo in March, and he hasn’t stopped since then.
What’s made the difference this season? In a word, confidence. And he’s riding high on it as he approaches the end of the season and the World Championships road race in Ponferrada.
Ant: I believe Tim once referred to him as the ”best sprinter that nobody’s heard of” and ever since he said that Kristoff has gone from strength to strength, which proves that Tim is either some kind of clairvoyant, or drives a DeLorean. Midge, over to you.
Midge: If you have been watching the Vuelta, the observant among you will have spotted the fact that there are now two red jerseys in the Tinkoff-Saxo team. One is of course race leader Alberto Contador, but the other belongs to the new Danish national champion Michael Valgren.
At just 22 years old and in his first year as a professional, Michael has had a superb season, particularly in the shorter stage races. His strong attacking style has seen him gain the podium at Four Days of Dunkirk and just miss it at the Tour des Fjords. In August this same flair and ability gave him the top step of the podium at the Tour of Denmark, after a thrilling, frantic final stage. Watch out for him in the Vuelta peloton and beyond, he’s going places.
Ant: Everybody, you heard it here first! That just leaves me to throw a name into the ring.
Ant: I have been supremely impressed by John Degenkolb. Sorry, I mean ‘The Mighty’ John Degenkolb. Coming into the Vuelta on the back of a superb Tour de France, in which he performed exceptionally well as Marcel Kittel’s wing-man (and we all know how well that went), this time it’s his turn to shine, and boy has he grasped it. By the end of August, Degs had stormed to a solid lead in the points jersey and taken back-to-back stage wins. [To which he has subsequently added a third victory – Ed.] To do this after such a solid Tour underlines the quality and strength of this guy who, at 25, clearly has a lot of great things still to come.
So that’s our breakaway of six riders for the month, now let’s see what happens when it comes to the votes.
And the winner is …
It is clear that The Mighty John Degenkolb is winning hearts as well as races, as he proved popular in our voting, storming away from his nearest competitors. Behind Degs came an unlikely duo of Kristoff and Contador, while Bouhanni made a late lurch to pip Valverde and Valgren. I can’t comment on rumours that Valverde spent the entire voting session feigning tiredness before attacking, only to be overhauled when everybody realised what was going on. No comment at all!