In what was hopefully a taster of things to come on the roads of France in July, both Chris Froome and Alberto Contador landed telling blows and took a stage apiece, with Sky’s team leader taking the overall spoils by just two seconds after a pulsating battle in the Andalucian mountains.
Rider of the race
We all know about Contador and Froome, who will hopefully be major players all the way to Paris, a battle we were denied last year. Instead I’m going to call out Froome’s Sky teammate Peter Kennaugh, who this week reminded us that Mark Cavendish is not the only brilliant pedaller to come out of the Isle of Man.
The young Manxman – he doesn’t turn 26 until shortly before this year’s Tour de France – continues to emerge from the shadow of more illustrious teammates, despite usually having to play a secondary role in bigger races. He was a stalwart workhorse in Froome’s 2013 Tour win, and last year he made the most of his limited opportunities, winning the overall at Coppi e Bartali and the Tour of Austria, as well as the British national champion’s jersey.
In this race he was used as Froome’s advance party, sent up the road to attack the peloton on the summit finishes of stages three and four to draw out Contador and serve as a plan B in the event he was allowed to get away. In the process, he demonstrated just how good a climber he’s becoming as he matures. Despite being used as a sacrificial lamb, a fifth-place GC finish was just reward for his efforts.
One day – and it may come sooner than we think – he will be given the opportunity to lead Sky at a grand tour. In the meantime, watch for the red white and blue hoops to feature prominently at the front of the peloton throughout the season.
Four things we liked
1. Double-headers. They are rare in modern racing, but I enjoyed the opening day’s combination of a short sprint stage followed by a short individual time trial. It adds some additional challenge and variety to a five-day race, and really gets the event under way with a bang. More, please.
2. Super-domestiques. I’ve mentioned Kennaugh already, but wasn’t it lovely to see the fluid pedalling style of Ivan Basso at the front of a race again, even if he was operating in a subservient role to pull Contador up mountains? The same goes for Nicolas Roche, who along with Kennaugh and Mikel Nieve formed a formidable mountain train for Froome to follow. At 37, Basso’s role is destined to be a supporting one, but I’m hoping Roche will be given a couple of opportunities to go for wins himself in return for what is likely to be a major role supporting Froome this season.
3. Froome versus Contador. Bearing in mind the Tour de France is still nearly five months away, to see two of the big favourites for this year’s race going at it hammer-and-tongs on climbs worthy of their stature made for fantastic viewing. Contador blew Froome into the weeds on the 18% slopes of Puerto de Haza Llanas, putting 19 seconds into him and scoring the first psychological points of the season. But the following day Froome returned the compliment with interest, taking 29 seconds back on Alto de las Allandas with a devastating, sustained burst that left Contador gasping in his wake. If this is how competitive they are in February, July cannot come soon enough.
4. Milan-San Remo competition hots up. Two stage wins for Movistar’s J J Lobato – on each occasion holding John Degenkolb at bay – enhanced the powerful Spaniard’s credentials as a dark horse for Milan-San Remo. With Mark Cavendish and defending champion Alexander Kristoff both rattling off victories and Peter Sagan, despite being winless since last June, with form to come, La Primavera is shaping up to be one heck of a race.
The race in numbers
4 – This was the first overall win by a non-Spanish rider since Michael Rogers in 2010, breaking a run of four ‘home’ victories – the last three by Alejandro Valverde.
4 – Nonetheless, four of the six stages were won by Spanish riders: two for J J Lobato and one each for Alberto Contador and Javier Moreno.
30 – The crash-marred finish to the opening stage effectively ended the GC hopes of several contenders, as only 30 riders finished within 30 seconds of winner Pim Ligthart.
21% – The gradient on the steepest section of stage four’s concluding climb of Alto de las Allandas, where Chris Froome made his decisive attack.
5 – Including overall winner Froome, Sky finished with five riders in the top eight on GC. They also won the points (Froome) and team classifications. A pretty good week’s work.
1. Chris Froome (Sky) 21:21:14
2. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:02
3. Benat Intxausti (Movistar) +2:38
4. Mikel Nieve (Sky) +3:05
5. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +3:13
6. Peter Kennaugh (Sky) +4:03
7. Xabier Zandio (Sky) +5:10
8. Kanstantsin Siutsou (Sky) +5:17
9. Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) +5:30
10. Bob Jungels (Trek) +5:50
Link: Official race website