Vuelta a Espana 2016: A to Z (Part I) – From Ambush to Legend

Is there something piquant missing from your life? Last but by no means least, the final grand tour of the year has lived up to its reputation as a red, hot, spicy race. We’re prolonging that pleasure with our A-Z of the 71st Vuelta a Espana where we’ll be celebrating all the highs and none some of the lows to the soundtrack of this year’s race: El Ganador (Winner) by Marta Sanchez.

A is for Ambush at Formigal

Stage 15 was when the race was won (and lost), as runner up Chris Froome (Sky) freely admitted to Velonews on Sunday in Madrid:

Potentially. I am sure if I didn’t lose that time there, the racing could have been different afterwards as well, but that was certainly the biggest blow for me in this Vuelta.

The first-category Alto de Formigal was the Vuelta’s first-ever summit finish back in 1972 and the highest point (1,800m) in this year’s race.

B is for Baby Blackbird

Up until 2016, Alberto Contador had won every Vuelta a Espana he’d entered and finished. He’s a rider who always aims for the top step of the podium and has never taken a runner’s-up or third place spot in any of the grand tours. He’s an all-or-nothin’ kinda guy and we love him for it. As do the Spanish fans – he is hugely popular and always takes time to interact with his fans, young and old.

Instigator of the above Ambush at Formigal, he was dislodged from the third step of the podium on the penultimate day by an audacious Contador-like attack from a long way out by Chaves. Showing some combative sparkle on the final day, he was adjudged Overall Most Combative rider.

With 22 GC wins on his palmares, he’s undoubtedly the finest stage racer of his generation! We may never witness his like again.

C is for Colombia

This is a shout out not just for the country’s talented riders but also its passionate and noisy fans. Nairo Quintana became the second Colombian (1987, Lucho Herrerra) to win the Vuelta but the first Colombian to podium in all three GTs and was joined on the podium by compatriot Chaves  – more on him later. Darwin Atapuma spent four days in the red jersey and seemingly was in every breakaway while 21-year-old neo-pro Jhonatan Restrepo (Katusha) was riding his first grand tour and was the second-youngest rider in the race. Fewer Colombians than might have been anticipated in total but they, and their fans, made their presence count – especially on the last stage!

D is for Danes, Great Danes!

Specifically young Magnus Cort (OBE) who won not one but two stages! The motivation for his second stage win is revealed in Part II!

G is for Gruppetto Grande

93 riders finished the crucial short and explosive stage 15 well outside of the time-cut. Everyone had a view, it was one of the biggest talking points in this year’s Vuelta but how and why did it happen? It’s probably best explained by someone caught up in it.

H is for High Mountains

Vuelta a Espana 2016 stage 14: Udax-Dantxarinea to Aubisque (Queen stage)

Vuelta a Espana 2016 stage 14: Udax-Dantxarinea to Aubisque (Queen stage)

The Vuelta’s famous for them and this edition was no exception: 12 hill and mountain stages, 51 summits and over 54,000 metres (43 miles) of climbing. But it’s not so much the length of the climbs, it’s their gradient. For example, stage 8 to Alto de la Camperona featured 25% ramps, while stage 10’s Lagos de Covadonga has stretches at 17.5% and stage 11’s Pena Cabarga at 18%. I think I’ve made my point – it was a TOUGH race.

I is for IAM Cats

Embed from Getty Images

The team, bearers of the best kit in the professional peloton (Cuore), are disbanding at the end of this season. Some have already found new homes, some are retiring, some are still in the hunt. This situation propelled the team to its best performance in a grand tour: ever present in the breaks and with seven top-five finishes, including stage wins from Jonas van Genechten and Mathias Frank.

Eddy Seigneur, IAM Directeur Sportif, emphasised the solidarity felt within the group of IAM riders throughout this Vuelta:

The team has been competitive every day, retaining a real team spirit. The team motto was: have fun. This was a great source of motivation, but also provided a lot of cohesion within the group. I congratulate my riders for their bravery.

J is for Juan Mari

Juan Mari interviewing Contador at stage start in Lugones (image: Richard Whatley)

Juan Mari interviewing Contador at stage start in Lugones (image: Richard Whatley)

The Vuelta’s announcer Juan Mari Guajardo is a man in the mould of Daniel Mangeas, the much-missed voice of French cycling. Juan Mari knows it’s all about the riders and the race. He’s a perfectionist – never a word out of place – and extremely knowledgeable thanks to meticulous planning and preparation. Others would do well to emulate his style. You’ll find him at all the Spanish races, save those in the Basque country. You may not have seen him but you’ll have surely heard his mellifluous tones in the background, introducing the riders or painting a picture as the race unfolds.

K is for the King of the Mountains

image: Marcos Pereda

image: Marcos Pereda

The battle between Omar Fraile (Team Dimension Data) and Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) to become Vuelta King of the Mountains – the former edged it – was beautifully and poetically captured by Marcos Pereda, I can only hope my translation of a small part of it does it justice. Two become one (Dos que son uno):

Omar Fraile and Kenny Elissonde are good cyclists, not stars but hardworking professionals, combative. In their natural habitat of the mountains, they both pursued the same goal… Never alone. Beside him, a shadow. So alike, so different. He and him. They look, even smile. Like brothers together. Two of them become one… The first is tall and slender, swaying like a reed in the falling evening light. The other is tiny but muscelled, like a bronze chiselled statue. The former seems like a giant on his bicycle. The other is sometimes reminiscent of a child, who’s only just lost his training wheels before being launched, with enthusiasm, into the professional peloton. Both are in the shadow of one another…

K is for Kangaroo (the little …)

Rca winning smile: Esteban Chaves (image: Richard Whatley0

Winning smile: Esteban Chaves (image: Richard Whatley)

Orica-BikeExchange’s teamwork and tactical nous on stage 20 enabled Esteban Chaves to move back into third on GC and sign off on a fab.u.lous three s of racing. Post-podium, with a massive smile of his face, our Little Kangaroo confirmed:

The objective this year for me and the team was to try to do two big tours strongly on the general classification and I think we did. Also for the team, this is a really important one because we won four stages and had two riders in the top ten.

When asked if he could take the final step on the podium, Chaves greeted the question with his famous optimism.

Why not, everything is possible. But things arrive when it’s time. This year it’s not my time, maybe next year, maybe in two years or maybe in three, you never know. The most important thing is that you keep trying, you keep believing and continue to work and it will happen.

We believe Esteban, we believe

L is for Legend

Step forward Lotto-Soudal’s Adam Hansen who’s just completed his 16th (!) consecutive grand tour. Just pause for a moment to let that sink in … then marvel at those figures!

Stay tuned for M-Z! 

Header image: Winner of 71st Vuelta a Espana © Getty Images

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