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PEZ Crew Picks The VUELTA’16 Best Moments!

Vuelta Best Moments! The third Grand Tour of the year is over and the chat in the PEZ virtual office has been fairly unanimous… The 2016 Vuelta a España has been an all-round success. The question is, why? Here is the PEZ Crew’s best moments from the best tour of the year.

Pena Cabarga - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme -   Christopher - Chris Froome (GBR / Team Sky) - Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Columbia / Team Movistar)   pictured during stage 11 from Colunga. Museo Jurasico to Pena Cabarga - Vuelta Espana 2016 - photo Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2016

Chuck Peña – Washington, US Bureau
The Tour de France may be the grandest of the grand tours, but for my money the Vuelta is the most exciting. I mean, what’s not to like about 20 percent (sometimes bordering on 30 percent) climbs? And it’s not a grand tour that can be controlled and dominated by Skybots like Le Tour. So that means there’s actual racing and the fight for GC is not decided in the first week.

Couldn’t believe that Contador crashed yet again. Thought that was the end of his Vuelta… not. Instead, he defied expectations (at least mine) and kept fighting. Only Contador would have the cojones to attack early on stage 15. And Nairo Quintana had the smarts to go with him. Panache! As it turned out, that was the decisive stage of the Vuelta. Along with stages 19 and 20 of this year’s Giro, the best grand tour stage that actually mattered. Given how Contador and Tinkoff helped Quintana and Movistar on stage 15, I was a little disappointed that Movistar didn’t return the favor on stage 20 so Bertie could be on the podium. But c’est la vie. Bertie said he was “not so much disappointed as losing the podium as I am losing the win overall.” Class.

Everyone who knows me, knows that I’m not the biggest Froomie fan, but I give him props for saying the riders outside the time limit on stage 15 should have been cut from the race because “if the rule’s, there, it’s there for a reason.” Bravo for him. I mean, he knew that such a decision would have left him as the lone Sky rider for the rest of the Vuelta. Given his TT performance on stage 19, he maybe almost could have done it alone!

And what about Alejandro Valverde racing — not just riding — all three grand tours? Respect!

Ultimately, Nairo Quintana’s Vuelta victory over Froome begs the question of “What if?” If he had the same form at this year’s Le Tour, could he have won? We’ll never know but maybe next year he will be on form and we’ll actually have a competitive TdF.

Alejandro Valverde racing — not just riding — all three grand tours? Respect!
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Matt McNamara – Toolbox Contributor
Watching battle after battle unfold at the Vuelta a España these past few weeks was thrilling. Literally from the opening salvo of the TTT (and wasn’t it a pleasant surprise to see Peter Kennaugh in red for Sky albeit unintentional most likely), to the tremendous efforts of 22 year old Pierre Latour to claw his way back to Darwin Atapuma in the final meters of the Alto de Aitana, the Vuelta once again affirmed that it is the best big stage race year after year. I don’t say that lightly given the drama in the last days of the Giro, but stage 20 offered open battles in stage classification, general classification, climbers classification, and even the teams classification. The road to this finale was full of great performances day after day with no fewer than 12 first time winners in a 21 stage race, a host of lead changes, and a truly inspiring move by Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador on stage 15, if you weren’t inspired by the racing I wonder at what might thrill you!

My highlight? It’s hard not to jump on the stage 15 bandwagon, it was an amazing stage, but I’ll give equal credit to stage 20 thanks to the variety of personal battles going on. Esteban Chaves stealing Contador’s podium spot, Talansky weathering Simon Yates desire for the top 5, Omar Fraile sneaking away with the climbers jersey by a single point despite the out-of-his-head efforts by Kenny Elissonde. Whew, breathless! I’ll certainly be watching a few of these stages again over the long winter to come.

Peter Kennaugh in Red
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Gordan Cameron – Reporter at Large:
It seems bizarre but Robert Gesink is actually now in his 30s. How did this happen? How? Some rip in cycling’s time-space continuum? The guy has a Peter Pan-like quality where you just assume, going into each season, that he’s permanently 24 years old. This Vuelta gave him a first career Grand Tour stage win, at the twelfth attempt, after years where he still always seemed to be the next big thing. Despite finishing a lowly 34th overall, by a slim margin his worst overall GT placing, I’m sure the Condor of Varsseveld isn’t even bothered about that.

Close to a win at Lagos de Covadonga a few days before, when Quintana decided to teach Froome a lesson, Gesink picked his way through a 40-rider breakaway on stage 14, managed to bridge to a dangerous escape, and out-kicked Kenny Elissonde and Egor Silin on the Aubisque. It just adds to the general weirdness that he wins his first Vuelta stage in France, and then saw talk about his win obliterated by the Contador-induced firestorm of racing on the following day.

It wasn’t just Gesink; Sergey Lagutin managed a first GT stage at 35 years old, while Gianni Meersman and Jempy Drucker are both 30. That makes Magnus Cort Nielsen’s double-win, and Valerio Conte’s stage, look great, and especially Pierre Latour’s triumph at Alto de Aitana all the more impressive at 22. They beat Gesink to the flowers and kisses on a Vuelta podium by years… but it’s the getting there at all, the persistence and sheer dogged determination, that count when luck, form and circumstance finally give you the chance.

Robert Gesink “Peter Pan-like quality”
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Stephen Cheung Ph.D. – Toolbox Editor:
The Vuelta this year was certainly a nice contrast to the “standard” format of Le Tour, both in terms of course design but also in terms of aggressive racing. What set the race apart was the general “devil may care” way that most of the riders in the top 10 approached their GC standings. Rather than being content and riding anonymously for a top 10 placing, seemingly everybody was willing to throw caution to the wind. Chief amongst these rabble-rousers was El Pistolero, and you absolutely must admire the way he pushed on despite crashing hard early on, and also the way he continually animated the race and fought for the podium. Quintana definitely had Contador to thank for the big time gap gained on the road to Formigal, and it could be argued whether Quintana would have been able to pull off his big coup with any other ally.

Speaking of that, the most refreshing and non-Tour like aspect of this year’s Vuelta were the repeated long-range attacks, with Formigal but especially the coordinated attacks by Orica-BikeExchange on behalf of both Chaves and Yates. I said it before in my post-Giro comments, but it was a huge pleasure seeing the team transformed from opportunists and stage hunters overnight to a GC team, and doing it while keeping the focus squarely on the team and enjoying itself in the process.

Simon Yates – “team transformed from opportunists and stage hunters overnight to a GC team”
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Sam Larner – PEZ London Bureau:
I think that after that Vuelta we can firmly put the memory of that trudge to Paris to bed. The final GC standings will show that this was a battle between Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana, and, although neither rider deviated from their first and second positions after stage 12 there was so much more to this race. Quintana owes a huge amount of his victory to the work of Alberto Contador on that sensational 118km stage 15 where the Spaniard towed a group clear, which included Quintana. Contador floundered towards the end, as he did on so many stages this year, but Quintana took advantage and he built himself a buffer which would prove invaluable when he was almost undone on the stage 19 time trial. Esteban Chaves was a picture of consistency as he added another podium to go with his second place in the Giro, if the time trial hadn’t happened he would’ve been ahead of Froome and this is the area that he will need to focus on most if he’s going to complete his collection of podium places.

The rest of the top 10 was the usual Vuelta motley bunch of riders who have got there by working for their team leader, Dani Moreno, or made it into a break and clung onto the front end of the race in the high mountains, David de la Cruz. Andrew Talansky and Davide Formolo made it two in the top 10 for Cannondale-Drapac but what would they have given for a stage victory for a team who have had an absolutely desperate 2016?

It’s hard to pick out a favorite moment from the race. The battle for the polka-dots was sensational as Kenny Elissonde and Omar Fraile went toe to toe for virtually the entire final two weeks with the Spaniard eventually coming out on top by a single point. The mugging of Chris Froome on stage 15 was some of the best racing in the last few years and adds a significant amount of evidence for those people who think that short stages are the way to go. Froome was left completely isolated and it was only thanks to the fact that Chaves had also missed the break that the Brit wasn’t sat on the front for 100km chasing Contador and co. However, my favorite moment was stage 10 to Lagos de Covadonga where Quintana stepped into the red jersey. I was roadside with 2km to go on what must surely rank as one of the most beautiful climbs in all of cycling. The road was packed out with Asturians, who were going mad for Quintana and Contador. It was a special day, one where the four way GC battle came to the fore and Robert Gesink announced his return to the highest level. He would take his first win in three years just four stages later on the Aubisque.

Lagos de Covadonga where Quintana stepped into the red jersey
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Mark McGhee – Race Report Writer
The Vuelta, since its move to the September time slot, has consistently been the best grand tour of the year…and this year was no different, even if it did come down to a battle between Nairo and Chris. If Alberto hadn’t crashed so early on, if Alejandro hadn’t given more than he’s ever given before in support of a teammate, if Team Sky hadn’t so spectacularly missed the move of the race, if… if… if…

The biggest ‘if’ though was if 93 riders hadn’t been allowed back into the race on the morning of Stage 16. And this is the problem: we have a very clear rule, in fact lots of them, that can simply be overruled for any number of emotive reasons. It wouldn’t have helped the race’s, and the sport’s, image if so many riders had been sent home. The media ‘spectacle’ would have been greatly reduced, the sponsors would have been apoplectic, the organization would have been at a loss and the UCI would have been as hamstrung as normal. Most of all though, the riders banded together and a collective decision was taken to challenge the rules, in their favor, believing that they had strength in numbers…and they were right!

The sour taste in the mouth though is that some riders gave their all on stage 15, made the time cut, and then saw riders that hadn’t bothered and were that much fresher for the remaining days, be allowed back in the event. And the next day’s winner was one of those riders who would have been sent home.

Chris Froome expressed concern at the rule being suspended even though his entire team, apart from him, would have been withdrawn:

“I didn’t make that decision,” Froome said. “That was the jury decision, we weren’t the only team – there were 90 riders – with riders back behind the supposed cut off time. If you look around the peloton, Direct Energie wouldn’t have any riders left.

“Personally I believe the rule probably should have been upheld, although I understand the jury’s decision and the jury’s there to make those decisions.”

But as for whether the 93 riders should, in his opinion, have remained excluded from the race, Froome argued: “If the rule’s there, it’s there for a reason.”

Jan Bakelants said that if the riders had only missed the cut by 5 minutes, the jury’s decision would have been understandable but 22 minutes was just incredible.

What it comes down to is that we have a very good rule, designed for a very good reason, and very exceptional circumstances for the rare moments when it’s suspended… but some riders cynically decided to challenge that rule because they fancied a rest… and they were willing to put the responsibility of how it would look if they were chucked out onto someone else.

The Vuelta is, and remains, the best tour in the world but someone is going to have to coger el toro por los cuernos… just who is going to do that remains to be seen… ASO, UCI, AIGCP or, worse case scenario, the sponsors? Viva La Vuelta!

Out of time:
93 riders over the time, but remain in the race

Matt Conn – PEZ Man in Italy:
I must admit I had a very Anglo experience this year. Watched the last 10km live n TV most nights with Carlton commentating, listened to The Cycling Podcast of previous nights stage while I made dinner, and then watched the Orica-BikeExchange Backstage Pass every morning before going to work. It kind of fitted in around my day well. A great race with some interesting tactical errors from Sky’s Grand Tour “B-Team”, some great tactics from Orica-BikeExchange to win stages and get back their podium place and then Movistar doing what they do best. Be present all the time and play their Valverde card where necessary to ensure a victory for Quintana. Exciting to watch it a bit removed. Great to see the desperados trying to save their season (or secure their lifeline for next year in the case of IAM) and lots of entertaining stages with good tactical battles. It isn’t the Giro (Sorry. I’ll always be biased), but with all of those guys from the Tour trying for a second chance, it sure wasn’t a B-Grade Grand Tour.

Orica-BikeExchange Backstage Pass Vuelta Stage 20:

Ed Hood – PEZ Chief Grand Tour Chaser
I spent much of the Vuelta on holiday and whilst I religiously scanned the results every morning it would be impertinent of me to pontificate too much about the race, not having put in the hours on the sofa. However, at the risk of ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ as John Cleese might say, I’ll throw a few observations in:

# there are too many mountain stages; it’s not just mountains which make for a good bike race – see Paris-Roubaix and Milano-Sanremo.

# And maybe I’m the only one but I loved those stages across the high plains with ONCE always one turn of the road away from an echelon ambush.

# the parcours may be flawed but that last stage is wonderful – Madrid at it’s best.

# Alberto Contador is no longer the force he was, sadly – so please, Alberto no ‘one season too many’ you’re better than that.

# you CAN win two Grand Tours in the same year, after all – Quintana, Froome and Chavez all came close.

# Chaves can and will win a Grand Tour.

# Quintana is quality; let’s hope he gets it right for the 2017 Tour and end’s the Froome Coronation Processions which have been starting after the Grand Boucle’s first week . . .

# Colombia is BACK – Quintana, Chaves, Atapuma, and Pantano, Gaviria.

# Froome is obsessed with this race – that can only be a good thing for the fans.

# Daniele Bennati is a remarkable rider, he’s been a pro for 15 years and it took one of the fastest youngsters around, Cort to beat him on Stage 21.

# A great race, a great result – roll on the Giro. . .

Colombia is BACK, maybe Chaves in 2017?
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Alastair Hamilton – PEZ Editor & Spanish Bureau
I’m biased towards my ‘home’ Grand Tour, but for many years now, the Vuelta a España has been the better of the three week races. OK, so the Tour de France is the biggest bike race in the World, but big isn’t always beautiful. It has always been said that the Giro is for the ‘cognoscenti’ and the Tour is for the general public. The Vuelta seems to catch the attention of many different people and in Spain its popularity is back up to where it was in the 80s.

So why was this year so good? Obvious really. The action went down to the penultimate stage and no team (although Movistar tried) dominated the race. As has been said by the others; the stage that the Sky team were shown to be breakable, stood out as the big difference from the Tour. But the 2016 Vuelta was not a battle between Froome and Quintana, there were so many side stories. The Chaves/Contador with Yates on the sidelines. Then the close battles for the KOM and the Points Competitions also went all the way to the line.

Stand out moments? For me personally there were many as I chased the race in the final week. Following David Arroyo in the time trial, the steep climb of the Alto Mas de la Costa and the amount of spectators on the Alto de Aitana were all stand out moments.

But probably the two top memories would be meeting Pauline, the most famous dog in cycling, thanks to rider Yukiya Arashiro and photographer Miwa Iijima. That little dog has more GT’s under collar than some riders.

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The second would be the Colombian fans. They were everywhere, were always happy and brought a lot of color to the race. They loved all the Colombian riders, but they cheered all the riders, even Chris Froome who they had a soft spot for, even though he was Nairo Quintana’s main rival.

Roll on la Vuelta 2017!

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If you have missed anything from the Vuelta you can catch up HERE in the RACE NEWS section.

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