Lee’s Vuelta Rest Day Lowdown
Vuelta Lowdown: Lee Rodgers is back from his short break and he has the Spanish Grand Tour in his cross hairs. As always Lee gives us his unique lowdown on the good and the bad from la Vuelta. Nibali, Sagan, bike motors, Oleg and the UCI all come under the Rodgers microscope on the second rest day.
Ah, la Vuelta! Like crack to the Tour, crystal meth to the Giro, it’s always been the poor cousin of the three Grand Tours and has never quite got its barbs of addiction under my skin, but some are claiming that it’s been the best of the big races over the past two years, which, I still believe, says more about how poor the Giro and the Tour have been than representative of any real improvement of the Vuelta.
Could it be that the formula of insane finishes and super hard days coming one after the other is working? The Giro tried it and ended up with a rider strike and all minds of complaints. The Tour has generally not strayed into that territory as its position as #1 is largely unassailable, but the Vuelta is still gambling on that, and it might be the only card is has to play.
Mark Cavendish certainly is not impressed, as his interview with Britain’s ITV the other day proved. “The Vuelta has just become stupid now; 11 mountain-top finishes this year,” he said. “One thing for the viewers: sprinters aren’t bad bike riders. You don’t have to go quick uphill to make it a good race, do you know what I mean? No-one wants to go to the Vuelta any more unless they crashed out of the Tour de France.”
Or unless you’re Spanish. However it’s hard to argue with Cavendish’s words, there are so many summit finishes that it does get a bit dull, with riders aiming to limit losses rather than banging it out. Yes, the race is close with just one second between Rodriguez and Aru before Stage 16 but is it close because the stages are so hard?
Although, any admission that I agree with Cavendish needs to noted with the fact that I disagree with just about everything else he says. For example, in 2013 during his spat with Andre Greipel he said “If I wanted to get shit small wins, I’d race shit small races”, which must then mean he’s not in fact currently doing the Tour of Britain and getting beaten on the line by Elia Viviani. Ahem.
Still, anyone who watched Stage 16 would be hard pressed to deny that it was something of a classic, with all the favorites battling to the very end, great stuff.
The 2015 Vuelta has not been short on controversy, though of course in an era when every other fortnight unleashes some more news of doping we have all become rather inured to scandal and shock, as evidenced by the media ‘meh’ that Luca Paolini’s cocaine positive at the Tour brought forth. But the Spanish race is doing its best.
First up we had Nibali’s DQ – seems an age ago right? What was interesting about that was that it happens all the time and people don’t get chucked from the race, the other thing is that had Nibali been Spanish, well, I’d bet my paella on him not getting DQ’d. I’m all for rules when they are contributing to cutting cheating, but get consistent with their application please.
Cycling has to learn from football, or soccer, call it what you will. In the UK especially the Football Association and the referees came together to unify the game and set standards in both the quality of referees and in their application of rules, some of them new, deigned to allow the game to flow better.
This is yet another area in which the UCI has been slow to act but then they have too much on their plate it seems with trying hard to pretend to be invisible. Quite how a rambling, overweight and disorganized organization can think they’ll ever win at hide and seek is beyond me. We can see your feet poking out behind the curtains, lads, the game’s up.
On the same thread, with regard to the moto situation I am going to agree with another person on this, and I never thought I would say this but, Oleg Tinkov is right but it’s hard to disagree with this: “I think UCI and ASO are bunch of pricks that’s it.”
It’s almost a Haiku, isn’t it? I can just see Tinkov in Samurai kit with a large sword, stabbing himself constantly, in the foot. But yes, I agree with him on this one, the number of moto scrapes this year has been ridiculous, something even Brian Cookson felt compelled to comment on.
“Safety is the most important thing for the UCI,” said Brian, “and I’m sure for everybody. Everybody has a responsibility – the riders have a responsibility as well, but certainly the drivers of the cars, motos, especially have a responsibility for safety.”
Great but, are they all trained and certified to ride with bike racers? Are there effective fines and suspensions in place to deter reckless driving? As far as I know it was Sagan who received a 300CHF fine for reacting with anger when he as knocked down by the moto, but the driver of the bike received no fine.
I think many out there would nod in agreement when I say I know what I’d have done to the moto driver, and it’d have been more painful for him than me kicking his bike. I’d have flattened him, or tried to. Nothing gets me angrier than someone in a one ton car or 500lb motorbike almost killing me when I am riding and I personally thought Sagan was restrained under the circumstances. To fine him shows a lack of class, if you ask me, and a lack of understanding of the kind of pressure these modern riders find themselves under from the media.
“You can’t really go around punching cars and kicking motorbikes” wrote thx1138 on a cycling website’s comments section. Why not? Answers on a postcard please.
Also popping up again is the subject of mechanized doping. Several top riders’ bikes were searched after Stage 15 for bike motors, which tells you that the authorities believe their use is definitely conceivable, and then there is this interesting little video which emerged from a bystander’s phone as the Movistar car pulled along. A mechanic get out, takes a bike off the roof and then gives it to a soigneur telling him to ‘hide the bike!’
The conversation goes something like this:
Mechanic: Carry this to the car, carry this to the car.
Mechanic: Take it!
Soigneur: Don’t worry, I’ll put it away.
Mechanic: Hide it so no one see it, nobody is coming.
It does look like the seatpost on the bike is broken and teams do their absolute best to not allow the media to see broken bits from their sponsors. Whatever it was, Movistar’s people need to sign up for a course in spotting people holding smartphones and taking videos and another in the Art of Subtlety.
Of intense interest at this Vuelta has been the performance of Tom Dumoulin. The smart Giant-Alpecin rider claims that it was the example set by Sir Bradley Wiggins that inspired him to push himself harder and to believe in his ability to ride Grand Tours, and it’s been a great ride by the big man. A rest day will allow him to rest and he should be firing at the ITT. If he gets 20 seconds over the rest there and take the lead, it’d be a decent wager on him to take the overall.
He’s 1:51 down though on Rodriguez, 1:50 down on Aru, you have to wonder if he can make that back and then some in the race against the clock, which is just under 40km in length.
His ride in yesterday’s stage was fantastic, as was, and I take my hat off here again, the stage finale that saw Aru chasing Rodriguez for that single second. Good stuff Vuelta. I’ll be back for another fix tomorrow, you might just get me hooked if you carry on like this.
Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.