Some cycling fans have a begrudging respect for Froome’s talent and the way Team Sky manage it, but without doubt, most cycling fans prefer and adore Quintana – maybe because he represents the underdog. Without doubt, everyone is excited to see these two go head to head.
In contrast to the dying stages of this year’s Tour de France, the Vuelta has seen Quintana dictating the pace and staking out his claim for the red jersey. After stage 4 Quintana has the edge, but Froome is keeping him in check. Quintana will have to break Froome in the mountain stages, or face the consequences in Stage 17 – a time trial very much suited to Froome.
Nibali and Cancellara are both out of the Vuelta for very different reasons. To be honest, I’m amazed Cancellara even started the tour, and I’m just as amazed that Nibali is out.
First of all, Cancellara seriously injured his lower vertebrae in a crash at E3 Harelbeke, and ruined his Spring Classics. In Le Tour, he then injured his back again ending his challenge while wearing the yellow jersey. It seems almost trivial that he’s had to abandon the Vuelta due to a dodgy stomach after enduring so much pain in 2015.
As for Nibali, I don’t think he was ever a serious contender – but he’s a rider with enough experience to rattle the nerves of the likes of Froome and Quintana. His absence is sad, but I wonder if Nibali himself feels like a serious contender any more.
It may be a little simple to paint the Vuelta as a simple 2 rider race for the Maillot Rojo. Quintana’s Movistar team mate Valverde is a strong rider in his own right, and his victory in stage four shows that Movistar have strength in depth to match Team Sky.
The Vuelta is far more volatile than Le Tour, with less control over riders who usually represent “plan B”. Movistar want a major tour win, so Valverde will need to rein it in and support Quintana – but the same could be said of Roche and Froome.
Froome has the potential to do what only Hinault and Anquetil have done before – win the Tour de France/Vuelta double. Team Sky will be very happy to be the first team to achieve this since ’78 so the pressure on Froome is intense.
Watching the end of stage 4, where Roche thought he could steal a stage from under the noses of the sprinters, and Valverde buried himself to beat Sagan, you’d be forgiven for thinking Froome was a sideshow.
The reality is, we’ve had an explosive start to a tour that will get very serious indeed. Vuelta 2015 is living up to the hype.