Nearly a week into the race, what lessons have we learnt?
Belgians play to stereotype
Stage 2 was flat, but the hope that crosswinds might shatter the peloton didn’t really emerge. Team Sky upped the tempo towards the end of the stage, but it was Belgian team Quick-Step Floors that really banged the hammer down with 2km to go.
The route to Gruissan, with a wealth of roundabouts and obstacles to negotiate, played to the stereotype that Belgian teams relish windy, technical conditions. Lampaert ended the day wearing the red jersey – the smart money is on Quick-Step Floors to repeat the feat this Sunday.
Nibali is a welcome presence
Having skipped Le Tour, Nibali is back with a vengeance. When Froome set an aggressive pace on the final climb in stage 3, Nibali kept him in sight, then attacked on the descent, taking victory in Andorra La Vella with an attack in the last 400 metres.
Nibali’s form will be playing on Team Sky’s mind – he’s naturally adept on the descent with less to lose than Froome, and will be more comfortable on the climbs given his break from Le Tour.
Stage 4 – a false victory?
Benicàssim to Alcossebre is a well-trodden route for Froome who’s finished as runner-up several times. Froome threw everything into winning this undulating stage, stretching his lead over Tejay van Garderen to 10 seconds while Aru, Nibali, and Bardet lost even more time.
Afterwards, Froome reflected that the general classification race is “taking shape”, but it looks like gamesmanship from Team Sky – maybe they’re hoping to demoralise their competitors early. Are the rest of the peloton playing the long game? The biggest hills are yet to be climbed.
This is only the 2nd time Froome has worn the Maillot Rojo
Froome has always raced La Vuelta as competitively as he has Le Tour, but the French race takes priority for Team Sky – and it shows. But whatever La Vuelta lacks in prestige it gains in punishment – Froome is racing the hardest race of the year, having already spent most of his energy.
Team Sky are notorious for the amount of money they’re prepared to spend winning grand tours, but every Vuelta they’re battling fresher opponents. We’d do well to remember that wearing the red jersey can never be taken for granted.
In the hands of the Gods
Tejay Van Garderen would be in a much stronger position had he not fallen foul to a puncture near the close of stage 6. The time lost to the technical failure was exaggerated by an unfortunate fall and at the time of writing, the BMC Racing rider is now 30 seconds down.
The peloton know that Froome is vulnerable to attacks even on the climb. Aru’s stunning stage 5 victory in Le Tour de France came at the end of a stage where Froome enjoyed enviable team support. La Vuelta may be Froome’s to lose, but there are plenty of reasons for his rivals to be optimistic.