Alessandro Valverde was hugely impressive – not the shadow of himself we saw in the last week of the Tour. It’s like Robert Millar said; ‘there comes a day when you have to stop dreaming.’
That day was yesterday for many as we were reminded of the savagery of professional bike racing at the highest levels.
There were no interlopers – just the best of the best, all of the pre-race favourites trying their best to waste each other on that horrible grind to the line.
It was a hard climb to deal with, not a long col for the pure climbers, or a ramp for the explosive guys – as Rodriguez discovered – but somewhere inbetween and very difficult to read, especially with the way it sliced straight across the hillside with nothing to break it up.
However he was back and winning in San Sebastian one week after he grovelled the Tour’s final time trial.
But the man is hugely experienced and his body and brain are like that of a race horse or a shark, designed to do one thing really well.
It was February 2002 when he made his pro debut for Kelme; since then there’s been two Liege-Bastogne-Liege wins, two Dauphine’s, a Vuelta and eight stage wins, two Fleche Wallone’s, two San Sebastian’s not to mention two World’s silvers and three Worlds bronzes – a record number of podium appearances.
But it’s still early days in this, the most unpredictable of the three Grand Tours.
Up until the race hit the lower slopes of the Cumbres I was musing that it was your classic Vuelta scenario with all the ingredients there; baking heat, long straight roads, ghost town villages with no spectators, Caja Rural in the break and an escape with a seemingly unassailable lead which dissolved like a soluble Aspirin in a matter of a few kilometres as the ‘Bigs’ cracked the whip on their galley slaves.
But that finale really did sort out the serious players from the dreamers.
The only name close to being a ‘surprise’ in the top ten now is GreenEDGE’s young Colombian, Chavez in fifth spot.
And good to see young French hope Warren Barguil in the top ten for Giant.
Cadel Evan’s and Samuel Sanchez’s chances took severe knocks, however – both great riders but there comes a day when…
And another ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’ for Garmin as our tip for the day, Dan Martin slipped out of the lead group as Valverde did his demonic train driver thing.
And on that subject, some of the media amaze me in how they interpret things; Valverde rode tempo for much of the climb with Quintana looking comfortable until it all got really serious at the death.
Rodriguez attacked, Valverde countered and Quintana couldn’t – it wasn’t as if Valverde was going to think; ‘where’s Nairo?’
He’s thinking; ‘I best nail that little beggar Rodriguez before he gets too far!’
How that can be interpreted as divisive is beyond me.
Stage Seven, Friday, is 155 km from Alhendin to Alcaudete with two second cat. climbs along the way and a dragging finalé.
The break might just do it – or it could be a late counter move which the sprinters’ teams are too spent to counter?
Gilbert, Albasini – or even Yates?