We took a rest day for Stage 12; we said Bouhanni to win the ‘crit’ but also that Degenkolb might argue with us; the French dynamo got held up behind a stack whilst the 25 year-old German from Gera didn’t and duly took his third win of the race. Stage 13 took things back up a level with Daniel Navarro taking the honours but on a parcours which didn’t make for ‘The Bigs’ to do anything but mark each other.
Unlike the Tour de France where there have been years where the honour of France has been saved by a single stage win by the likes of Sandy Casar, the Vuelta has always inspired it’s children with Spaniards well to the fore.
If the 2014 Tour de France was the first time since 1997 a Frenchman appeared on the podium, you have to go back to 1996 to find the last occasion there was no Spaniard on the Vuelta podium and that doesn’t look like changing.
Similarly, when it comes to stage wins the ‘Home Boys’ always reach deep into their top hats to find a rabbit with Dani Navarro at last giving Cofidis something to smile about.
The QuickStep machine may churn out the big wins; Tony Martin’s Vuelta ‘contra reloj’ victory was the 60th win for the Belgian team in three disciplines – road, six day and cyclocross – in 2014.
And the team has now won more than 60 races for three straight years and also won at least one stage of every Grand Tour this season and one stage of every Grand Tour for the last seven years.
But for Cofidis wins like Navarro’s don’t come every day and are a moment to savour.
On the subject of QuickStep and harping back to our rest day crit it was telling to see Tom Boonen in second place in the finish line melee.
He’s serious about the Worlds.
And whilst Degenkolb was the man in the crit and Navarro was the local hero on Stage 13; a result which went unnoticed by many behind the Spaniard’s was Bouhanni’s fifth place.
A French world champion; that would be something, with the last time a Frenchman topped the podium being Laurent Brochard in 1997 in San Sebastian – enough said of ‘Broch,’ for me his hair was worse than his doping.
The last French rider to make the Worlds podium was Anthony Geslin in Madrid in 2005.
But with the Worlds in Spain again this year it just might be a good year for Spain, especially with ex-pro and one of the best amateurs in the world ‘when I were a lad,’ Bernard Bourreau at the helm of the Les Bleus.
Stage 13 sadly saw the exit of 2013 Vuelta stage winner, Kenny Elissonde (F des J & France) and the man of whom Winston Churchill might have said; ‘never in the field of professional bicycle racing has so much hype been given to a rider with so few palmares,’ Jurgen Van De Broeck (Lotto & Belgium).
VeloVeritas sage, Ivan and I have decided that the Belgians have at least to pretend they have a GC rider – and Big Jurg is as close as they can get.
And on the subject of enigmas – languishing a remote 183rd on GC @ 2:36:22 in this Vuelta is a certain Carlos Betancur (AG2R & Colombia).
Still only 24, the man with the semi-mullet rode a brilliant Giro in 2013 and this spring won Haut Var and Paris-Nice – with two stage wins – before disappearing back to Colombia and ‘forgetting’ to come back to the ‘Old World’ and ride the Tour.
His best stage finish – TTT apart – in the race has been 141st but we can’t help but think there’s another reason for his letting himself be dragged round the Iberian Peninsula under a blazing sun other than AG2R stopping paying him.
Last year at the Worlds in Florence we were struck by the man’s sheer disappointment at the finish; he sat on the top tube of his bike for a good five minutes staring at his feet as if replaying the race in his mind and analysing where he’d gone wrong.
We think he’s serious about the Worlds and this Vuelta is just training – doing the kilometres but not going too deep, like Bradley Wiggins used to do in the Giro when preparing for the Worlds pursuit.
If he’s up there in Ponferrada then remember where you read it here first; if he’s not then it’s just us getting it wrong – again.
Stage 14 tomorrow, Saturday, out of Santander is a beast; there’s the cat. 2 Collada de la Hoz at 77 K; the long, long cat. 1 Puerto de San Glorio at 129 K and the cat. 1 La Camperona with 24% ramps to the finish at 199 K.
The top ten will be distilled to an even higher proof on this tough day.
And there’s Covadonga on Sunday…
Vaya con Dios.