La Vuelta a España 2014 – Stage 18; A Estrada – Monte Castrove en Meis, 173.5 km. Fabio Aru with Froome Calling the Shots
‘Alberto defends lead in spite of heavy bombardment,’ says the Saxo-Tinkoff press release – with Chris Froome the man in charge of the howitzers.
Christopher may not be stylish but the man is a bike racer – and that has to be respected.
The tactic is simple, when the road goes up and the pace eases back a notch – attack!
It nearly netted him the win today but Aru is young, hungry, skinny and pretty quick for a mountain man.
But Froome did climb to second on the ‘virtual’ podium and claw back some time on Contador.
It was good to see Frenchmen Le Mevel, Coppel and Barguil all on the attack in the finale but the Giant Shimano man needs to attack less often but more intensely – and stop looking back...
De Marchi was there again, too – this race has seen him blossom; he’s with BMC for 2015, let’s hope he’s allowed his chances.
Back to ‘The Bigs’ – Froome hasn’t abandoned hope of winning this race, Valverde appears to be running out of gas, Rodriguez too and Contador is using his head all well as his legs.
But paradoxically, it’s good to see riders of the stature of Valverde and Contador having to dose their efforts knowing that they can’t just keep turning on the gas - the fridge contents are much more mundane these days.
We all hope so, anyway.
And similarly, good too to see team leaders isolated with their lieutenants cooked for the day.
The ‘Duracell battery ad.’ and ‘clockwork soldiers’ days are no more and besides, everyone asks too many questions these days.
I still look back on those US Postal days and think; ‘how could I sit and watch that and believe my eyes?’
Stage 19 is a ‘breakaway stage’ and it’s unlikely – but not impossible in this race – that the GC riders will all be happy to see the right escape go.
Their minds will be on Stage 20 with the finish atop the HC Puerto de Ancares after a saw tooth day up there in the rugged North West of Spain where you won’t hear any English spoken for days on end – this isn’t The Costas.
Froome will attack, Contador will mark him tightly and whilst Froome is obviously still strong, we;re reminded of the words of Michael Morkov when we were chatting to him during the Tour de France; ‘when guys like Nibali or Alberto have the jersey and know they can win, they don’t mess up.
They don’t panic; they know exactly how much time they can afford to lose and how to play it...
We’re inclined to agree but in Froome we have a man who’s that rare thing in pro bike racing, someone who’ll risk losing second on a Grand Tour podium to try and win.
Which can only be good for us fans.
And closing thought for the day; Alberto Contador has spent 71 hours, 38 minutes and 37 seconds in the saddle in this race (actually more, if you factor in time bonuses) but lanterne rouge, Astana’s Italian sprinter, Andrea Guardini has been in the saddle for an additional 4 hours, 37 minutes and 17 seconds.
And those poor football players sometimes have to play three whole games in 10 days...
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