Samuel Sanchez summed it up best in the BMC press release for Stage 20 to Ancares;
“To understand how was hard it was, you only have to look at the riders’ faces.”
That was certainly true of Chris Froome, his face ashen, skin tight on his skull, eyes popping, gasping for air like a dying fish.
Not just from the effort but from the disappointment of having burned his Sky team to last match head then given his all, only for Alberto Contador to sit there as cool as a glass of Pimm’s on a summer’s day, soak up all the punishment then put 16 seconds into the Englishman in the last few hundred metres.
To use a Sean Kellyism, the smiling man from Pinto was; ‘moightily impressive.’
Depending on your point of view on these things, the Puerto de Ancares was either a fitting and symbolic ‘high’ to mark the end of the race’s climbing days, or, as young IAM rider, Marcel Aregger said;
“A final climb like I have never seen before – it was pure madness!”
We can rest assured that VV’s answer to Nostradamus, Viktor will be with Aregger on that one.
But back to Froome, there can be little but admiration for the way he attacked and attacked again but whilst it’s easy to be a ‘SDS’ – that’s ‘sofa director sportif’ – maybe he shouldn’t have committed his boys from quite so far out?
It would have been better to have more support at the death, surely?
But he tried hard and gave us a great race.
Fourth placed Joaquin Rodriguez is being criticised for his attack on Ancares; but again, he rode, he tried, he didn’t just sit there and wait on the inevitable Froome/Contador grapple to the death from which he was always going to get shelled.
Of the three ‘Bigs’ who sustained injuries earlier in the season – along with Contador and Froome – the little Catalan is the one who has found it toughest to get back to full fitness.
As we say in Scotland; ‘old age doesn’t just come on it’s own…
Valverde defended the sixth Vuelta podium placing of his long career and whilst he bears the stigma of ‘bad doper’ because there’s been no remorse filled book/tearful confession or ride with Saint Jonathan’s Garmin, you have to respect the man – he’s a bike racer.
His season isn’t just about one or two three week periods.
He opened the year with victories in the prologue, two stages and the GC in the Ruta Del Sol; then there was the Tour of Murcia, Lazio, GP Indurain, Fleche Wallonne, the Spanish TT Champs, fourth in le Tour and San Sebastian.
This Vuelta has yielded a TTT and individual stage win, a spell in the red leader’s jersey and (God willing in Santiago) Valverde’s sixth appearance on a Vuelta final podium – quality.
Astana’s Aru confirmed that he’s an exciting prospect for the future with his two stage wins but, as in the Giro the tank was rapidly draining on the last day, however he fought and fought up Ancares finishing totally drained but conserving fifth on GC.
Oviedo man Sammy Sanchez has to be due a round of applause, a rider who we thought might be past ‘sell by’ rode a good race for sixth spot on GC – albeit he’s in a different Vuelta from the first five, some six minutes behind Aru and ten behind Contador.
Last words then must go to Alberto Contador – there’s little left for us say except that this Vuelta confirms him as one of the all time great stage racers.
Apparently I’m not supposed to mention that he came back from being ‘close to death’ – too close to Lance’s story, I’m told – but the fact is that he did, curled in a ball on the hard roads of the 2004 Vuelta a Asturias with blood seeping from his ears.
And on the subject of the The Texas Turd, when Contador was on Astana with Lance in the 2009 Tour the Madrileno not only had to beat all the other teams on the race, he had to fend off half of his own squad, too.
Six men in the history of cycle sport have won all three Grand Tours; Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador – enough said.
And even though the race is won, I still wish I was going to be in Santiago de Compostella, this night.