Review: The second week of the Vuelta a España
Sep 04 2017 02:06 pm CET

Review: The second week of the Vuelta a España
Review: The second week of the Vuelta a España
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As the Vuelta a España has reached its second rest day, CyclingPub's Marcelo Hernández takes a look at the ups and downs of the second week of racing.

By Marcelo Hernández

The second rest day of the Vuelta is here, and after several hard-fought stages with high pace and a lot of nervousness, the GC is still dominated by Chris Froome. Nevertheless, interesting moves took place in the last few days: both in the sense of great achievements of some unexpected riders and the sinking of some leaders in the GC. Here is a review of the most important deeds of the second week of this Vuelta.

There were several riders that became protagonists during this second week of racing in Spain, the first one is surely the king of sprints of this Vuelta, and a serious contender for the green kersey of the points classification: Matteo Trentin. The Italian rider of Quick-Step Floors won stages 10 and 13, the only ones suitable to his characteristics, and managed to make an important improvement in the points classification which is led by a climber as is usual in the Spanish grand tour.

Trentin was also very combative trying to enter the breakaways of the high mountain stages in order to take points in the intermediate sprints, with the result that he is now only three points below Chris Froome in that classification. There are only a few opportunities for Trentin in the next week, including the final showdown in Madrid and maybe things will still be close enough to add some excitement to the final stage.

The other rider with a magnificent week was Miguel Ángel López. the Colombian rider of Astana claimed two stages as well but his performance is even more relevant as he is getting himself in the fight for the red jersey. The two stages he has won are the 11th one with finish on the Calar Alto and the 16th with finish in the Sierra Nevada; which were probably the two most difficult summit finishes of the week.

He was also a protagonist of the 14th stage with another hard summit finish in the Sierra de la Pandera where he managed to gain some seconds on Froome and Nibali and important time over his direct opponents in the Top 10. Through these amazing performances López has demonstrated that he is among the strongest climbers in this Vuelta right now and if his good shape remains across the next week on climbs like Los Machucos or the mythic Angliru, he could be an important contender for the podium.

The great moment that López is going through is surely causing a change of focus within team Astana. With his last stage win, the Colombian has surpassed Fabio Aru in the GC while the Italian seems to be struggling to keep the pace imposed by Sky on the high mountain terrain. Astana’s squad has worked in the front of the peloton in the last two high mountain stages, apparently with López’ stage victory in mind, but the question is: Are they going to leave Aru completely by himself in the last week?

While Trentin and López were taking stages for their teams, the Polish riders were also delivering great performances in this Vuelta, which has become a great race for them. One of the bravest climbs of this Vuelta was performed by Rafal Majka on the ascent of the Sierra de la Pandera on stage 14; the Bora rider started the climb with the remnants of the day’s breakaway with around a minute and a half of advantage with the peloton, and for most of the climb he went alone and managed to not only maintain the gap but increase it at times against the unstoppable pace of the Sky train.

Tomasz Marckzynski also achieved glory taking his second stage of the Vuelta on the 12th day, also redeeming the race for Lotto Soudal. These performances, added to the constant presence of Pawel Poljanski in breakaways, has elevated the Polish participation of this Vuelta giving a more than positive balance for the riders of this nationality.

While the performance of these riders has given color and excitement to the race, the GC battle seems to be stocked in the fight for the conformation of the Top 10 and the podium, while the first place seems to be very secure in the hands of Chris Froome. None of the other team leaders is looking strong enough to challenge the predominance of the Sky squad in the hardest mountains. Only Miguel Ángel López, as was mentioned earlier, has been the rider that has been constantly strong across the last week and has improved significantly his GC spot during the last few days.

But it is unlikely that he could, in the two summit finishes that are left, get himself close enough to Froome to be an inconvenience for the Briton, especially taking into consideration that there is a long time trial on stage 16 that will surely benefit the Sky leader.

Another rider in a similar situation, with the difference that he was marked as one of the great favorites for this Vuelta, is Vincenzo Nibali. The Bahrain Merida leader is doing a good Vuelta and managed to improve his performance in the high mountains in this second week taking two third places on the summit finishes: Calar Alto on Stage 11, and Sierra de la Pandera on Stage 14.

The Italian is kind of comfortable in the second place of the GC after the sinking of Esteban Chaves, and is now 1’01” behind Froome while holding an advantage of 1:07 on Ilnur Zakarin in the third place, a time gap that could be enough for the Italian to keep his spot after the time trial. Even though Nibali has tried to get some time on Froome, the Sky squad is as solid as usual as was observed on the hard climb to the Sierra Nevada where they had no trouble at all neutralizing an attack by Nibali in the matter of a few hundreds of meters.

About the other GC contenders, Fabio Aru and Esteban Chaves are struggling to find their best shape, while Kelderman is surprising everyone by staying with the Froome group until the end of each stage; not because there was any doubt about his quality but because he has managed to climb to the podium, now lost to Zakarin by three seconds, almost all by himself. Kelderman’s performance is on its way to become another good achievement for Sunweb in such a great year for the German squad.

Finally, this second week has featured several attacks of Alberto Contador. The Spaniard seems decided to show himself in each stage since he hasn’t let go any opportunity to get away from the peloton. His attack of the 12th stage, in which Froome suffered a lot with two crashes and a puncture on the final section of the day, was particularly brave and successful allowing him to gain 42 seconds on Froome and 22 seconds on his direct rivals.

But in the last couple of stages Contador hasn’t been that solid and his attacks not only have been unsuccessful but in the finish line the Trek-Segafredo rider has lost time to the other team leaders. Contador is clearly less worried about protecting his current ninth place in the GC and seems willing to shake things up in every stage he can. Cycling fans worldwide appreciate that attitude, but he will have to improve the way he manages his strength in order to provide a good show and at the same time avoid falling too much in the GC.

There are only six stages left in this Vuelta, including two hard high mountain stages and an individual time trial, where the GC will be decided. Team Sky seems to have everything under control but they will have to face the ambition of those strong enough to aspire to the podium and, why not, maybe getting close enough to the first place to dream about an historic accomplishment.
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