Conclusions as we reach the second restday of this Vuelta:
- Warren Barguil is for real.
Twenty one years old and just won his second mountain stage in the Vuelta. That's eehhhh..... halfdecent, even for a guy who confirmed his talent by winning l'Avenir. I'm already contemplating throwing out my life-size Thibaut Pinot fan-doll and getting a Barguil one.
- Just when you think this race was down to a two man showdown - turns out it isn't
Before stage 16 I was all set to write the restday story that this was a two-horse race between Nibali and Horner because clearly on every stage those two have been on another level. Then Nibali has the bad judgement to go and disrupt a perfectly good narrative by suddenly losing his ability to control everything that happens at the front of the race. And then you look at the Tour de France where the Spaniards came charging in week 3 and you get that nagging feeling that this thing isn't over yet.
- Quality floats to the top.
We went into the Vuelta with a long list of names who may or may not have been candidates for the GC. It's not like the TdF where we pretty much know 7 out of the 10 people who are going to be in the top 10 and can make educated guesses about the other three. Here we had more than a handful of contenders who no one knew how on earth they were going to do but by and large the top names are still the ones we had expected. Nibali, J-Rod and Valverde are all where we assumed them to be . Riders who are not have to include Henao who failed miserably to live up to the hype and Horner who hasn't looked as impressive as this since he stood shoulder to shoulder with Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt.
The list of big names that were nowhere near fit enough to factor in the race is loooong and it just goes to show that predicting the Vuelta is a pointless exercise, you just don't know how people will go at the end of the season.
- Lots of jabs, no knockout punches
The pattern we've seen again and again on the multiple uphill finishes is a kind of conservative riding. Final climb, we see lots of tentative attacks but it's a lot of Schleck action, accelerate-look back-assess-get chased down. We haven't seen many committed attacks apart from the times when Horner and Nibali have distanced the others simply by putting in a high sustained pace for longer than the others can withstand. There are a few ways to see this. Either riders are simply too even matched. The hard racing has people on limit and a short upping of the pace is all they have in them and it won't get them very far. Alternatively people are simply riding smart because they have the fear of what is coming in week 3. Pena Cabarga and Angliru, anyone with any sense realizes that this is where this game will be settled in the end. Leads of seconds can turn into defeats by minutes in a few kilometers on either of those days. People want enough left in the tank to be the hammers, not the nails then.
Also, lets not forget we have a field of favorites here who are also gunning for Worlds. It's in all their interests to delay the action for as much as possible so they aren't over-cooked by Firenze
- Never ever stop to pee
Because Gregory Rast is coming for you.
What have we got in store?
- Mountaintop finishes!
More and worse than before. This Vuelta is just silly.We couldn't even get Vueltabecco to preview the course, he just kept cackling uncontrollably and choking on his tapas.
- Third week peaks
Joaquim Rodriguez showed in July that he has gotten a hang of the whole "peak for when it matters"-thingamajig. Expect him to come out swinging this week. Valverde too. In retrospect maybe starting to pick Valverde for wins a week ago was a bit premature, this is when he is going to be really good. As good as he get though, the final big stages couldn't be better suited to J-Rod and if he hits his stride it's going to be a few days of damage control for everyone else.
- Horner deathwatch
All eyes will be on everyone's favorite geriatric this week. Can he really win a GT? Will he hold up? Are his efforts credible? Will he even attack perhaps? Will he choke? Will he finish the Angliru fast enough to make it back to the hotel in time for the weekly episode of Matlock?
Hang on to your pantalones, it's going be a hell of a last week.