It's a nice town, Eibar. Surrounded by green fields, beautiful steep hills and nicely designed separatist flags, it truly is a great place to finish a bike race, and before you ask, I got this all from Google. While all the cool kids go and hug the cobbles for a week, we cycling nerds who love the hills don't get a trip to the Basque Country. We've really got to unionise, but that can wait, because I write this as I watch Jelle Wallays lead the escape out of Troisvilles. Anyway, I want to make a couple of quick comments on the race we all (by which I mean climbing nerds) just saw, starting with this one:
Alejandro Valverde is probably immortal. Not only did he win on Arrate in the most predictable, most Valverde manner imaginable, he followed it up by doing the next day's time-trial at over forty-six kilometres an hour. It's not that I didn't think he could beat Contador on a day like that, it's just that the formbook shows that Valverde doesn't usually do it. He didn't win the stage — it couldn't have been made any better for Roglic — but it was a truly impressive day on the bike (wait, bikes actually) for the man from Murcia. He way outperformed Contador on the flat sections, even more impressive given that he's done the same on each of the last three mountain stages they've both ridden this year. He is on such amazing form going into the Ardennes that I have trouble thinking of a reason why he won't win any of the races, but more on that later.
Primoz Roglic is so well-equipped for one-week stage races, I think that Cannondale should start sending their riders to ski-jumping training camps to see if it has an effect. From the second it became clear that the flat section of the time-trial would be decisive it looked immediately like Roglic's race, and he duly delivered, crossing the line in his Slovenian champion's jersey with a margin just large enough to hold off Valverde's charge. While he lost a strangely large amount of time on Arrate (one minute and eleven seconds) he's a much better climber than that and combined with his skill as a time-triallist (and finisseur, clearly) his two stage victories in this race make it clear that he'll have a lot more future success in one-weekers.
Kwiatkowski should have been racing on the cobbles! All that winning bunch sprints in small Basque towns proves is that his talents and form could be so much better used by Sky, a team with no success in the classics this year or ever that didn't come from (wait for it) Kwiatkowski. He can get away with Sagan on a cobbled climb, something that can be said about no one else on Sky, apparently. He is unable, however, to finish in the front group of Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Well, he's done it once, but that was the year when nobody attacked until Martin faceplanted in sight of the line and around thirty guys were in the finishing photograph). He is certainly incapable of sprinting up the Mûr du Huy at the speed of somebody to whom I dedicated quite a portion of this article. So that leaves him Amstel. I can name the last three winners of Amstel without checking a list. It is without doubt the most overrated classic there is, and it's not even very highly rated. Oh, and Kwiatkowski (one of the three) isn't even going to win. He's going to finish second. Would he have won Flanders? Maybe not. Would he have improved the race. Almost certainly. I think he would have finished with Terpstra's group.
Is David De La Cruz the new...the new...the new...somebody? He knows how to win races — he held off a large peloton to take the yellow jersey on stage three, and when you add that to his Vuelta stage from the breakaway and snatching stage eight of Paris-Nice from Alberto Contador, he's amassing himself some nice palmarés. Maybe the victories will dry up as he becomes more of a watched riders, or maybe he becomes Spain's official stage-hunter.
Now it's time to pause for a minute and remind you all that Patrick Konrad is kind of brilliant, and soon enough he'll start winning stuff. Fifteenth place on the first stage of the race was his very worst finish, and eleventh and twelfth on the two final stages were enough to propel him to seventh on GC. He and Emanuel Buchmann (thirteenth on GC) are Bora's two riders who aren't Sagan that everyone needs to watch.
The fact that you clicked on this post proves that you came for some stuff that didn't involve cobbles, ya weirdo, but now I'm going to cheat a bit. You see, yesterday a race occurred in Flanders that I just have to mention. It was the U23 Ronde, and it was won by a man from Cork. Yes, Eddie Dunbar (who I am likely going to write a lot more about in the coming years) is the under-23 Ronde Van Vlaanderen champion. The level of the riders who have finished on the podium of that race is so high that not only is the twenty-year-old guaranteed a pro contract when he wants one, he (a rider more suited to climbing and time-trialling than attacking on the Eikenberg, I would have thought) is now in the public eye, and if the pressure doesn't get to him, looks likely to have a good career.