Stage 16: Circuito de Navarra -- Logroño ITT, 40.3km
Adios Andalucia! Hello reasonable temperatures...
What’s It About?
The Truth. It is written in cycling lore, only the strongest can win the time trial, and if you are the strongest you win the race. Like two years ago, when Tom Dumoulin scored a definitive win against the watch on a similar week three course, and won the Vuelta. Or last year, where on another similar week three course Chris Froome notched his only Vuelta title with a stage win in Calpe.
Uh, so much for cycling lore.
Still, this year may be the difference. Last year Froome used the occasion to shore up a second spot on the GC with a dominant stage win, and rolled calmly into Madrid behind only Nairo Quintana for the overall. [So I dunno, maybe don’t drive a stake into Quintana’s career just yet?] Dumoulin was an unfinished product, not comparable to 2017 Chris Froome, so that data point doesn’t quite match up. The point is, there are two minutes to be gained on this course, even if what the winner does with them may vary depending on the rest of the race.
Whom Does it Favor?
The powerful. The course itself is flat and often very straight. There are a couple moments where riders might get out of the saddle in the middle, and anyone whose rhythm gets broken will have to find it again from there. But I doubt that will mean anything.
Froome is the obvious choice, given his consistent and impressive track record. He tends to win the decisive grand tour time trials he rides, or at least win them relative to the other GC contenders. Nothing about him suggests he’s in decline against the watch — he was third in the Tour’s primary ITT, albeit a shorter event where he only put seconds into his rivals rather than minutes.
Moreover, nothing about the competition makes one wonder whether he will lose time in the overall classification. Only Miguel Angel Lopez has a short and enticing enough track record to make one wonder — a second in the Suisse and ninth in Pais Vasco, but two lone and very different data points for a rider who will be defending his position in a grand tour against the watch for the first time in his career. Alberto Contador has been pretty good, even in France, and might not lose much (more) time. But Froome’s closest competition is Nibali, who shipped a minute-plus to Tom Dumoulin over 29km at the Giro; Zakarin, who was worse than Nibali in May; and Esteban Chaves, who is cover-your-eyes bad in the discipline. I personally don’t think Fabio Aru is terrible against the watch, but against Froome he will be lucky to tread water and pass a few of the other guys.
Did You Know?
Winning time trials is a great way to rack up statistics, particularly jersey-holding statistics. To wit: the record holder for most leaders’ jerseys in the Vuelta a España is Alex Zulle, a rider who regularly won against the clock en route to a fruitful career including two Vuelta wins and 48 days in the leadership of the Vuelta. He also regularly took banned substances, which is a great way to win time trials and leaders’ jerseys. But the riders he beat probably did too, which brings us back to the point that winning the time trial is a good way to rack up a closet full of fancy laundry.
Froome might get to 20 days in Red, which would level him with Nibali in the Vuelta record books, though Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador are ahead of them both at 27 and 26 days in the lead.
Anyway, over at the Giro, the list of leaders in the category of most maglie rose is replete with cronomen. The top ten includes Merckx, Moser, Bartali and Coppi, Anquetil, Hinault and Indurain. Also Girardegno and Binda; the only pure climber in there is Giuseppe Saronni. Similar names at the Tour, plus a bunch of older names I don’t know anything about... and 12th all time, despite never having sniffed victory, is Fabian Cancellara. So yeah, if it’s jerseys you seek, work on that flat back.
Pick to Win
Froome is the pick, but although he won’t be challenged for the stage by any of his rivals, there are a few guys around who could take the honors on the day from the Kenyan. Bob Jungels of Quick Step is a known entity against the watch, having bagged third in the Giro’s long ITT. Rohan Dennis is a world champion-level rider against the watch, and is undoubtedly honing his form for such an honor. There’s a longer list of guys who might discover that tomorrow is their day, but for now, know that Froome isn’t the only royalty in the starthouse.