On the stage
One of my pet peeves in sport is the old saw about “he/she just wanted it more.” This is normally said after a narrow victory at the end of a race. Here’s an example. Michael Phelps “wanted it more”. In this race, there are eight guys who had the physical attributes, the skills, the fitness and the dedication to make the Olympic final. Eight guys who have been up and in the water before dawn since they were teenagers, who have put their lives on hold to perform on that day. He wanted it more? Bollocks. They all wanted it – he was just the most talented of those eight determined and competitive men.
You don’t get to shine in sport without that determination, and as such that cliché is nearly always commentators talking nonsense. All that said, Wednesday’s stage of the Vuelta? This is about who wants it the most. There’s no kind of rider who couldn’t win, but halfway through a tough Grand Tour, with team responsibilities and overall prizes to think about, not everyone will be looking to win.
I previewed stage seven and wondered what the point was. I could do something similar here. This is another stage which precedes a transfer and isn’t transitional, and another stage that doesn’t link major cities or beauty spots. It is another stage that doesn’t give us a certain sprint, or have any obvious GC impact.
Stage seven was fun. This should be fun, too. It has a classics-y feel to it, which is always nice. Four categorised climbs, none particularly challenging, but lots more uncategorised climbs. It is the longest day of the Vuelta at 207km, and it’ll be tough. The break will need to be freakishly talented or very large, otherwise it’ll be reeled in even if the peloton aren’t trying hard. There’s 17km after the last categorised climb and whilst a lot of them are downhill, that final bump, plus a false flat to the line, are against the break.
I could see this coming down to a drag-sprint of the sort that would suit Peter Sagan or Alejandro Valverde (who wouldn’t mind taking red back from the also-has-a-chance Simon Yates, one imagines). I could see it being won from a late attack (Tiesj Benoot or Dylan Teuns, that sort of rider) or even by whomever survives in a big break – the likes of Steve Cummings and Gianluca Brambilla are on a long, long list.
The finish really will be challenging after such a long day - don’t expect the fastest man in the lead group to win easily.
I try to learn from my mistakes. I didn’t see the point of stage seven but I enjoyed it. Stage 11, I see the point of. It is going to be a fun day to watch, and that’s reason enough to include it in the Vuelta. Who’ll win? No idea.
I’ll go with Peter Sagan, because I could see him winning however the race is run. Also, because if you don’t know who is going to win, he’s an excellent choice.
On watching cycling in funny places
I have continued to not watch much of this Vuelta, beyond catching occasional highlights. Life and work are busy. I do, however, have the Eurosport App on my phone. If I find myself with decent wifi and ten minutes at an exciting stage of the race, I love a bit of a cheeky watch. This can mean awfully grainy footage and lots of background noise, plus an over-reliance on Carlton Kirby. On the other hand, it is amazing how it fixes races in your mind.
My clearest memory of the 2013 Tour is the stage 8 climb to Ax-Trois Domaines. Not because it was a great day, or because Froome took yellow, but because I watched the last climb over someone’s shoulder in an on-course betting shop at Sandown racecourse, listening to radio commentary, just before I watched Al Kazeem win the Eclipse.
This Sunday, returning from a quick trip to London, I found myself waiting for a delayed flight from Gatwick to Edinburgh, with decent wi-fi and a stage finish coming up. So, I sat in an airport Wetherspoons, living the dream and willing on Ben King. I won’t remember his first win, but I’ll remember his second one. I’ll remember where I was sitting, and I’ll remember toasting him with lime and soda, surrounded by people who couldn’t care less about La Vuelta. Squeezing cycling into life isn’t always easy, but when it works out it is so much fun, and so memorable.