As we scanned the route of the 2017 Vuelta pre-race, we found Stage 17 and said: “There it is!”
The freak show. Typically leftfield. The Stage that goes in the diary as the one to watch.
The Vuelta specialises in this kind of thing.
The final climb up Los Machucos resembled, in parts, a rutted and barely paved cow track. It was narrow, sketchy, steep (25%+ in places), and shrouded in a thick mountain mist.
The best climbers in the world, usually proud of their grace and style on the gradients, were made to look like…well…me, on a steep climb, on a bad day.
Vincenzo Nibali, in second place overall, said the climb made him feel ‘odd’. Chris Froome said he was glad to get it done and out of the way. Stefan Denifl, our remarkable Stage winner, held off yet another retro Alberto Contador surge to take the biggest win of his life by a steep and treacherous country mile.
And for Aqua Blue Sport, in their first Grand Tour.
He said that he just looked down at his on-board computer, saw that he was cranking out four hundred watts, and decided that someone would have to do soothing pretty remarkable to catch him and beat him.
Not the most poetic summary of the defining moments of a Grand Tour stage win, but heart-warming, in a precise, statistically significant kind of way.
Nobody predicted the day’s winner, just like nobody predicted that race leader Froome would lose proper handfuls of time to his rivals – forty-odd seconds to Nibali, most significantly.
That was a good chunk of the time he gained after yesterday’s tension-free time-trial: after which (and…ahem…forgive me for quoting myself) I confidently stated that: “if he stays upright he wins.”
Well, Froome may have lost time, but he did stay upright, albeit at a very odd angle at times, as the gradient and the camber of the concrete…I hesitate to say road…fought back.
His rivals remain cagey, publicly dismissing today’s result as a bad day at a rather extreme office for the race leader.
But the race is on, and Froome’s got that tell-tale post-stage-interview cough he gets when the going gets tough; for the first time in the thirty-eight Grand Tour stages he’s ridden in 2017, he looks something other than completely invincible.
Which goes to show: for entertainment, you really can’t beat a classic Vuelta Espana freak show.
(Top Image: pixabay.com)