Alexandre Geniez makes the most of a head start

Vuelta 2016, stage threeI always enjoy seeing the riders tackle short, steep climbs. There’s an intensity to proceedings, not just in terms of effort, but in terms of drama. You seem to get as many attacks and implosions in five minutes as you do on the longer mountain passes.

On stage two, Alexandre Geniez emerged victorious. He had a sizeable head start as part of a three-man break, but the other two were passed midway up the climb, so he clearly put in an impressive effort. I can tell you little of Geniez beyond a vague watercolour portrait of one of the more generic road pros. He’s French, he climbs, he came tenth in the Giro last year. Not much else.

Behind him, the main contenders tackled the closing kilometre-and-a-bit in their own distinct styles. Nairo Quintana looked the most capable of sustaining his effort; Alejandro Valverde dropped back a little but then finished strongly to pass his team-mate; and Chris Froome did his standard Vuelta thing of watching everyone ride off ahead of him before steadily reeling them in at his own pace. Esteban Chaves sort of split the difference.

Then there was Ruben Fernandez. I know less about him than I do about Geniez. The Movistar man was setting the pace for Quintana and Valverde but then just when you expected him to peel off, a broken man, he accelerated and left everyone behind. Impressive stuff. A young rider, it’ll be very interesting to see how he goes in the rest of this race. He’s in the overall lead for now.

Those five riders comprised a distinct front group. Alberto Contador was 20 seconds down on them; Steven Kruijswijk might have freed me from having to type his name too much by losing two minutes; and Miguel Angel Lopez lost 12 minutes after crashing, his mouth seemingly taking most of the impact of the fall.

Stage four

It’s the Vuelta, so it’s an uphill finish. This one’s rather different though – a longer, steadier effort. Combine the results of these two stages and we’ll have a decent perspective on the riders’ current capabilities.

Today’s stage term is ‘amphibolite’, a metamorphic rock formed about 70km deep in the “roots” of a mountain range.

Vuelta 2016, stage three