Team Sky have an absolute bloody nightmare

Vuelta 2016, stage 15

The peloton is long. Containing getting on for 200 riders, it is a long way from the front to the back. It is even further from the back to the front, particularly when the damn thing’s going flat-out.

This normally only happens at the end of sprint stages. It happened right from the off on stage 15. Alberto Contador gathered his Tinkoff men right at the front and the second the flag dropped, they attacked. Some teams – Nairo Quintana’s Movistar, for example – were alert to the danger. Others – Chris Froome’s Team Sky, for example – were not.

Froome was separated from Contador and Quintana after 8km. They were in the elite front group. Froome was in the shit group. Most of his team-mates didn’t even make it into the shit group. They were even further back.

Movistar, had three men in the break and so did Tinkoff. Froome had two team-mates in his group and no-one from other teams felt much inclined to lift a finger. That effectively meant three riders trying to chase six. It couldn’t be done.

How did this happen?

Doziness played a large part. Sky were also tired.

As important as Contador’s move was, Movistar’s Dani Moreno getting into the break the day before was perhaps even more significant.

At the time, Moreno was five minutes down on the general classification and as part of a giant 40-man break, there was a very real chance he could have taken the race lead. Sky were obliged to chase. All day. They did sterling work, but if they held a complicated nine-way back-patting session afterwards, this rather overlooked the fact that a Grand Tour is 21 stages long. Their job wasn’t done.

On stage 15, no Sky rider had the strength to reel in Contador, Quintana and their respective team-mates. Most of them didn’t even have the strength to get into the group behind to help their leader. A striking fact is that at the end of the day, all of them – all of them! – missed the time cut. Fortunately for them, they weren’t alone in this. 60 per cent of the field was in the same slow-moving group, so they haven’t been booted off the race.

What were the consequences?

Froome ended up doing a lot of work himself and looked weak long before the finish. Quintana put in a shift too, but only towards the end when he dropped everyone bar Gianluca Brambilla. The Italian tagged along and nipped round him at the finish to take the stage win.

Beyond the time lost on this stage, Froome’s efforts will have been tiring in the longer-term too. We need only look at what I’m writing about at this very moment to find evidence of how riders often pay for their previous efforts in later stages.

Froome is pretty extraordinary and had been showing improving form, but my guess is that the 3m37s gap to Quintana at the top of the general classification will grow further in coming days – and it’s probably already too large for him to reel in during the time trial alone.

Absolute bloody catastophe.

Anything else?

There’s a fair bit that’s beyond the scope of this article, but it’s also worth mentioning the fortunes of Orica-BikeExchange team-mates Simon Yates and Esteban Chaves. They too missed The Move, but having two strong riders in the next group meant one could be preserved.

Neither lifted a finger until everyone else in the group had done all they could. Yates then did some towing before Chaves attacked. The Colombian is now just 20 seconds behind Froome in third place, although Yates has slipped to fifth behind Contador.

Stage 16

Who can honestly say for certain in this marvellous race, but it’s hard to see how this stage could provide general classification action. That said, the so-called sprint stages have offered plenty of unpredictable racing, so this’ll be worth watching to see who emerges with the stage win.

Today’s stage term is ‘dinosaur’ – “the dominant terrestrial vertebrates from the start of the Jurassic Period to the end of the Cretaceous Period.”

Apparently they once found an Iguanadon in the clay mines they pass near midway through the stage. Not a live one, you understand. It wasn’t wandering around in there wearing one of those helmets with a lamp on or anything.

Vuelta 2016, stage 16