Chris Froome minces his rivals in the time trial

vuelta-2016-stage-19He minced everyone, in fact; minced them as if he had some sort of grinder hooked up to his oval chain ring and a hunger for mince that could not be sated. Only Movistar’s time trial specialist Jonathan Castroviejo got within a minute of Chris Froome, finishing 44 seconds down in second place, but the crucial gap was to the Spaniard’s team leader, Nairo Quintana, who shed 2m16s as he finished in 11th place.

That is an awfully big gap; so big it’s worth considering what might have happened had this time trial been 10km longer. As it is, Quintana retains a lead of 1m21s over Froome in the general classification – large, but there is a faint chance it could be overhauled.

If he’s no match for Froome on the flat, Quintana has been much of a muchness with him on the climbs, so it’s hard to see how he can lose the race. Nevertheless, Froome will be buoyed by the realisation that he is by some margin the strongest all-round rider and with just one competitive stage to go, several riders will be doing all they can to create chaos and leave the race leader vulnerable.

Brace yourselves…

Sometimes I feel like I’m alone in this, but I just bloody love the Vuelta. The main contenders have frequently raced each other – rather than riding in formation as they so often do in other big races – and yet here we are on the final proper stage with everything still to ride for.

Forget the early season excitement of the Giro d’Italia and the slow reveal of the Tour de France, today’s scenario is we have the three best stage racers in the world fighting it out on the final competitive stage of a three week race.

Quintana and his Movistar team-mates have a lot on their plate – not least because the men in second and third couldn’t give a flying front fork about defending their positions.

Alberto Contador has never stood on any podium step other than the top one. Chris Froome has, but as the preeminent rider of the last few years, he doesn’t really have a taste for being an also-ran. As far as this pair are concerned, second place and sixth place are much of a muchness.

So what does this mean?

Well if Froome attacks, no-one other than Movistar is going to chase him and if Contador attacks, no-one other than Movistar is going to chase him. On top of this, if Esteban Chaves attacks, there’s a good chance neither Froome nor Contador will lift a finger.

They’re gunning for Quintana. They want to wear out his team and then they want to wear out him. How they go about this is another matter and there’s also the question as to whether they have the terrain on which to do it?

Stage 20

Well, it’s a summit finish, obviously. A long, steady climb where drafting will actually have an impact and which probably suits the greater weight and power of Froome better than some of the climbs we’ve had before now. There’s quite a lot of climbing before then as well. It’s probably just about a tricksy enough route for shenigans if someone wants to make a chaotic game of things.

Two stage terms today, because why not. ‘Chasms’ are defined as ‘vertical karst cavities, in front of karst galleries that have preferably a horizontal development,’ while ‘scree or rock talus deposits’ are found on mountainsides and form when water penetrates tiny fissures and breaks the rock when it freezes.

There must be a ‘cracking’ metaphor about the latter – although I just wrote a sentence about penetration of Quintana’s tiny fissures and then immediately thought better of it.