Chris Froome outsprints Nairo Quintana
I love a one-on-one sprint between two climbers. They’re so ill-equipped. It’s like watching a number 11 batsman trying to make the crucial runs that will win a Test match; a taste of the amateur world dropped in at the very pinnacle of the sport.
The key, of course, is that every bike race ends up won by whoever’s fastest in the front group. Sometimes that front group’s 150 riders and you have to be very, very fast. Sometimes it’s just one rider and you don’t have to sprint at all. Sometimes you and someone else are way better climbers than everyone else and it’s the two of you at the top of a mountain with not much left in the tank.
Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana now look a level above everyone else. They even had time to dawdle a bit as they neared the finish, jockeying for position ready for the all-out effort that was to come. That all-out effort didn’t look much different from what they’d maintained for a couple of minutes to drop everyone, but that’s climbers for you. They sustain a substantial amount of power well but don’t have much beyond that.
Froome will be delighted to win. Maybe he knew the finish better than Quintana – he took his only other Vuelta stage victory on the same climb in 2011 – but he was there to exploit that. Every day he doesn’t lose ground brings him closer to overturning his deficit in the time trial.
Froome also got the time bonus on the line, bringing him four seconds closer to the Colombian. It’s slim evidence, but he might start to wonder whether he could actually get the better of his rival on future summit finishes. Quintana might wonder that too.
It’s the Vuelta, so it’s… a downhill finish? Well, I guess the run of summit finishes had to end at some point. To make up for that, it’s a long stage with a big climb in the middle and then a double climb of the same pass at the end.
Today’s stage term is ‘polje’ – a massive depression formed by the collapse or dissolution of limestone rocks, which often becomes inundated when the groundwater level rises. I’m not sure I’m retaining any of this geological knowledge, but hey-ho.