Przemysław Niemiec troubles the commentators

There can’t be many riders whose names offer as many phonetic pitfalls as Przemyslaw Niemiec. Phil Liggett long ago settled on ‘Yakim’ for ‘Joaquim’ and so generally doesn’t even bother with Niemiec’s first name. In this case, I can’t say I blame him. It isn’t exactly great fun to type either.

The Polish rider was last man standing from the break and took the stage, but we had a new version of stage 14’s Froome-based comings and goings taking place behind him.

The tortoise and the hares

Few human beings look less like a tortoise than Chris Froome, but that’s who I’m casting in the role for his ‘slow and steady wins the race’ approach. The word ‘slow’ is relative here, because he’s still absolutely caning it. It’s more the fact that he’s sticking with his policy of avoiding all the hare-like accelerations of the three Spaniards, Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez.

On stage 14, it worked for him. He rode a steady pace up the whole of the final climb and at the top his average speed was fractionally higher than all three amigos. On stage 15, he did exactly the same thing and his average speed was fractionally lower. Having gained seven seconds on Contador, he promptly lost exactly the same amount.

Is this a good approach?

Steady riding like this is considered boring by many and when the rider in question is at the front of the race, it’s hard to argue with that. However, what at the front looks like machine-like relentlessness suddenly becomes a never-say-die attitude when you’re constantly being left behind. It also makes you the most interesting rider to watch, simply because you’re the only one adopting a different approach.

But as for whether it’s a good approach or not, it’s hard to say. The advantage of maintaining a steady speed is that you get the most out of your body. The disadvantage is that when the road flattens slightly and the pace lifts, you can’t benefit from sitting behind someone else (you can’t get anything out of other people’s bodies).

The general classification

We’ve had 15 stages, all sorts of climbs, regular time gaps between the favourites and yet there are still four riders within 1m20s of the leader, Alberto Contador. Valverde’s 31 seconds down, while both Froome and Rodriguez sit 1m20s back.

Carlos Betancur watch

He finished 100th, which sounds good except that this was within the final group of the day bar Peter Kennaugh. Further bad news comes in the fact that Matteo Pelucchi has abandoned, so Betancur now sits in last place overall. Just a reminder that this man won Paris-Nice this year. And he’s last in the Vuelta.

Stage 16

The toughest stage of the race. Here’s the profile. There are four first category climbs and a second category climb and all have their steep bits. The final slope has several kilometres averaging over 10%. Surely – surely – we’ll see bigger time gaps on this one.