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La Vuelta: Stage 6 Is Valverde the new badger?

August 30, 2014

If Quintana is to win this year, he will need to beat his team mate. At least Valverde was not attacked off the front, and did a huge effort leading up most of the final climb. However when Quintana was fading at the end, Valverde powered on to the stage win, not looking back to see how his young team mate was doing. With that win, he is back into the race lead. Valverde keeps saying that his is just there to help Quintana, but if he is still in the lead in a week’s time, will he let up?

This brings a more famous battle to mind, Hinault vs. Lemond in the 1986 Tour. On that occasion, Hinault was meant to be working for Lemond but used all sorts of tricks to apply huge mental pressure on Lemond, including audacious all day attacks and obscure comments to the media. Hinault led the race until the last few stages. Lemond won that year, but only just and at the cost of plenty of stress.

The first Category 1 climb was a sort out of who is in form and might win the race. The climb found out a few, and the finish order of the stage could well be what the leaderboard looks like at the end of this year’s Vuelta.

The last few hundred metres of the stage were very tough, and it was Valverde who was strong enough to hold off Froome and Contador, and they finished in the same time. Rodriguez had tried to attack earlier, but was able to sustain his effort (8s). Quintana and Aru were slightly further back (18s, 20s).  Then the gaps start appearing: Gesink and Barguil 33s, Ten Dam and Kelderman 44s, Sanchez 47s, Dan Martin 59s, Uran 1:04, Moreno 1:25, Niemiec 1:54, Zubeldia and Evans 2:16.

Whilst those gaps are not huge, there are significant particularly for those who are better on the short punchy climbs like Dan Martin. It is also ominous as Froome and Contador were meant to be coming into form after their injuries, not already in form.  If they are already beating the peloton, then they can put serious time into them next week.

My long list of favourites is quickly reducing. I’m still watching about 16, but realistically we are down to about 5 or 6, and they are already top of the GC.

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