Chris Froome smashes it
Wow, what a performance from Chris Froome! We knew that he would pull back a significant chunk of time on race leader Nairo Quintana in the stage 19 time trial, but we didn’t really expect it to be a 2-16 gap.
The writing was on the wall for Quintana by the first timing checkpoint, with Froome taking advantage of the flat section at the start to open up a 40 second advantage and then just watched it grow from there.
Froome was by far the strongest time triallist out of all the main contenders and he didn’t disappoint anyone, smashing the previous best time on the course by Quintana’s teammate Jonathan Castroviejo by 43 seconds.
It was arguably the time trial of Froome’s life.
Can Froome get back the rest of the time on Saturday?
Before we get carried away, we must not that Froome is still 1-20 behind Quintana with only one stage left to really get that time back.
The summit finish to Aitana on Saturday’s penultimate stage, before Sunday’s trundle into Madrid, will provide Froome with a final opportunity to attack Quintana, but it’ll have to be a phenomenal move to pull it off.
Quintana has shown in this race that he’s rediscovered the climbing legs that deserted him so badly at the Tour de France and has looked pretty untroubled by Froome in the mountains.
The situation is almost the exact reverse of the situation Froome found himself in at the end of the 2015 Tour de France, with Quintana attacking on stage 19 to bring the deficit down to 2-28 and the Colombian having to go again up Alpe d’Huez to try and take the win.
Leading a race takes a lot out of you and your team, but I’m not sure I can see Quintana giving up over a minute to Froome on the last climb unfortunately.
Nairo Quintana struggles in the battle
Finishing 11th in a Grand Tour time trial would once be the thing of dreams for Quintana, who has worked hard to improve against the clock in recent years.
But 11th in Calpe represented a big loss on Froome, something he couldn’t really afford to do. The relatively flat nature of the parcours on the 37km run was never going to play into Quintana’s favour; being short and light he simply doesn’t have the same power output on the flat as Froome does.
Then bring into account the winds, which Froome’s teammate Leopold Konig brought up in a post-ride interview. Crosswinds and headwinds will have really affected the lighter riders like Quintana, throwing them off their line more than they would the more bulky guys.
It’s not a disaster for Quintana to lose 2-16 to Froome, but it’s certainly skirting the edges of disastrous.
Esteban Chaves was the biggest loser
Grand Tours in 2016 are not being too kind to Esteban Chaves when it comes to the final decisive stages. Stage 19 of this year’s Giro d’Italia saw him take the pink jersey, but he had Vincenzo Nibali closing the gap and then stage 20 saw him lose the battle completely and have to settle for second place.
At the Vuelta, Chaves had been sitting third going into the stage 19 time trial and finished the day more than a minute down on Alberto Contador, slipping to fourth place.
Like his fellow Colombian Quintana, Chaves’s physique doesn’t really do him many favours in the long, flat time trials. But being overtaken by Froome before the halfway mark can’t have done much for his morale.
His buffer to Andrew Talansky in fifth is decent, so there’s little chance of him slipping further on stage 20, but he’ll be hoping to latch on to any escape by Chris Froome to try and distance Contador and gain back his lost time.
The Froome/Quintana battle made up for the weak TT field
Froome’s sublime performance aside, the quality on show at this time trial wasn’t the highest we’ve seen at a Grand Tour.
Looking down the start list, it was a case of asking around “Is this guy any good at time trials?” in an attempt to find the favourites.
Two names really stood out – Froome and Castroviejo – but other than that it was a case of picking around for scraps in the list of good, but not great time triallists.
The nature of the route overall may have dissuaded some of the bigger name testers, who also will have tried to peak a month before for the Olympic Games in Rio.
The Tour of Britain definitely has the cream of the crop against the clock this year, but the Froome/Quintana battle quickly put the poor field out of our thoughts.