Five things we learned from the Vuelta a España

It was another memorable edition of the Vuelta a España and here are the lessons we took from it

Quintana v Froome has the makings of a great rivalry

Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana on stage 20 of the 2016 Vuelta a Espana

Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana on stage 20 of the 2016 Vuelta a Espana

The damp squib that was Nairo Quintana‘s attempt at challenging Chris Froome at the Tour de France was truly put to bed, with the Colombian bringing his A game to the Vuelta a España.

In France in July, Quintana didn’t have anything to match Froome in the mountains, despite being regarded as the peloton’s best natural climber. Froome was able to ride away from him at will and Quintana couldn’t put in any meaningful attacks.

Fast forward a month, though, and Quintana was back to his best on the steep climbs, laying down the attacks that he could have done with at the Tour. This time it was Froome on the back foot and forced into a rearguard action.

This is the kind of race we’d hoped for at the Tour, but it was just as good to see such gunslinging at the Vuelta. That 15th stage will live long in the memory, with both Quintana and Alberto Contador going on the attack from the off to put a huge advantage into Froome and the other general classification hopefuls.

Then the stage 19 time trial showcased the other dimension to the rivalry. Froome is by far the better rider against the clock and he certainly showed that on Friday by putting over two minutes into Quintana on the road to Calpe.

If Quintana can get this form, fitness and health for the Tour de France next year we could have another great battle on our hands for the yellow jersey.

There is such a thing as too many summit finishes

Chris Froome on the way to winning stage 11 of the Vuelta a España (Sunada)

Chris Froome on the way to winning stage 11 of the Vuelta a España (Sunada)

We love the mountains, but can we have too much of a good thing? At the end of a long, hard season – especially with a mountainous Olympic course thrown in – a lot of the riders were pretty tired even heading into the race.

Add to that a brutal first 10 stages, which included two mountain finishes and two more uphill ones earlier in the week, and it didn’t really look particularly enjoyable for the riders.

Of course, Grand Tours are supposed to be hard, but 10 summit finishes in 21 stages seems a little excessive. It was probably the reason why the race failed to attract a single big name sprinter, which meant that the days that didn’t finish with a climb were generally pretty dull.

Fewer uphill finishes could lead to more attacks being made by the big climbers. More sprint stages could create a more rounded race and also give the GC riders a bit of a rest before going head-to-head up the climbs once more.

But hey, it’s the Vuelta – the extreme climbs are not going to disappear any time soon.

Both the Yates brothers are Grand Tour contenders

Simon Yates wins stage six of the Vuelta a España (Sunada)

Simon Yates wins stage six of the Vuelta a España (Sunada)

The debate over which of the Yates twins will develop into the better Grand Tour rider continues, with Simon Yates following up brother Adam’s fourth-place finish at the Tour with a sixth place finish in the Vuelta.

It’s tough to compare the Tour and the Vuelta, given the different routes and pressures on the riders, but both performances give us a glimpse of what is to come with the two young Brits.

Orica-BikeExchange bosses must be rubbing their hands with glee at the GC team they’ve quietly managed to assemble, with Esteban Chaves – third at the Vuelta – also in their stable.

While Adam was flying the flag alone for the Australian team at the Tour, surprising people day after day with his ability to stick with the best riders, Simon was more of a lone wolf at the Vuelta, who finished in the top ten despite having domestique duties to attend to.

He won stage six from a late attack and looked as if he was doing the same on stage 12, before helping to set up fastman Jens Keukeleire for the second of Orica’s four wins.

With two wins from Magnus Cort in the final four stages, Orica rode away from the race with a handful of stage victories and two riders in the top 10 overall. Not bad at all.

IAM Cycling are late bloomers

Mathias Frank wins at the Vuelta a España (Sunada)

Mathias Frank wins at the Vuelta a España (Sunada)

IAM Cycling‘s first ever Grand Tour win came the day after the bosses announced that the team would fold at the end of the season. Since Roger Kluge’s win at the Giro d’Italia the Swiss team have managed three more Grand Tour wins and became one of only a handful of teams with stage wins at all three big races.

Jonas Van Genechten surprised a few of the race’s bigger names by taking victory on stage seven before Mathias Frank put in one of the rides of the year to win solo on the brutally steep end to stage 17 from the break.

It’s a shame to see the team disbanding, especially now that they’ve found a way to win at the biggest races, but the performances of their riders since May has helped many of them find alternative employment in the WorldTour.

But who will be the plucky underdogs in 2017?

The UCI need to sort out the time cut rules

Chrs Froome on stage 15 of the 2016 Vuelta a España

Chrs Froome on stage 15 of the 2016 Vuelta a España

Rules are rules, except when they’re not enforced. The peloton flirted with elimination when they finished 33 minutes down on stage winner Valerio Conti on stage 13 before really rubbing it in the commissaires’ faces two days later.

On stage 15, when the race had been blown apart by Quintana and Contador’s attack, 93 riders should have been kicked off the race for missing the time cut.

Chris Froome would have been left with no teammates and the entire Direct Energie team would have been sent home, but because there were so many of them the judges decided to let them off.

Froome himself said that the riders should have been eliminated in order to adhere to the rules, but it was probably in the race’s best interests that the offending riders were allowed to continue.

Still, if these rules exist and are not going to be enforced it just gives the riders a free licence to ride slowly to the finish, knowing they’ll not be punished if there are enough of them in the group.

It’s another issue that the UCI need to address, but it probably won’t be very high on their list.

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