Frank Schleck won and Joaquim Rodriguez took the red jersey. There was a lot to talk about on stage 16 of the Vuelta a España
Schleck silences some of his doubters
It’s been a tough few years for Frank Schleck through doping bans, injuries and lack of form, but he proved he’s still got a little left in the tank in the big races.
Sitting 40 minutes back on leader Fabio Aru, his chances of contending in the general classification are well and truly over – hence why he was allowed out in the big breakaway but few would have predicted he’d make it stick to the finish.
One by one the breakaway dropped away, leaving Schleck with Colombian Rodolfo Torres up the final climb of Ermita de Alba but the wily Luxembourger dropped his companion in the final, massively steep kilometres.
His celebrations at the line painted a picture of a man who’s struggled to get back to his best as his career comes towards its conclusion.
His days of being a Grand Tour contender may be over, but Schleck has showed everyone that he can still win the big stages.
Rodriguez takes red and his battle with Aru goes to the TT
Joaquim Rodriguez‘s move in the final 500m was absolutely no surprise to anyone, but closest rival Aru couldn’t go with the Spaniard as he put two vital seconds into him and snatched the red jersey by one second.
While Aru floundered at the back of the group, Rodriguez in green looked pretty comfortable in the middle and made his move as the gradient ramped up, leaving Aru to chase hard.
As it went, Aru did well to limit the loss to just two seconds given how ropey he looked in the previous kilometres although it’s all pretty much irrelevant as the pair look ahead to the time trial on Wednesday.
Debating who’s a better time trialler between Rodriguez and Aru is a bit like trying to decide who’s the best dictator. Both are pretty rubbish at the discipline – it’s one of the main reasons why Rodriguez has never won a Grand Tour.
With Tom Dumoulin less than two minutes behind in the GC, the pair will definitely be worried at the prospect of losing quite a bit of time to the Dutchman.
With only one summit finish left between now and Madrid the pair will have to limit their losses on Wednesday before going on the attack in the final mountains to ensure they’re in with a shout of glory.
Dumoulin won’t give in
We’ve said it pretty much every day until this point, but Tom Dumoulin continues to prove everyone wrong by keeping in contact with the leaders in the high mountains – hugely impressive for a man who’s not a natural climber.
The Dutchman was sat second wheel up much of the final six kilometre climb as Aru struggled with the pace and gradient.
Towards the end of the ascent, Dumoulin cracked and dropped back from the small group but as Rodriguez and co crossed the line we saw the sight of Dumoulin thundering towards the line to limit his losses to just 27 seconds on the new leader.
Every time we’ve talked about the Giant-Alpecin rider’s performances we’ve said that as long as he can be in contention when the long time trial comes around he can possibly win the whole race.
Now he has a day of rest before hitting that vital time trial, and the good news for him is that his rivals are pretty pony in that discipline.
Can he gain 1-51 over the course of the 38.7km on Wednesday? You’d be foolish to bet against him, but his efforts over the last two weeks in the mountains will surely have taken something out of his legs.
Your guide to the Vuelta a España
Was this harder than the Andorra stage?
Looking at the route map for this Vuelta the stage that really stood out was number 11 in Andorra, which took in a ridiculous six mountains, including a massive summit finish.
But in hindsight this stage could have been even tougher thanks to the gradients of the final two mountains.
First up was La Coberteria standing at about 9km with an average gradient of 10 per cent, then almost immediately after the long descent the riders hit the ‘little Angliru’ – the Ermita de Alba.
With ramps of up to 22 per cent it was a brutal end to a 184km stage. The breakaway got away, but the leaders still battled it out up the final climb and they’ll all be glad of a rest day tomorrow.
Is the Vuelta points jersey the most pointless thing in cycling?
Yes. Yes it is.
Firstly, after 16 stages the highest ranked sprinter is ninth in the points classification and that’s because JJ Rojas got in a breakaway earlier in the race and picked up a few points.
Secondly, the intermediate sprint points are placed in the most ridiculous locations – on a mountain, after a mountain or between mountains, which means that most of the sprinters have already had their ticket stamped for the autobus.
Rodriguez has an almost unassailable lead in the competition now – given that he’ll likely be there and thereabouts for the remaining ‘sprints’ and thus the sprinters have very little to bother for.
And to think that Mark Cavendish called the Vuelta ‘stupid’…