Some folk in the cycling world feel that 2014 has been a less-than-stellar vintage in regards to Grand Tours.
The Giro d’Italia saw the first Grand Tour win for Colombian Nairo Quintana, though the way the Movistar rider prised the famous Maglia Rosa from the shoulders of his compatriot Rigoberto Uran had fans disputing the validity of Quintana’s rise to the top of the general classification.
With the weather turning foul and several riders having crashed, race organisers sent out a message calling for the neutralisation of the descent of the Stelvio.
However, several riders and team managers later claimed either not to have heard the call or to have not understood what exactly was transpiring.
Either way, Quintana got down the hill quite quickly and then launched an attack up the final climb of the day, taking minutes off Uran. Unfair, cried many, though to me it all looked fair enough.
Apart from that of the Colombian winner there were very few stand out performances, though Marcel Kittel had set the race alight by winning two stages on the trot early on before abandoning.
I thought the Tour was one of the best in years, a real watershed edition in many ways. It was great to see a humble winner who has so far garnered no suspicion with regards to doping, to see the re-emergence of the French riders and teams, and that brilliant start provided by Yorkshire.
However, there are plenty of old Scrooges about who cited the lack of ‘excitement’ (I read ‘lack of heavy doping’) and moaned about the predictability of the race.
You can’t please everyone, thank goodness. Imagine how exhausting it would be doing that.
Fair enough, Mark Cavendish crashed out of the Tour early on (his own fault entirely), Chris Froome followed (I still maintain the cause was the cobbles, even though he never rode over them), and then Alberto Contador headed to the exit too (not a huge fan but a very brave ride).
So yes, there are grounds to say the result might have been different had they been there, but we will never know.
Which brings us to the Vuelta a Espana. The Vuelta isn’t the ugly sister to the Giro and the Tour, it’s more the little brother who never gets invited along on adventures or picked for the footy team until he’s last man standing, and even then there’s a fight over who will be lucky enough not to get him.
A bit harsh I know, but you get my drift. I’ve never been a fan of the Vuelta as I have the Giro (my traditional favourite) and the Tour (how can you deny that circus?).
However, this year, the Vuelta possibly has the best line-up of all three Grand Tours and may actually be worth watching.
Froome is desperate to save his season, while Quintana is ready to show his employers he should have been picked for the Tour, and to show his Giro critics that he is doesn’t need to pounce on others’ misfortune to win.
Also in the GC mix are defending champion Chris Horner, Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, Cadel Evans, Rigoberto Uran, Dan Martin, Andrew Talansky and Robert Gesink. That’s not far off Tour calibre, missing only Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and the suspended Roman Kreuziger.
Few of these guys will be looking to make much of an impact at the upcoming World’s and so should be in the race for the long haul.
One rider who is looking to the World’s is Philippe Gilbert, who will be at the Vuelta. He is likely to bail mid-race but should be in form to challenge for a couple of stage wins.
Also in action will be Tom Boonen, another fan favourite, as well as Tour de France abandonneur Fabian Cancellara.
All three of the aforementioned one-day princes will be using the Vuelta to get honed for the World’s in Ponferrada, Spain, and all should be in their best shape of the year since the Classics.
On the sprint side it looks like Kittel will not be in attendance, but Giro points classification winner Nacer Bouhanni will, as indeed will Mark Cavendish, who will be eager to avenge the massive disappointment he experienced in the Tour.
Peter Sagan also makes the list and will be looking for a stage win – something that eluded him on his way the Tour’s green jersey.
The organisers must be besides themselves with glee. It might have happened by default, and several guys may still bail before the big mountains, but this could be the best Vuelta in many a moon.