The Vuelta a España (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈbwelta a esˈpaɲa]; English: Tour of Spain) is an annual multi-stage bicycle race primarily held in Spain, while also occasionally making passes through nearby countries.
The Vuelta a España is the 3rd Grand Tour – and final Grand Tour – of the year. Two years ago, Contador (Tinkoff) had recuperated enough from a broken tibia in the 2014 Tour de France to take the win just ahead of Chris Froome (Sky) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Froome had also been injured in the 2014 Tour and was forced to abandon, showing that despite hampering injuries the Vuelta is still a hotly contested GT regardless of being off the back of the Tour de France. The 2015 Vuelta was won by Fabio Aru (Astana) in front of Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff). This year will be Tinkoff’s last chance to improve their 3rd place into 1st before disbanding while Katusha have no Rodríguez. Froome is attempting the Tour-Vuelta double, undeterred by the Olympics road race and Olympics TT bronze medal win in-between.
The opening stage was a 27.8km team time trial completed by 22 teams. Bora-Argon 18 were first off the starting line to kick off the 2016 Vuelta, with Direct Energie and Lotto Soudal following. Towards the end were Movistar, Team Sky then finally Tinkoff – setting off in 4 minute intervals.
Challenging for the win were favourites Orica-BikeExchange, BMC and Team Sky. Orica won 2 TTT’s in 2012, the TTT in the Tour de France in 2013, the Giro d’Italia TTT in 2014 and again in 2015. BMC won 2 TTT’s in 2014, including the World Championships, and retained their title in 2015. Team Sky won 1 TTT in 2010, 2 in 2013 including in the Giro d’Italia, 1 in 2014 and 1 in 2015. They would also go on to win the TTT in the opening stage of this year’s Vuelta in a time of 30m37s, beating Movistar by 0.4s and Orica by 6s. BMC were 7s behind, while Tinkoff had lost almost a minute.
The closeness of Movistar and Sky meant Froome and Quintana were level in the standings, while Contador was 52 seconds behind – not the ideal start he would have wanted.
Stage 2: Ourense > Baiona
The earliest breakaway for today’s stage came from Pichon (FDJ) and Benedetti (Bora-Argon18). With 160.8km to cover, and neither FDJ or Bora challenging for the overall lead, they developed a break of 45 seconds from the peloton. Nauleau (Direct Energie) bridged to them and they established a 4m20s lead, before with 120km to go Trek and Giant-Alpecin worked towards the front of the peloton to bring it down to 2minutes. Giant-Alpecin’s leader is Warren Barguil, who recovered from their training crash in January to place 23rd at this year’s Tour de France. Trek’s sprinter is Bonifazio, who won the sprint for stage 3 during the Tour de Pologne. Sky then came to the head of the peloton, protecting leader Froome despite Kennaugh being in red – the Manxman crossed the line first during the TTT yesterday while Froome crossed 5th. Froome’s Vuelta call up was somewhat surprising due to his Tour win and Olympic bronze, yet unsurprising due to his determination. The mountains will be the test for him, dominant in them during the Tour, could he be distanced here?
Towards the top of the Cat 3 Alto de Fontefria climb, Nauleau attempted to distance in order to claim King of the Mountains points, yet Benedetti beat him to the line. No stranger to mountain success, Benedetti placed 1st in the mountains classification for Tirreno-Adriatico. Pichon later took the mountain points for the Alto de Fontefria after leaving the previous battle between Nauleau and Benedetti. These points meant he would wear the polka dot jersey during stage 3 of the Vuelta.
Gilbert (BMC) with 39km attacked from a stalling peloton, no-one wanting to take up the chase to catch the trio ahead. He injected power into the break by taking longer turns on the front while Trek then ensured to counter with pace from the peloton, not wanting to let an opportunity go for Bonifazio. Gilbert won the sprint for 3 bonus seconds, taking his deficit on GC down to 4 seconds. If they could hang on until the end and he took the stage, he would collect 10 more bonus seconds and the red jersey.
7km to go and Team Sky were at the front yet again, wanting Kennaugh and Froome protected. Sprint finishes can be as dramatic as they are fast, and keeping towards the front avoids any wheel catching or elbowing during bunching of teams. Behind them were Giant-Alpecin with sprinter Arndt as well as Orica for Cort and Trek for Bonifazio. With 2.5km to go a Katusha rider was seen to have crashed, yet fortunately managed to avoid taking down anyone else. Etixx hit the front finally with 500m to go, and Meersman launched his sprint. He held off second placed Schwarzmann (Bora) and third placed Cort (OBE) to take the stage win, while Kwiatkowski (Sky) finished fourth and took the red jersey from teammate Kennaugh. Kwiatkowski is also the first Polish rider to hold the red jersey at La Vuelta, ahead of fellow countryman Huzarsi (Bora) by 57 seconds.