With the 2012 Vuelta a Espana now done and dusted, it’s time to look back on what has been without a doubt the most entertaining Grand Tour of the year.
Now five time Grand Tour champion, 29 year old Alberto Contador notched up the 2012 Vuelta title on his return to cycling.
However, it was certainly no easy task for the Spaniard who was constantly pushed to his limits by compatriots Alejandro Valverde of Movistar, and Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha.
Day after day, stage after stage, it was a fiery battle between the trio to gain any vital seconds in the all important general classification.
After the first week it was Rodriguez in front, with the 33 year old producing a number of stages where he gained a handful of seconds on his rivals, most notably on the tough climb to the finish in stage 4, and his impressive Stage 6 win, as a result of his vicious acceleration 500m from the line.
But the second week told a different story. Heading into the all important individual time trial of Stage 11, Rodriguez held a 1 minute and 1:07 advantage over rivals, Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde.
Rodriguez being the weaker time trialist, knew he would lose time to the pair and was simply attempting to limit his losses. After the stage, surprisingly to some, Rodriguez was still in the red leader’s jersey but only held a slender 1 second advantage over Contador, and 59 seconds over Valverde.
After Rodriguez extended his Vuelta lead by miniscule margins in stages 12, 14, 15, 16 to be leading the Vuelta by 28 seconds over Contador with Valverde over two minutes back, Contador decided to act as the Vuelta was fast slipping from his grasp.
The Saxo Bank rider managed to succeed in getting into the day’s breakaway group, and then attacked from the group to record a solo stage win, and all importantly take 2:38 on Rodriguez, to lead the Vuelta with a 1:52 gap over 32 year old, Valverde with Rodriguez in 3rd place.
From then on Contador never looked back, and was only troubled in Stage 20, however his GC title was well stuck in the bag. Contador went on to win the Vuelta by 1:16 over Valverde, with Rodriguez finishing 3rd at 1:37 behind.
It was an incredible victory for the comeback king, who had to produce his absolute best on Stage 17, to come out with the grand prize. He had to show incredible resilience in his quest for his 2nd Vuelta, and for that he should be applauded.
Whilst Valverde is over the moon with his 2nd place, Rodriguez is more solemn after the Vuelta was pulled out of his grasp on that costly, Stage 17.
However, Rodriguez should not be dis heartened it what was a superb performance. With this unbelievable form, he is sure to win a Grand Tour one day and who knows, maybe he will go for the 2013 Tour de France title?
On another note, John Degenkolb of Argos Shimano was the superstar sprinter of the Vuelta recording an incredible, five stage victories. The German is only 22 years old, and we are bound to see him fight out the points classification at future Grand Tours against fellow young gun, Peter Sagan.
But how could I forget Simon Clarke. The 26 year old Australian rider, notched up the king of the mountains classification and only Australia’s 2nd ever at a Grand Tour. It is a great achievement for the Victorian, and we as Australians should be very proud.
The 2012 Vuelta a Espana produced unbelievable highs as well as unbelievable lows. It showcased the best cyclists on the planet at the top of their game, all going for broke – and that is what I like to see.
1 201 CONTADOR, Alberto STB 84h 59′ 49”
2 9 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV + 1′ 16”
3 101 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT + 1′ 37”
4 181 FROOME, Christopher SKY + 10′ 16”
5 107 MORENO, Daniel KAT + 11′ 29”
6 161 GESINK, Robert RAB + 12′ 23”
7 91 TALANSKY, Andrew GRS + 13′ 28”
8 168 TEN DAM, Laurens RAB + 13′ 41”
9 71 ANTON, Igor EUS + 14′ 01”
10 4 INTXAUSTI, Beñat MOV + 16′ 13”