In the early hours tomorrow morning, the final Grand Tour of the cycling season begins with the 76th Vuelta a España and the battle for the maillot rojo (red jersey).
With Garmin-Sharp’s general classification hopes built around Ryder Hesjedal fading out the window in the 2013 Giro d’Italia, the team finally had something to cheer about overnight.
Garmin’s 25-year-old Lithuanian Ramūnas Navardauskas soloed to stage victory after being part of the day’s break away.
The beautiful thing I love with stage racing and more so grand tours is there are so many races going on within the one race.
You have the overall battle for general classification where some teams come to the race with 100% focus on one rider and that is all.
These teams aren’t interested in putting riders into the days break away, the riders are to stay with their leader controlling the race until they have no more left in the tank or their ‘job’ is done.
There is the race for stage wins. Some teams will come to a grand tour knowing they don’t have a competitive leader for general classification. Teams will give certain riders the opportunity to ride for an overall result but will not build the team specifically around them.
If they have a competitive rider for the sprints they may take a team to support the sprinter and aim to target certain stages.
In the 2013 Giro, some of the teams who have implemented this type of race strategy are Orica-Greenedge, Argos-Shimano and Omega Pharma Quickstep.
There’s always the battle of the smaller teams, the wild card invite teams and the Italian teams. They’re all trying to make a name for themselves, put the team into the spotlight. You see it so often in the early break that spends most of the day off the front, it is always made up of more or less the same teams.
The reason for this is ultimately being in the break equals television time, television time equals sponsorship return and greater investments.
When teams know the chance of landing on the podium is slim then they need to get themselves into the spotlight other ways to keep their sponsors happy.
There are so many internal races to keep track of it can be difficult; even the battle for all the various jerseys.
One that stands out is the mountains classification; more often than not it isn’t the best climber in the race who will win this jersey.
Usually it is the rider who is continually in the early break away, collecting points. Ultimately if they spend enough days off the front they will end up taking the jersey away from the mountain men at the front of the general classification.
Today’s stage was the race for the opportunists. I always love it when the break succeeds all the way to the finish.
There’s nothing worse than spending the whole day off the front only to be caught in the final few kilometers. I also know personally that when you put in the effort and then it pays off it is so rewarding.
After Garmin-Sharp’s ‘Plan A’ fell over and was buried in the spring snow of Italy, the team has had to implement other strategies and begin to look at targeting stage wins.
They wasted no time doing this with Ryder slipping down the overall rankings only yesterday. They kept their heads high and went on the front foot putting riders in the break.
Stage 11 was classed as a medium mountains day and coming after a few days of hard GC battles, the stage was too hard for sprinters to make it to the finish and the GC guys were happy to roll the legs over and have an ‘easier’ day.
It made sense to go on the attack today as the likelihood of staying away was greatly increased
The race at the front between the 20 breakaway riders was quite exciting, Patrick Gretsch of Argos-Shimano the first to shake things up as he attacked the break and built up a nice little lead.
In the closing kilometers though Daniel Oss of BMC and Navardauskasas spoiled the party, catching Gretsch and then leaving him behind on the final climbs to the finish.
Finally Navardauskasas was too strong on the final climb for Oss, taking the stage with plenty of time to soak it up and celebrate the win.
Navardauskasas is still young and I think he is a rider to continue to watch. He has had a number of strong results with grand tour stage wins in the team time trial at both the Giro and the Tour with Garmin-Sharp.
He was also became the first Lithuanian rider to ever wear the pink leaders jersey when he took over the leader during the 2012 Giro. This win however, is his first ‘individual’ victory in a grand tour and I’m sure one he will remember.