For the first time since 2004 I sit and watch the Tour of Spain absolutely enthralled, with five amazing champions battling for the win.
Joaquim Rodriguez, the perpetual runner-up. Alejandro Valverde, the climber who learnt to sprint by racing his school mates between light posts. Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana. Tour de France winner Chris Froome. Everything winner Alberto Contador.
Valverde of the goliath Team Movistar rode to victory and the red leader’s jersey on Stage 6, with the strongest performance he has put in since rolling Lance Armstrong in 2005.
Sure, things have changed since then, but his win was a sure-fire indication that he is here with the elusive form of that past life.
If you missed it, Valverde rode on the front of the bunch for final 2.5 kilometres pacing his main man Quintana, before attacking the bunch (from first position) to chase down an acceleration from ‘Purito’ Rodriguez. Eventually Valverde led out the sprint and decimated his rivals.
In regards to power output, Valverde appeared to produce much more, which makes predicting next week’s high-mountain finishes all the more difficult.
What to make of the first week of a Grand Tour is also a tricky function. Does a cyclist ride into form? Or does one rider simply fatigue less than the others and appear relatively stronger?
Stuart O’Grady said that by the final time trial of the Tour de France his maximum heart rate was no higher than 150, about 70 per cent of his fresh maximum. Wattage drops much less than heart rate though, illustrating why stimulants are so attractive as well as so banned in sport.
Form prediction remains as unpredictable as ever through Grand Tours, because any wager made is gambling on the fact that their subject will not crumple under the dreaded ‘bad day’.
Valverde’s punchy style has always been exciting. I have written about the efficiency of punchy riders before, and Valverde has the potential to reaffirm my theory of a rider’s ability to save energy in the bunch by becoming more efficient at accelerating.
The cost of training for those accelerations (and recovering from them), versus furthering your aerobic threshold or other factors is ripe for debate. So we must take stock of what we have seen so far.
Froome continues to crash and Rodriguez continues to elude the path of victory. Contador continues to not be who he used to be, and Quintana continues, just ready to pounce.
Valverde’s chances at a second Tour of Spain win are high, all he needs is all of his rivals to crash out so he and Vicenzo Nibali can start an exclusive club.