Reflections on the Tour de France 2017

There’s always a sense of loss the week after the Tour finishes. You have months of anticipation and speculation, three weeks of enthralling racing – yes, even the snooze fests – and then it finishes in a blaze of glory on the Champs Elysees. It doesn’t really hit you until the Wednesday, given Monday and Tuesday as extended rest days, plus the tv channels running various highlight programmes and everyone doing their lists of “Things we learnt from the Tour.”

Mind you after watching 21 stages from start to finish, I’m feeling catatonic. However, it was great to see the podium suspense maintained into the last week-end. As always, I loved the stages where riders enjoyed their “first ever…..” victory/grand tour win, seeing the winners’ emotions, watching the spectacular scenery, fabulous property porn and so on. I did not enjoy the many crashes and rider withdrawals, nor Peter Sagan‘s wholly unfair (IMHO) disqualification.

Five things are now patently obvious to me:-

  1. You cannot do well in both Giro and Tour
  2. You’re unlikely to end up on the podium unless you have the support of your entire team
  3. Money talks, though teams on limited budgets  – I’m looking at Ag2r, Sunweb and Cannondale – can still do well
  4. It’s not about winning big, it’s about losing small or not at all
  5. Unless you can time-trial well, you’re highly unlikely to win a grand tour

Each race always throws up some surprises, that’s one of the allures of cycling, its unpredictability. Before the event started I poo-poohed another blogger’s suggestion that Sagan wouldn’t win a sixth consecutive jersey. He said he felt his luck would run out. He was right, it did. Few cycling commentators would’ve accurately predicted the podium, a few may’ve picked Chris Froome and Romain Bardet – two out of three’s not bad. But I bet no one, other than his team, wife and family, backed Rigoberto Uran.

I did enjoy watching the stages from start to finish, though I may have been MIA or working during bits of them. I felt it was instructive to see how, where and when the break formed and appreciate the work some riders do on the front of the peloton for hundreds of kilometres. Riders like that are worth their weight in gold, cherish them. I was impressed with Froome’s closely fought victory. I thought his focus, coolness under fire, failure to panic and knowledge that he had the best team (mates and support staff) were the deciding factors.

Sunday, we also (knowingly) waived goodbye to Haimar Zubeldia and Thomas Voeckler, who completed their last ever Tours. I wish them well in their future careers. I said knowingly because there were probably others who have also ridden their last Tour de France but have yet to acknowledge it. It’s always exciting watching the peloton hurtle round Paris. I speak from personal experience when I tell you that riding over those cobbles is painful. I only had to do it once and after riding a mere 500km. However, it was a very special moment and one I will always cherish.

For me it’s not so much a sense of loss this week but one of realisation. The season is fast winding to a conclusion, there’s only one more Grand Tour to enjoy. Of course, there’s the bonus of one of my favourite races, the Clasica in San Sebastian – a place I don’t need any excuse to visit – which is held on the Saturday after the Tour concludes. It’s typically won by a rider who’s just ridden the Tour and has come out of it in great form. Looking at the start list, there’s plenty of likely candidates.

This year’s Vuelta is handily starting not too far away from us in the ancient Roman city of Nimes, a place we’ve yet to visit. We normally only see its cathedral and concrete sprawl from the motorway. So that’s something to look forward to though I’m hoping (and praying) it won’t turn out to be another Carcassonne. We’ll be in Madrid in September for an international Dental Exhibition  – I know, I lead such an exciting life! – and thereafter we’re heading to Valencia for a complete break, so sadly our path won’t cross again with that of the Vuelta. Which just leaves our annual pilgrimage to Lake Como for Il Lombardia, our last race of the season, which has such an air of finality about it.

You maybe wondering why I’ve omitted the World championships being held in Norway in late September. Aside from last year’s in Qatar, I’ve attended 10 consecutive championships. You may regard this a heretical, but I’m not a fan of Scandinavia – been there, have no desire to go back. Hamburg is about as far north as I like to venture. However, I will be going to the one’s in Innsbruck next year.

 

Well, what do you know!

It’s the end of the first week of racing in the Tour de France and who would’ve thought the GC would like this? No? Me neither! Of course, that’s part of cycling’s charm – it’s unpredictability!

Scores on Doors

That said, there’s been some predictability. Everyone thought Peter Sagan (Cannondale) would run away with the green jersey for the third year in a row. He’s doing just that while also leading the “Best Young Rider” competition. He’s been around for so long that people forget he’s only just 24.

Commentators are fond of saying you can’t win the Tour in the first week but you can lose it. We’ll have to wait until Paris to see whether they were right or wrong about the first bit. However, they were correct in their assumptions that some would be down and out in the first week. That category included the defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) who, having fallen and broken his wrist on stage four, didn’t live to fight much of another day. While there was a lot of discussion of the dangers of racing on cobbles, only Froome was a DNF on that stage and well before any of the cobbled sections.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) now firmly in possession of the race leader’s jersey was a beast on the cobbled stage, as were his team. Some commentators seemed surprised but, come on, this is the man who’s a fearless descender and who triumphs in bad weather – Giro d’Italia 2013 anyone? He put precious time into Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and the other contenders so they’re going to have to attack wherever and whenever. I’m looking forward to the next two weeks with relish. It’s going to be a Classic Tour de France.

I was fortunate to be in the UK for Le Grand Depart. I’d planned this trip last August and assumed I’d pay my Dad a visit before heading to Yorkshire to watch the first of the three UK stages. With the former no longer an option, I’d gone to Yorkshire earlier than planned to re-acquaint myself with the area. We’d previously been regular visitors to Leeds when watching my beloved football team play away from home and I’d always enjoyed looking around the town’s splendid Victorian architecture.

We – my beloved was with me – stayed in a small, family run hotel in Wakefield, just outside of Leeds and, while he was working, I was able to watch the team presentation and attend the team press conferences. This was my third grand depart after London (2007) and Monaco (2009), both held outdoors, free of charge. So imagine my surprise to discover that this year’s presentation was ticketed and being held in the Leed’s Arena. I suppose they needed to recoup the cost of all the decorations around town.
TdFyellowphoneboxa
I should add the organisers did a simply superb job, more akin to Italian towns that  submerge themselves in a sea of pink during the Giro, only this time largely yellow. The presentation was sold out, providing food for thought for Utrecht 2015 and ASO.
TdFYork

In truth, Britain and specifically Yorkshire did a fantastic job organising the first three stages. Despite the simply ginormous crowds, there were plenty of facilities for everyone to enjoy a day out. Stalls selling refreshments, big screens to enjoy the action and everyone came in their droves. The atmosphere was simply wonderful. The start of the second day was held at York racecourse and again people were willing to pay for a grandstand view of the sign-in. More food for thought. And, once more, the race course made a day of it by providing family style entertainment long after the riders had headed for Sheffield.

The riders were surprised but ultimately delighted at their reception in the UK though it was evident that a few spectators hadn’t heeded the ASO’s advisory videos specifically those about dogs and selfies! The roads were so crowded that taking a comfort break must have been problematical for the riders.

Apart from a spot of rain in London, the sun shone in the UK, as it did back in 2007. Once more back on home soil in France, the weather’s been wet and miserable but that should improve as the riders head further south.

Since returning home, I’ve been watching the stages on my own big screen in the office: viewing while I work. I’ve particularly enjoyed those stages shown in their entirety. Now the peloton is heading for the real mountains, the race should become even more action packed. I’m going to catch the last bit of racing in the Alps and all the action in the Pyrenees live. I’ll be taking my bike, always the best mode of transport for watching any bike race, and pootling my way up a few of those cols. It’s only when you tackle them yourself that you truly appreciate the endeavours of the pros!

Topsy turvy

I’ve been thrown a little off kilter this week by the Tour of Beijing, television coverage of which understandably has been in the morning. As a consequence, I have sacrified my pre-ride work to watch the racing. Unfortunately, this has added to the work which has piled up while I’ve been feeling under the weather with my cold. The cold has almost, but not quite, disappeared. More importantly, I’m finally managing to get a good night’s sleep. Everything is so much better after 8 hours in the land of nod. Back to the Tour of Beijing, a race which wouldn’t suit me at all. That thick haze of smog which perpetually shrouds the city would have me in respiratory distress.

Pretty much as anticipated, HTC’s Tony Martin blitzed the opening day 11.3km prologue on Wednesday and, in the process, overtook what seemed like half the field but, in reality, was only a couple of riders. He shot by Sammy Sanchez who, while intent on re-living some of his Olympic glory, had sadly been  felled by gastro-troubles: Beijing belly. The British, en masse, occupied the subsequent key places on GC.

The event was taking place during one of the official Chinese holiday periods and one can only assume that the good citizens of Beijing, despite being fervent bike fans, were in the country visiting relatives, hitting a few golf balls, shopping in Hong Kong or sunning themselves on the beach. They were not watching the cycling. However, it later emerged that the Chinese authorities, fearful of any incident marring the race, had once again made it difficult for anyone to watch the race live. However, as it progressed, particularly on Friday’s Queen stage, numbers of spectators increased or maybe it was just the same ones being bussed around to key points. Nonetheless, I do support the UCI’s globalisation initiative. It’s unthinkable that the world’s largest nation doesn’t get a look in, even though they produce most of the bikes. Cycling has to become less parochial if it’s to remain viable. It was particularly pleasing to see the Chinese team getting in breaks and generally holding their own in the peloton. It augurs well for the future of the sport which needs global sponsors, not sugar daddies.

It was generally accepted that whoever won the prologue would probably hang on for the overall as the following stages were largely sprint finishes with the exception of Stage 3, which would be unlikely to unduly perturb Martin. Stage 2 was won by Garvelo’s Heinrich Haussler who’s had a torrid season by anyone’s account. Nice to see him back to winning ways as he probably heads Down Under for a winter of racing. Irish eyes were smiling on Stage 3 which was won by AG2R’s Nico Roche, another rider (and team) badly in need of a win, followed by Radioshack’s Philip Deignan and Sky’s Chris Froome. Wins are like buses, once you’ve got one under your belt, others follow.

Day 4 saw a Liquigas Cannondale double header as Peter Sagan, leading out Elia Viviani for the win, finished 2nd. Today’s final stage, another sprint, where Katusha’s Denis Galimzyanov rode the lime-green train to seal the win, and the green points jersey. Radioshack’s Ben King was the best young rider and Eukaltel-Euskadi’s Igor Anton won the mountain’s jersey. Martin led this race from start to finish with Garvelo’s David Millar (2nd) and Sky’s Chris Froome (3rd) rounding out the podium.

Next up, Mark Cavendish’s first race showcasing the rainbow jersey, Paris-Tours, won last year by Oscar Freire. Phil Gil resplendent in his Belgian national jersey was also racing today and I note he’s got “Fast Phil” written on his bike. I wonder should I get “Slow Sheree” inscribed on mine? The race was animated by two breakaway groups who, having made the junction, left the main peloton behind to contest the win. A lot of work was put in by Leopard Trek’s Stuart O’Grady and Radioshack’s Geoffroy Lequatre early on to keep the breakaways well ahead of a disorganised peloton. You may remember that last year Lequatre was cruelly caught by the bunch 300m from the line thanks to a strong head wind.

With 15km to go, FDJ youngster Arnaud Gerard set off on his own. Team Type 1’s Laszlo Bodrogi and Rubens Bertogliati gave chase, but the group didn’t want to let two fine time-triallists off the leash and they were brought back. Next off the front were BMC’s Greg Van Avermaert and Vacansoleil’s Marco Mercato who overhauled Gerard and, even though the latter was subsequently joined by team mate Mickael Delage and then the rest of the breakaways, it was that duo who went on to contest the win. Van Avermaert, the better sprinter of the two prevailed with 3rd place going to Saxobank’s Kasper Klostergaard. I assume Fast Phil and the Manx Missile rolled in 90 seconds later with everyone else.

Sheree’s sporting shots

I leave the country for a few days to visit dear friends and suddenly we’re chock-a-block with sporting news. Here’s what I’ve missed:-

Cycling

Many thought that Sunday’s stage in the Vuelta, taking in the fearsome climb up the Angliru, might be decisive and they were correct. Geox’s Juan Jose Cobo, who had been looking lively in finishing 2nd on Saturday’s stage, positively cantered up the ramp in the fog on Sunday’s queen stage, leaving the other contenders trailing in his wake, to take the leader’s jersey. Sky’s Froome and Wiggins lost a handful of seconds on yesterday’s benign stage, while Katusha’s Purito fell and, having finished over 10 minutes back, took himself out of contention.

On today’s 5.9km steep climb to Pena Cabarga, Cobo couldn’t resist trying to gain further advantage. Sky’s Froome was having none of it, matching him and finally emerging triumphant. Cobo was 2nd so that’s 8 seconds back but they could be decisive. In any event, even though Wiggins is still in 3rd, Sky will be putting all their eggs into Froome’s baskets.  Tomorrow’s stage into Noja looks more suitable for a breakaway, while the two stages in the Basque country simply must be won by the boys in orange, if they’re  to rescue their Vuelta.  The last realistic opportunity to snatch the red jersey is on Saturday’s 187km stage from Bilbao to Vitoria which finishes with 50km on the flat. Surely Sky can time-trial their way into red?

Over in Italy, the new Giro di Padania (ie Tour of N Italy) started with a win for Sacha Modolo (Colnago-CSF Inox) who’s been garnering plenty of headlines this summer. In France, young Aussie Rohan Dennis is leading the Tour de l’Avenir, which started on Sunday  and showcases emerging talent.

Of course, the really big news is the recently, hotly denied Radioshack-Leopard Trek merger. It allegedly came as a shock to the riders, with the possible exception of Frandy. However, I was delighted to read in L’Equipe that the UCI’s primary concern would be the riders. A large number of whom will now be looking for gainful employment. Indeed, a number with contracts for next year, may not be too happy at this turn of events.

Team Sky have announced the signing of pint-sized Aussie Richie Porte whose departure from Saxobank will further weaken Alberto’s support squad for 2012. No news yet as to where the Manx missile is heading. Maybe he just wants to keep us all in suspense or perhaps it’ll be announced on the eve of the Tour of Britain.

MotoGP

It was a Spanish clean sweep of the podiums at Misano in Italy this week end with winners Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Nico Terol. All three are back on home soil for the next round at  Aragon on 18 September.

As we were driving back yesterday from Italy, we passed a number of MotoGP trucks including those of the Yamaha Racing team. Only one day after his 3rd victory of the season, which allowed him to close the championship gap to Honda’s Casey Stoner to 35 points, reigning MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo and team-mate Ben Spies were back on track at Misano  testing  the 2012 1000cc M1.

During the 2011 season, manufacturers can test 2012 bikes for a total of 8 rider/days with their MotoGP riders. Yamaha has now completed 4 rider/days, the same number as Honda, but one less than Ducati. Suzuki is yet to announce a 1000cc project.

Tennis

First hurricanes and now torrential rain is causing scheduling chaos at the US Open, where most of the fancied players are still in contention.

Football

Eurosport have signed Rafa Benitez to their commentary team. Having managed in Spain, England and Italy, he has the right credentials to be commentating on European Cup matches along with Arsene Wenger.

Viva La Vuelta VI

My beloved is currently sitting on a plane on the runway of an airport to which his plane has been diverted. He’s had a long day having flown back from Japan via Vienna. He was looking forward to having dinner with me and an early night. Both options now out of the question. After a fruitless wait at the airport, I’ve returned home. Either they’ll bus him back to Nice, a journey of at least 3 hours plus however long it takes to organise the coach. Alternatively, they may fly him back. The latter is less likely as those promised storms have arrived. Will he get back home this evening? We’ll just have to wait and see.

More importantly, the BIG question on everyone’s lips, can Wiggo win? Yesterday, today and tomorrow hold the key to that question. He’s safely navigated two out of three difficult days. Yesterday, Liquigas’s defending champion, Vicenzo Nibali, sneaked a 6 second bonus by taking the first intermediate sprint to go 2nd on GC while the stage was won by contract seeking, HTC’s Michael Albsini. It was the 30-year old’s first GT win. Katusha’s Daniel Moreno, holder of the combined jersey, was another who took back time, rising on GC to 9th. In addition, Cofidis’s David Moncoutie garnered sufficient points to pull on the spotted jersey.

Not for the faint hearted

Out of Galicia and into Asturia, Stage 14’s lumpy 173kms culminated in Lagos de Somiedo, a tough climb, particularly the final 5kms. The stage was won by fellow Cote d’Azur resident, the baby-faced Estonian, Rein Taaramae, who rides for Cofidis. It was his maiden GT win and his first win since 2009.

Back in the leading group, the attacks were coming thick and fast on the slopes of the final climb but Wiggo was tranquillo. Aided by the faithful Froome he turned up the pace and riders were shelled out the back like peas in a pod: Moreno, Rodriguez, Nibali, Kessiakoff……………… By the end of the stage, Sky were firmly occupying first and second places again while others were slip, sliding down the GC.

Here’s the top 20 General classification after stage 14:-

 
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 55:54:45
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:36
4 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:00:55
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:58
6 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:01:23
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:25
8 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:01:37
9 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:16
10 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:24
11 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:56
12 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:11
13 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:03:23
14 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:30
15 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:32
16 Kevin Seeldraeyers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:03:43
17 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:04:12
18 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:04:17
19 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:04:40
20 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:05:19

Vive La Vuelta V

Yesterday’s summit finish atop the ski station Manzaneda was won by one of my favourite riders, David Moncoutie. He looked absolutely delighted with his Vuelta stage win en route to what I hope will be his 4th consecutive spotted, mountain’s jersey. He’s also decided to ride for another year in Cofidis’s colours a decision which will, no doubt, have found favour with his team manager, team sponsor and team mates.

Sky perfectly marshalled yesterday’s stage and we were treated to the rare sight of the GC leader, Sky’s red-jersey clad Chris Froome, working tirelessly at the front of the peloton, as promised, for team mate and, the better bet for the overall, Bradley Wiggins. Brits in the leader’s jersey, rarer than hen’s teeth? Not as rare as you might think.

British born but Belgian bred, Michael Wright first flew the flag and wore the jersey for one day in 1968’s Vuelta. Winning a 2nd stage into Salou enabled him to take the leader’s jersey for a day. Rudi Altig seized it the next day. The following year he did rather better, winning the first road stage and holding onto the jersey for 2 days.

More success followed, almost 20 year’s later, when, in 1985, the Scottish climber, Robert Millar pulled on the jersey at the end of the 10th stage and successfully defended it until the 17th (of 19 stages). Unfortunately, on stage 17, he punctured and Pedro Delgado attacked. Millar was isolated from his team mates and no one else would work with him to chase down the leaders. He finished the Vuelta second overall to Delgado. The following year, Millar was again second overall having led for 5 days in the middle of the race before losing the jersey to the eventual winner, Alvaro Pino, in the individual time-trial. Coincidentally, Pino comes from where today’s Vuelta stage started: Pontreareas.

His namesake, no relation, Scot David Millar won the 12.3km time trial in Salamanca in 2001 and held onto the leader’s jersey until stage four, losing it to Santiago Botero in a crash on the run in to Gijon. Last year, HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish became the 4th Brit to lead the Vuelta when his team won the night time TTT in Seville. He was the first rider to wear the new red leader’s jersey and he held it for 2 days.

On Monday, Brit registered, Kenyan-born, Chris Froome became the surprise leader of the Vuelta after coming second to stage winner HTC’s Tony Martin in the race’s only individual time trial, one place ahead of Sky team-mate Bradley Wiggins. Froome had been riding tirelessly in support of  Wiggins since the start of the race, a job he confirmed he would continue to perform, red jersey or no red jersey.

Bradley Wiggins, a rider in the form of his life according to those in the know, took over the race lead from his team mate yesterday after the pair had upped the pace on the final climb of stage 11. This didn’t stop JRod from zipping off the front to recoup a bit of time, but at this rate he’s not going to gain back enough time before Madrid.

Today’s stage, 167.3km into Pontevedra didn’t present any real difficulties for the GC contenders, it being a rare stage for the sprinters, many of whom (Cavendish, Goss, Farrar, Freire) have already departed. So, would it be an opportunity for the “old guard” (Boonen, Bennati, Patacchi) or one of the new (Kittel, Degenkolb, Sagan)?

Fabulous Fabian gave Leopard Trek team mate Daniele Bennati the perfect lead out, but it was Liquigas’s Peter Sagan, who had been astutely hopping from wheel to wheel, who prevailed ahead of HTC’s John Degenkolb. Astana’s Frederik Kessiakoff and Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema seized the opportunity to grab back a handful of seconds on the other GC contenders. Nonetheless, Sky’s Bradley Wiggins retains the overall leader’s red jersey.

Here’s the current top 20 GC standings:-

General classification after stage 12
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 46:53:47
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:09
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:10
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:19
6 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:36
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:01:06
8 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:27
9 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:01:53
10 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:02:00
11 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:01
12 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:02:22
13 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:56
14 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
15 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team 0:03:03
16 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:39
17 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:03:47
18 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:50
19 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack 0:04:06
20 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:04:21

Viva La Vuelta IV

Today’s individual time trial takes place in Salamanca, the capital of the Spanish province of the same name in the region of Castilla-Leon, located  118 kilometres east of the Portuguese border and 204 kilometres to the north west of Madrid. This is a beautiful historic city boasting the oldest university in Spain and some truly magnificent ancient buildings. Its streets and plazas are brimming with history and humming with vibrancy thanks to the large Spanish and foreign student population. UNESCO has declared the entire city a world heritage site and in 2002, along with Bruges, it was a European Capital of Culture.

They call Salamanca “La Dorada” ( the Golden City) because its buildings are made from the Villamayor golden sandstone which shimmers with ever-changing hues according to the position and strength of the sun. Even the more modern buildings have been constructed from this special stone which at times appears almost golden though you might also see shades of ochre, red, pink and yellow depending on the sunlight. It’s also called the Land of the Bulls because Spain’s fighting bulls are reared in the pastures beyond the city.

Salamanca’s historic centre is confined to a smallish area, surrounded by wide roads that keep most of the traffic out. There is something beautiful to see around every corner. First stop, the Plaza Mayor, arguably the finest main square in Spain, and where today’s stage finishes, dating from the early 18th century,  is the heart of the city, to which all roads seemingly lead, and is surrounded by colonnaded walkways containing 88 semi-circular arches. Most of the arches contain cafes and bars, whose tables spill out on to the square.

While Salamanca had been important in Roman times and the centuries thereafter, the turning point in its history was 1218, when the university was founded. The period around the end of the 15th century was the city’s high point, which lasted well into the 17th century. The architecture from this era remains throughout the city, and it seems every street has a building decorated with elaborate plateresque (lavishly ornamental) and Renaissance plasterwork.

I have spent most of the Vuelta keeping a look out for my two friends who are riding. Both perform similar support functions within their teams and. therefore, unsurprisingly are positioned well within the pack and not too far apart from one another on GC. While both are good time-triallists, they prefer a more undulating parcours. Today is definitely one for the specialists: Cancellara, Martin, Phinney and Grabsch. These four will have fresher legs than some of the GC contenders. Nonetheless, I would expect Bradley Wiggins to challenge strongly and seize the opportunity to put time into his GC opponents.

Individual time trials: just a man and his bike, against the clock. Well, not exactly, you also have to ride quicker than the competition. The later you start, in theory, the better as you’ve everyone else’s time checks. The weather conditions are secondary as the GC contenders all ride within a short time period of one another. This is the only individual time-trial and coming midway in the tour will give those who will inevitably lose time here today an opportunity to attack in the remaining stages. This time-trial puts riders such as JRod on the back foot but potentially could lead to exciting racing in the coming days.

I think it’s fair to say that today’s stage went pretty much as anticipated with one very BIG exception.  Tony Martin won the stage but the man in second place pulled on the red jersey. No, it wasn’t Wiggo, he’s 3rd on GC. It was, surprise, surprise, his Kenyan born, UK registered Sky team mate, Chris Froome ,who has been ever-present at Bradley’s side during the Vuelta. Has this set the cat among the pigeons, or what? It’s certainly got the British presenters waxing lyrical about Robert Millar in his heyday, and his successes in the same race.

How did my friends fare? Amazingly, they finished one after the other.

Here’s the top 20 on GC after today’s stage:-

General classification after stage 10
Rider Name (Country) Team Result
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 38:09:13
2 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:12
3 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:20
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:31
5 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:34
6 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:00:59
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:07
8 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:01:47
9 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioShack 0:02:04
10 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:02:13
11 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:02:15
12 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:21
13 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:02:35
14 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:23
15 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team
16 Tiago Machado (Por) Team RadioShack 0:03:28
17 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:47
18 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:03:52
19 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:59
20 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:04:07