While here in the UK we’re dawdling towards the first days of autumn, over in deepest Spain the pros are still racing beneath the sweltering summer sun. The Vuelta a España, the third and final Grand Tour of the year, has just kicked off and already it’s shaping up to be as exciting as the Giro d’Italia and a truly epic Tour de France.
La Vuelta’s place in the calendar means it’s an unpredictable event, often raced in a much less controlled way than the Giro and Tour. The dominant teams are likely to already have ticked off their goals for the year and consequently, the racing can be more dynamic. As usual, it’s a shorter route than the other grand tours, and with Spanish riders keen to impress on home roads you can expect some thrilling racing.
It’s early days but already we’re seeing two of the big teams taking some major wins. Deceuninck-QuickStep and Bora-Hansgrohe have brought some serious sprint talent with them to Spain, and it looks like it will be a battle between Dutchman Fabio Jakobsen and Ireland’s Sam Bennett when things get fast and furious. Bennett steered his Specialized Venge to victory on the third stage, a rocket of a bike that can turn his phenomenal power into a podium top spot.
Everything about the Venge screams speed, but it’s not all about straight-line pace. You’ve got to get to the final 500 metres to be able to contest a sprint and the Venge, with Specialized’s Rider-First Engineered carbon frame and wind tunnel-tested aerodynamics, gives you the tools to be where it matters when the hammer drops. Fabio Jakobsen rode his own to steal the prize on stage four by the finest of margins. If you need proof that the Venge is the fastest bike in the race, look no further.
When the road map looks a little lumpier, expect these guys to pull their Tarmac bikes from the garage. A truly versatile race machine, the Tarmac is designed to take testing climbs, fast descents and valley roads in its stride, and it’s no slouch in the intermediate sprints either.
The Trek-Segafredo boys are likely to be in the mix too. A great team performance almost stole Sam Bennett’s thunder on stage three, so keep an eye out for John Degenkolb and Edward Theuns when the fireworks go off later in the race.
A race in the mountains
It will be the mountainous stages of the race that determine the overall winners and losers in this Vuelta. When the road points up we start to see the lightweight climbers coming to the fore, making riding uphill seem impressively easy.
In the fight against gravity, the pros look for every advantage they can find, using lightweight, nimble bikes that fly up the climbs but can still handle the trip down the other side. Trek’s featherlight Émonda is one of the lightest bikes in the peloton and Trek-Segafredo climbers Gianluca Brambilla, Peter Stetina and Niklas Eg will make the most of that in the Spanish hills. Meanwhile, Team Ineos will be relying on their ever-reliable Dogma to put Wout Poels and Tao Geoghegan Hart at the pointy end of the race when things go up.
Not all of us have the talent to ride with the pros, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the technology found on their bikes. A road bike from the big brands like Specialized, Trek and Pinarello benefits from the trickle-down effect, where equipment proven on the pro bikes eventually finds its way right through their ranges. Disc brakes, lightweight frame materials and aerodynamic tube profiles are just some examples of this, cutting-edge tech proven by the pros and now available to us mere mortals.
We’re excited to see what the next few weeks of racing brings and in the meantime we’ll be here for all your bike-based needs. If you want to just pop in for a chat and to watch the race, well we’re here for that too. Vamos – let’s go!!