The seasonâ€™s third and final grand tour came down to the wire, ending what might have been one of the most competitive grand tour seasons in recent memory.Â Before we all turn our attention to Worlds and the fall classics, hereâ€™s a rundown of the raceâ€™s winners and losers.
Nibali iced the cake on a fantastic season for himself and Liquigas. His Vuelta win and his podium finish at the Giro this year, during which he rode for Ivan Basso, indicate more good results to come. The small things about his performance suggest a fine Grand Tour rider: the effective of teammates such as Roman Kreuziger on Stage 16, when Kreuziger set a pace that none of Nibali’s rivals could attack; attentive riding such as when he grabbed 12 seconds from Mosquera on Stage 19; and intelligent energy expenditure such as the way he let Mosquera go up the road before gamely clawing his was back before the line in Stage 20. Nibali’s climbing and time trialing are good, and his savvy and team support might be exactly what it takes to stand on the podium in France next yearâ€”especially if Liquigas can get their wheel changes a bit smoother.
HTC-Columbia had a banner race with Cavendish winning the Green Jersey and three stages, and former U23 World Champ Peter Velits winning Stage 17â€™s ITT and finishing third overallâ€”HTCâ€™s first grand tour podium.Â Throw-in a victory in the Stage 1 TTT, and you have another dominating grand tour performance.
Ezekiel Mosquera finally landed on the podium of the Vuelta a Espana. His do-or-die performance on Stage 20 might not have been enough to take the win, but it sure was amazing to watch.
With two stage wins, Phillipe Gilbert showed everyone that he’s ready for the World Championships. His mullet may be gone but his power remains.
Tyler Farrar finally beat Mark Cavendish in a sprint finish as the Vuelta arrived in Madrid. Two stage wins is good, but more impressive might be his second place on Stage 19. It’s only a matter of time before he brings home a big classic.
The Orange Armada responded to Igor Anton’s abandon after Stage 14 by sending three riders up the road halfway through Stage 16 to launch Mikel Nieve to the stage win on the Alto de Cotobello. It was an impressive display of panache and resilience from a heartbroken team.
Igor Anton won two stages and then crashed and broke his elbow while wearing the red jersey. His abandon a bitter pill to swallow, the Vuelta would have been even more exciting had his luck been better.
Joaquim Rodriguez pulled-on the red jersey after Stage 16 knowing that he hadn’t gained enough time to hold-off Nibali in the time trial.Â He then imploded in the race of truth and finished the Vuelta just off the podium.Â He might have won a stage, but he lost the battle.
Last year’s Vuelta winnerâ€”Alejendro Valverdeâ€”is serving a suspension for ties to Operacion Puerto.Â But despite a deep roster and two stage wins, Caisse d’Epargne couldnâ€™t put-on a performance to divert people’s attention from Valverdeâ€™s absence.
CervÃ©lo Test Team
CervÃ©lo finished the Vuelta with both both Carlos Sastre and Xavier Tondo in the top-10 overall. That said, with only 1 stage and yet another deflated grand tour effort from Sastre, they failed to deliver on their pre-race expectations.Â Even worse, the team learned just as the race began that it was no moreâ€”CervÃ©lo has jumped-ship for Garmin, and several riders and staff have been left scrambling for work in 2011.
Menchovâ€™s a surprise loser only because it was so easy to forget he was racing. One expected a bit more from a Tour de France podium finisher and two-time former Vuelta championâ€”though it may be safe to say he was tired.
Team Saxo Bank
Saxo Bank showed signs of distress this month, with Bjarne Riis kicking Andy Schleck and Stuart O’Grady from the Vuelta for a disputed night of indiscretion. Â Fabian Cancellara then displayed a rare sign of weakness with thrid in the final time trial before abandoningâ€”the race and then his team.Â In the end, the best the squad could muster was a fifth place overall for Frank Schleckâ€”though we all hoped he would bounce back from his upsetting Tour de France injury to challenge for the win.
Cavendish finally won a green jersey, but it seemed like a bit of a consolation prize after a topsy-turvy and a failed bid for green at the Tour de France. Factor in his failure to win as many stages as his teammate and rival (in sprinting and snide comments) Andre Greipel did last year (on his way to winning the green jersey), and his performance fails to impress. Worse, after losing Stage 21 in Madrid to Tyler Farrar, rather than compliment his rival, Cavendish claimed the only reason he lost was due to broken a spoke and rubbing rim with 4-kilometers to go. His reaction was a reminder that even though we all liked his tears of joy after his first stage win in this year’s Tour de France, he’s still the same old Cav: whiney, inconsistent, and obnoxiousâ€”and not in a cute way.
So there you have it, winners and losers from the 2010 Vuelta.Â Whoâ€™s on your list?
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