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Some big names are already out of what’s been a crash-marred, dangerous Vuelta a España, and there are still two weeks to go.
So far, 12 riders have exited the Vuelta through seven stages. That is in marked contrast to this year’s Tour de France, when the peloton raced all the way into stage 8 before seeing its first abandon.
What’s going on? Crashes, and lots of them.
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Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) was the latest high-profile rider to crash when he went down in the final corner in Friday’s stage 7. Banged and bruised, Contador was able to finish the stage, and it is hopeful he will be able to continue.
Others in the pack have not been so lucky. Worse off was Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL – Jumbo), who struck an unmarked metal pole near the end of stage 6. The Dutch sensation from this year’s Giro d’Italia (where he also crashed, into a snow bank in the Alps) left Spain with a broken clavicle and other injuries.
Vuelta officials apologized to LottoNL team officials on Thursday morning for the mishap, and vowed to discover why the metal post was left unmarked by safety personnel. It was eerily similar to what happened to Peter Stetina during the 2015 Tour of the Basque Country.
Another top protagonist, Colombian prospect Miguel Angel Lopéz (Astana), quietly abandoned his grand tour debut in stage 6 following a heavy fall in stage 3 that left him with heavy blows to his face, lips, and knees, and even knocked out parts of three of his teeth.
“[His] abandon is a bad shot for the whole team,” said Astana sport director Dmitri Sedoun. “But it is part of the risks of the job.”
Team Sky also lost Michal Kwiatkowski, who was unable to finish stage 7 after a crash. Team captain Chris Froome was caught up behind a pileup late Friday, but avoided crashing in what he agreed has been a stressful first week of the Vuelta.
“There have been a lot of crashes these last couple of days,” said Froome, who crashed out of last year’s Vuelta with a broken toe. “I think I’ve had a pretty good start to the race, and I’m actually looking forward to getting to the business end of it now. We’ve had a few transfer stages that have been a bit stressful, and it will be good to get back into the racing side of it.”
Indeed, as Froome points out, crashes have made the first week of the Vuelta a dangerous one. Most of the crashes have come in the bunch sprints, but danger lurks at every corner, as Lopez found out Monday. Spanish roads are generally in pretty good condition, but the Vuelta typically sees many crashes.
Part of the reason is that the race comes at the end of the season, and the level of the peloton is wildly inconsistent. Some riders target the Vuelta, coming to Spain fresh and intent on racing, while others are weary and worn-out at the end of a long season. The Vuelta also sees a lot of younger, inexperienced riders, often in their first grand tour, and that disparity in the bunch creates a dangerous dynamic.
Others say that the Vuelta peloton is tenser than other races because riders are desperate for good results to secure contracts going into the next season, meaning the bunch is full of riders taking risks. Robert Kiserlovski (Tinkoff) crashed out in a big pileup in stage 7 as the peloton ramped up for a sprint. Everyone knows a big win at the Vuelta means one more year in the rolling circus of professional cycling.
Others at the end of the season are prone to illness, such as Warren Barguil (Giant – Alpecin), who was this Vuelta’s first abandonment in stage 3 with sinus problems, or Brazilian Olympian Murilo Fischer (FDJ), who pulled out with stomach problems in stage 5.
So far, at least through the first week, there has not been an accident involving a motorcycle in the peloton, a problem that plagued last year’s Vuelta.
But like in any race, strange things can happen. Lluis Mas (Caja Rural) dislocated his hip after crashing into a ditch while riding back to the team bus after the conclusion of stage 4.
Katusha’s Rein Taaramae crashed out midway through Friday’s stage when a Cofidis team car struck him from behind as he was pacing through team cars after getting dropped, breaking his bike into six pieces, and knocking him into a ditch.
“Rein was dropped on the hill and the cars were passing him,” explained Katusha sport director José Azevedo. “I think the car came and he could not avoid it, so he was hit from behind. He flew off the bike to the right side of the road and this was a lucky thing because he was safe, but the car hit his bike and destroyed it completely. It was in a lot of pieces. Of course it was not on purpose, it was just something that happens in a race.”
Luckily, Taaramae was not seriously injured, and the Cofidis sport director apologized after the crash.
The Vuelta rolls into its second week, with a dozen fewer riders, and many likely wondering if they will be next.