Why should we have expected anything but barminess from a race that began as an advert for a multifarious domestic flooring company?
This Vuelta started like the cycling version of an Ionesco play, with a team time-trial across a combination of beach and marble flooring, but has quickly turned into Fawlty Towers for the Grand Tour generation.
Fabian Cancellara suffered the kind of fate once reserved for Mike Gatting on a Test match tour of India (“Out!”). Tejay van Garderen, having declared Chris Froome ‘beatable’, resumed his battle with Dan Martin for the crown of thorns as the peloton’s unluckiest rider, as both were forced to abandon following the mass crash on stage eight.
In fact, bar the sunburned landscape rather than verdant hedgerows and squalls of rain, you could have been forgiven, were you Michael Rennie, for thinking you were watching a re-run of the Tour de France, as Nacer Bouhanni, for whom boxing is surely a less hazardous pursuit than messing about on two wheels, also exited the race as he had in July.
On a serious note, Kris Boeckmans, the Lotto-Soudal rider, came off by far the worst in the stage 8 crash. He will spend the next few days in an induced coma after hitting a pothole. It was a harrowing incident and we wish him a full recovery.
Having ended his Oklahoma Dust Bowl drought without a Grand Tour win on day three, Peter Sagan was perhaps fortunate not to be more seriously hurt himself when a motorbike hit him at high speed in the final kilometres of stage eight.
“Sagan was hit by a reckless auxiliary… and suffered wounds and burns of first and second degree on the left side of his body, from the hip to the lower leg. In addition, he has a contusion on his left forearm with an intra-muscular haematoma,” read a Tinkoff-Saxo statement so restrained it must have been written by Oleg’s alter ego on Valium. Pro cycling’s need for a union has rarely been more apparent.
Sagan’s departure from the race was more painful, and more honourable, than that of Vincenzo Nibali, who hitched a brief ride on the Astana team car on day two of the race.
Unfortunately for the 2010 champion, his name isn’t Maurice Garin and his cheating occurred right under a television helicopter. The Vuelta organisers, showing cojones worthy of a Pamplona bull, chucked him from the race.
After all that, the fact that a Dutch time-triallist might win Spain’s mountainous national race seems almost regular by comparison. This Vuelta has been Alice through the looking glass strange – time, perhaps, for Froome to restore some normality and become the race’s Red King?
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH, UH HUH
Five – number of first category climbs on today’s 138km, eleventh stage of La Vuelta
Four – number of riders brought down in WorldTour races by vehicles from the convoy
One – world road race champion yet to confirm employment for next season
Tom Steels turns 44 today. He won nine Tour de France stages and a record four Belgian national titles, yet is still most likely to be remembered as the bloke who hurled a water bottle in a sprint.
On-the-bike view of a searing Caleb Ewan sprint win from January.