For the fifth time running a Grand Tour ended with a Brit stood on the top step of the podium, as Simon Yates triumphed in this year’s Vuelta a Espana.
Of the last 20 Grand Tours that have taken place a Brit has won nine of them, with this latest victory they’ve won the last two Tours de France and Vueltas and the latest Giro. Holding all three Grand Tours taking place in 2018 with three different riders – a first, for any nation.
Simon Yates capped off a magnificent year by winning his first Grand Tour at the Vuelta to make up for his disappointment of losing out earlier in the year when leading and looking so dominant at the Giro.
Every lesson learned at that Giro put into practice for a dominant performance by him and his team. Yes, it was a different race, under different circumstances. He didn’t need to keep attacking in the Vuelta to make up time they thought he needed to survive the time trial in the Giro, no World Champion or Olympic medallist in Spain, unlike Italy with Dumoulin and Froome.
But that can’t detract from the perfect way he controlled his riding in this race. Doing enough to be in contention, not doing anything to stop losing the red jersey, after he’d gained it accidentally, when he didn’t really want it and the distractions that go with it. And then storming back with that stage 14 victory to retake the race lead, that he’d not relinquish again.
And destroying Movistar. Putting Quintana in his place, waving him on when the Columbian busted flush almost thought about doing some work at the front but panicked and desperately waved for his team mate to come and help him. The real destruction coming in those final two days in the mountains, on Yates’ “home patch” of Andorra, where he put plenty of time on Quintana and Valverde as they dropped down the standings. Four minutes on Valverde who saw his podium place disappear and nearly three on Quintana, who finished nearly seven behind, when he was just over a half a minute down in third after stage 15.
Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López deserving their podium places for going out there and getting them, unlike Quintana. Valverde at least tried more than his team mate but showed his age, 38, at the end.
From even before Simon Yates topped Haytor on the Tour of Britain back in 2013, this has been the goal for him and his brother and this is where people have predicted they would be. Both have had Grand Tour high spots, Adam coming 4th in 2016 on the TdF along with a top 10 in last year’s Giro. Simon having a top 10 in the ’17 TdF and the previous year’s Vuleta. Both disappointments, most notably that Giro this year.
Simon entered this Vuelta as the favourite, he went through the race with a composure, a cool headedness, a tactical nous and of course the legs of someone who belongs as a Grand Tour favourite. Other Tours will be different, Sky target the Tour, if he still has “unfinished business” at the Giro you don’t know how that would impact on a real go at the Tour. Simon didn’t have a huge entourage of team mates surrounding him up those final climbs of the day, the way Sky do when completely dominating. But with a fully fit Yates twins along with Chavez that would be a formidable trio, though there’d have to be real leadership designation. Yes, Sky won with nominally two leaders of Thmoas and Froome at the latest Tour, but that was different, just look at Movistar and their attempts, three leaders at the Tour, two at the Vuelta bit of a disaster really. Too many chiefs, not enough indians, especially when one chief prefers to hide all day.
This was a stunning victory for British cycling, yes on a Australian team and yes probably better that the twins went their own way and didn’t get swallowed by the Sky machine, though you never know if they’d shown the levels that Simon showed here they could have come through as leaders.
One of them will be leading the GB assault on the World Championships in a couple of weeks time. a victory there would top a spectacular year.
Though as the sport booms in the country, more and more success on a world stage, huge crowds for the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour of Britain, yet another UK based team is packing up at the end of the season in JLT-Condor, one the biggest and oldest teams on the British circuit. Going the way of OnePro, along with the Irish based Aqua Blue. Grass roots floundering while the top of the tree flourishes.