A Vuelta dream can also explode on the penultimate climb. Just ask Tom Dumoulin. In the 2015 Vuelta a España he looked like he was on his way to his first Grand Tour overall victory. But in the final mountain stage he was no match for Astana’s perfect team play. We bring up the crucial moments here, if only as a warning. Because today’s final is the same as it was seven years ago.
A hungry homeland, a young time trialist in red on the penultimate day of the Vuelta and a final spectacle on and around the Puerto de Navacerrada… Where do we remember that from?
We have to go back barely 7 years for a déjà vu.
For several decades, the Netherlands has been yearning for a new Grand Tour winner. Since Joop Zoetemelk entered Paris in 1980 wearing the yellow jersey, our northern neighbors have been dry.
Podium places for Johan van der Velde, Steven Rooks and Erik Breukink – even three times – still followed, but there was no successor to Zoetemelk.
Until in 2015, a young Tom Dumoulin, at that time mainly known as a time trialist, suddenly started following the best uphill in the Vuelta a España.
And even more than follow. In addition to an astonishingly dominant time trial – number 2 Bodnar finished at more than a minute – Dumoulin also won with a mighty sprint on a steep Spanish slope against the existing climbing violence.
So two stage wins, and also the red jersey. Because already after the fifth stage, the Dutchman received the leader’s jersey for the first time. And from that moment on, Dumoulin developed day after day into a candidate for the overall victory.
Only Fabio Aru, second in the Giro earlier that season, was able to fight back uphill at times. But due to the weaker time trial of the Italian, it was Tom Dumoulin who started the penultimate day in the leader’s jersey.
His lead? amper 6 seconds.
He would have to defend it on the climbs of the Puerto de la Morcuera and the Puerto de Cotos – a side flank of the Puerto de Navacerrada. Exactly the same roads that will now, 7 years later, decide again about the Vuelta victory.
Moment 1: Teammates in the early flight
Everyone knows. It seems so simple. And yet it is rarely executed perfectly.
A successful coup is not something you do alone. You have to have mates, and preferably teammates. And they are best on an early flight. This way they can be deployed at the right time by the leader.
Astana, Aru’s squad, executed this perfectly in their last attempt to attack the red jersey. With two pawns in the early flight they did it fairly modestly. But if they’re the right males, two may be enough.
Andrej Zeits and Luis Leon Sanchez were the chosen executioners for Dumoulin that day. Paddle calmly in the monster escape and wait for the right moment. That was their job.
Moment 2: First sign of weakness
When will you start an ultimate attempt to control the Vuelta?
Given his small backlog, Aru had several options. It was therefore somewhat surprising when he threw the bat into the henhouse halfway through the penultimate climb.
With more than 50 kilometers to go, the Italian let his teammates increase the pace. Dumoulin owed an answer especially to the acceleration of climbing goat Landa.
The Dutchman had previously stated several times that he prefers to ride at his own pace uphill as a time trialist. So he crawled back to Aru’s wheel.
Moment 3: Squatting on the penultimate climb
But Astana had smelled blood.
The red jersey was not allowed a moment of recovery. Also with Dumoulin well and good back in the group, Landa continued to take the lead.
And then came Aru’s ultimate attack on the red jersey. Everything or nothing. For the second time, Dumoulin had to stay put. Worse: one by one, all the toppers jumped away behind his back. Also Landa, who was able to do work for Aru at the front.
Dumoulin rounded the top of the Puerto de la Morcuera barely fifteen seconds behind his opponents. But it was one against all. Only a great descent could save him.
Moment 4: Return to 9 seconds
Dumoulin knew that, of course. If he wanted to return, it had to be done quickly. And so he threw himself down like a stone.
Turn by turn he came closer to the group. He could even see them driving in front of him on the short stretches. A return seemed to be a possibility again. The red jersey was not completely lost.
Moment 5: The perfect tactic
But then came the death blow.
Just as Dumoulin tipped the balance again, the light blue uniforms of two Astana riders loomed up. Zeits and Sanchez had picked the perfect moment to wait and could now blast into the valley for Aru.
The Astana’s went straight ahead. Second by second, Dumoulin saw his competitors drive away again. The time trialist had a solitary battle but, unlike previous mountain stages, was unable to narrow the gap.
With more than 30 kilometers to go, it became clear that his red dream had come to an end. Not only that, after an agony on the final climb, Dumoulin would even tumble completely off the podium.
Rodriguez, Quintana, Majka and Chaves… All benefited in the footsteps of the Astanas.
Moment 6: A victory as a team
Rarely did a power grab in cycling run so smoothly. And of course Aru was slightly better than Dumoulin that day. However, it was largely the team that had made the difference.
Even when the new leader crossed the finish line, he was still flanked by a teammate. Cheering, crying and exuberantly thanking the team, Aru could hardly stay with his joy after the finish.
A stark contrast to Tom Dumoulin. He had seen his last teammate an hour and a half earlier. Now the Dutchman crossed the finish line alone 3 minutes and 52 seconds after his attacker. From 1 to 6 on the last important day. This lap took a mountain and a half too long for Dumoulin.
He would not be a successor for Zoetemelk. Or not for now…