To abandon or not to abandon?

The main contenders for the World Championships are all starting to call it a day in the Vuelta a España. This morning before Stage 17, the notable absentees from the start line included double stage winner Damiano Cunego and current World Champion Alessandro Ballan, the latter having now ridden his last race in the rainbow jersey, unless of course, he wins it again. The two Italians add their names to a long list of riders who’ve abandoned the Vuelta so far.

Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego (along with Matti Breschel) on the podium of last year's World Championship road race in Varese.
Alessandro Ballan and Damiano Cunego (along with Matti Breschel) on the podium of last year’s World Championship road race in Varese.

Riders expected to do well in the World Championships that are on that list include Fabien Cancellara, Oscar Freire, Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel, Simon Gerrans and Pierrick Fédrigo. But the question I’ve been asking myself this morning is, does it actually benefit the rider to abandon with 5 or 6 stages left to ride. Perhaps, the rider would be better served finishing out the Spanish Grand Tour, keeping the body and the form ticking over? Ignoring the possibility of crashing and picking up an injury at top level racing, is it more beneficial for riders to complete the 21 stages of  the Vuelta or to prepare alone over the final few days before the Worlds?  Or perhaps avoiding the Vuelta altogether is a better option?

So to find out which avenue of preparation is more effective, I’ve taken a look at the riders who finished 1st-5th for the last 3 years at the World Championships road race. Of these 15 riders, 14 of them started the Vuelta a España four weeks beforehand, the only exception being Frank Schleck who took 4th in 2007 having previously ridden the Tour of Poland and the 3-Länder-Tour. This seems to rule out the idea of not riding the Vuelta at all before attempting the Worlds. Of the remaining 14 riders, 8 of them abandoned the Vuelta before the finish and 6 completed it. So, with just over half of the riders from the top 5 in the last 3 years abandoning the Vuelta to concentrate on the Worlds, this is somewhat inconclusive.

In a further attempt to discover the best preparation tactics for victory at the World Championships I took a look at what the winners of the last 8 editions did in the run up to the main event.


Although in a previous post I expressed my disappointment that so many of the big names were treating the Vuelta as a training race, the evidence is overwhelming that doing just that is the best preparation possible for an assault on the rainbow jersey. I’d love to see somebody buck this trend. The most likely candidates for  World road race success who will  finish this years Vuelta are probably Samuel Sánchez, Cadel Evans and likely Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde. If one of these riders were to win in Mendrisio having completed the Vuelta, it would be a feat not accomplished since Oscar Camenzind in 1998.

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