La Vuelta 11: the edition that marked the history of world cycling
October 14 th 2020 - 17:55 [GMT + 2]
La Vuelta’s 75th edition is about to start. However, there is no need go too far back in time to come across an edition that already had a significant impact in the history of world cycling: in 2011, Chris Froome and Peter Sagan, the two great champions of the decade, both forged the basis for their prolific sports careers in Spain.
The first La Vuelta of the new 20s decade will depart from Irun, in Guipuzkoa, next Tuesday, the 20th of October, and head to Arrate (Eibar). 10 years ago, the Spanish tour returned to the Basque Country following a 33-year absence. In 1978, the year of Bernard Hinault’s first final victory, the final stage (in San Sebastián) had to be cancelled due to numerous protests.
La Vuelta’s return to the Basque Country could not have been a more emotive one, with the solitary victory, on the Gran Vía de Bilbao, of one of Basque cycling’s favourite sons: Igor Antón. His experience and his knowledge of the terrain, and specifically the Alto del Vivero, invaded by a thoroughly devoted public that day, allowed him to make up for his bad luck the year before when he was forced to drop out a week before the end, while wearing the leader jersey, due to an unfortunate fall. The following day, stage 20 took place entirely within the Basque Country, with a memorable triple victory for the Italians in Vitoria: 1. Daniele Bennati, 2. Enrico Gasparotto and 3. Damiano Caruso.
There was an elite level of sprinters in that peloton, so much so that not even Alessandro Petacchi, or Óscar Freire were able to obtain a single stage victory. Very few days lent themselves to making the true sprinters shine. On top of this, two promising young riders decided to definitively reveal themselves in that edition. Before Marcel Kittel won in Talavera de la Reina (stage 7), his first victory in a Grand Tour (another 18 would follow), the public discovered in Córdoba (stage 6) the phenomenon that is Peter Sagan, who already had around fifteen professional victories under his belt, but who was just starting to participate in three-week races.
Ten months before his surprising triple stage win and his first conquest of the green jersey during his debut in the Tour de France in 2012, the Slovakian rider also won in Pontevedra (stage 12), despite an incident with his chain, and on the last day, in Madrid. In fact, it is possible that History would have wanted him to start his dominion over the points classification had it not been for the gaffe of a Bennati team mate, who made a mistake in one of the final roundabouts in the 16th stage with a finale in Haro, and took the exit established for cars. This mistake divided the group, that was in the lead to win, in two. Although Sagan managed to wear the green jersey for five days, the 2011 garment for the most constant riders was a fight between Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodríguez and Bauke Mollema. The Dutch rider finally beat the Catalan rider, thanks to a 9th place in the final La Vuelta 11 sprint.
The young rider classification did not exist at that time, but at 24 years old, Mollema – 3rd in the general classification, would have worn the white jersey that today identifies the best rider in the Under 26 category. Chris Froome, the real great revelation of that edition, was already 26. The Brit, who had a turbulent start to the season after contracting bilharzia, a parasitic illness that is relatively common in his native Africa, participated in La Vuelta 11 as a substitute for the Sky Team, with a departure from Benidorm. He was already nearing the end of his contract and had no clear future. In fact, his inclusion in the team had been due to the last-minute drop-out by Norwegian Lars-Petter Nordhaug. He was the gregario to Bradley Wiggins, the team leader, even though he had committed the ultimate crime when he won the red jersey in the Plaza Mayor de Salamanca upon the end of the time trial. The next day, he put his status aside in order to return to serving the future winner of the Tour de France 2012. With Wiggins’ consent, who realised that his “heir” did better than him on ramps with higher inclinations, Froome ended up winning at Peña Cabarga (stage 17), his first stage victory in a Grand Tour. Following La Vuelta 11, which he eventually won, Froome became a super champion of three-week races in the last decade. He has won four Tour de France (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017), adding La Vuelta 17 and the Giro 2018 to his victory tally.
La Vuelta 11 will also be forever known as the one that broke the records regarding wearing La Roja: 9 (Jakob Fuglsang, Daniele Bennati, Pablo Lastras, Sylvain Chavanel, Joaquim Rodríguez, Bauke Mollema, Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins and Juanjo Cobo). It also allowed us to enjoy the very first stage victory in a Grand Tour (La Covatilla – etapa 9), of Irish rider Dan Martin, another rider who would mark the history of 10s. La Vuelta 11 was the first to include the participation of a Japanese rider in the Spanish Tour. By the name of Yukihiro Doi, he was the teammate of Marcel Kittel in Skil-Shimano, and not only completed La Vuelta 11, but also repeated his participation the following year.