Tour de France 2022 – Spain, omnipotence at the bottom of the hole

On Saturday, the Tour leaves the luggage in Mende again. A good memory for Spanish cycling. The last one, too, in the Grande Boucle. On July 21, 2018, one Saturday already, Omar Fraile won at the top of the Montée Laurent Jalabert under the nose and beard of Julian Alaphilippe. After that, nothing. No Spaniard raised his arms at the Tour des Fraile in Lozère four years ago minus five days ago.

A spectacular anemia that is not limited to the month of July in three-week races. In the Giro, the shortage is even longer. It originated in 2017. Even in their Vuelta Nacional, the Iberians have not won since the first third of the 2020 edition with Ion Izagirre. As a result, last week, July 5, in Calais the milestone of the 100 stages was reached without the slightest Spanish victory in a great tour. The counter continues to run: 109 unsuccessful steps.

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How did we get here? Without great dominant leaders, without riders at all, the broth of Spanish cultivation has dried up to unimaginable proportions just a few years ago. One element of comparison is sufficient to understand the scope of the phenomenon. In 2007, the year of Alberto Contador’s first coronation, 11 of the top 20 in the final general classification came from the other side of the Pyrenees. This year, there were fewer Spanish riders at the start of the Tour than in the Top 20 fifteen years ago. They were only nine to leave Copenhagen. The lowest total of exactly fifty years, in 1972. Or how to move from omnipotence to figuration.

2007: Spain and Contador at the helm

Credit: Imago

Spain advances the theory of the generational gap. Neither Alberto Contador nor Joaquim Rodríguez have been replaced and if Alejandro Valverde, his country’s last driver on the podium of the Tour (3rd in 2015), defies time with more than 40 years, he is about to leave. “We need a new generationargues our colleague Enrique Sánchez, who covers the Tour de France for Eurosport Spain. In addition to Purito, Contador and Valverde, Landa and the Izagirre brothers also grew up. It is partly a situation problem that should only last a while, but Spanish cycling is clearly in a difficult time.. “

Beyond a driver problem, it’s mostly a team problem. The first would even be the consequence and not the cause of the second. “ConcernAlberto Contador points out, is that there is only one Spanish team on the World Tour (Movistar, ed.). Before, with all the Spanish teams, we could give a chance to many young drivers. Today they have only two options: go somewhere else or stop cycling. For me, this is the main cause. It’s not the same to have three World Tour teams capable of doing the big tours and having only one. “

Where is Spanish cycling going?

Credit: Quentin Guichard

But the unloved

In fact, it is much harder than before to find a place in the sun for young people. Speaking of the Tour alone, Spain peaked in 2007 with 41 runners at the start. That year, it was even the most represented nation in the July platoon, ahead of France. Since then, the Iberian contingent has continued to lose weight. In 2010 it last stood above 30. Five years later, it fell to 15 to reach its all-time low in 2022 with nine units. “despite thisContador insists, I am convinced that the Spanish drivers have the level to do the Tour de France. But if you look, even at Movistar there are only five Spaniards on the team. “

Among the nine survivors of 2022, Enric Mas stands out. Twice second in the Vuelta, 5th and 6th of the Tour for two years, the Mallorcan, from the “Formación Contador”, is a man of great tours. But it probably does not have the quality of a flagship of Iberian cycling. “He is considered a very good rider with us, but it will be difficult, if not impossible, to win the Tour someday, Judge Enrique Sánchez. The Vuelta or the Giro, perhaps, and again, you should be lucky not to have too high a plateau in front of you.

Enric Mas (Movistar) to Granon.

Credit: Getty Images

Above all, Mas, 9th in the general classification at the start of the Alps, is not a popular figure in his country. “Because he lacks ambitionadds our partner. He is not hungry. He is the usual pilot par excellence, but he is not looking for great flights to win a stage. We have the impression that he is happy to be 3rd overall. Spanish fans don’t like it. Mikel Landa wins nothing but fans love him because he attacks the mountain. Two or three years ago, when I was in Quick Step, maybe it was perceived differently. We even thought he had charisma, but today he is no longer like that.. “

Ayuso, the nugget of tomorrow?

Enric Mas may ensure a new Spanish presence in the Top 10 final in Paris, but for a nation long accustomed to winning the Tour (eight victories between 1988 and 2010 with Delgado, Indurain and Contador) or at least monopolizing the places of the Tour. podium, this result is difficult to get out of anonymity. So Spain has patience, waiting for the emergence of a new generation. “It is eagerly awaitedadmits Enrique Sánchez. Guys like Juan Ayuso, Carlos Rodríguez, Juanpe López and Raúl Garcia Pierna are the names of the future. “

In this list a boy stands out: Juan Ayuso. The youngest but also the most promising of the lot. After breaking everything to the cadets and juniors of Spain, Ayuso signed a very remarkable five-year contract with the UAE Emirates team of Tadej Pogacar. His first season with the pros is more than interesting. We saw him finish placed in high tests such as the Laigueglia Trophy (2nd), the Tour de Romandie (4th) or Catalonia (5th). He is, perhaps, the big nugget of tomorrow, who will return his brilliance to this battered Spanish cycling.

Waiting for those tomorrow who could sing, in this Tour 2022, the meager Spanish colony would be happy to end this black series hanging a small stage victory. Luis Leon Sanchez, the former veteran (38 years old), did not go very far in Megève on Tuesday. Who knows, on Saturday, the return to Mende, four years after the success of Omar Fraile in the same place, will perhaps inspire his compatriots?

Juan Ayuso, 2nd in the Laigueglia Trophy – 02/03/2022

Credit: Getty Images

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