Thursday, September 5, 2013

Stage 12 Preview 2013 Vuelta a España

Fabian Cancellara put the big gears to work in the TT
Before the Vuelta began Fabian Cancellara expressed little interest in today’s hilly 38.8k time trial course. His primary goal, he said, was to train for the upcoming World Championships. The Swiss TT master has been a big part of Horner’s success so far, driving the train on all kinds of terrain, setting strong paces in the peloton, and nabbing a couple of stage podium finishes for himself and his Radioshack-soon to be-Trek team in the process.

Because of Cancellara’s value on the road to his Radioshack team, today’s hilly parcours, and Tony Martin’s post-reconnaissance statement that it was a course for the climbers, I was not sure Spartacus would go full gas today—or if he did, that he could pull out a win. But I guess you can’t take the time trial out of the time trialer.   

Cancellara’s time proved to be the best on the road today. He says he is still deciding about which race
he will favor for the World Championships in a few weeks. Now, in the later half of his career, the three-time World Time Trial Champ is understandably looking for new heights, new goals to reach, new races to win. Despite his obvious TT prowess it would not seem odd to me if he chooses to focus on the Road Race over the TT. But I also think that he is the rare talent who could potentially be successful in both races.

Beyond Cancellara’s potent win in Tarazona today, Tony Martin was correct in his analysis of the course. The course did favor the climbers. Domenico Pozzovivo astonished everyone with the time trial performance of his career on stage 11. The small Italian climber finished third over the 39k TT course—only behind Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin—the best TT guys out there. Pozzovivo’s time beat all of the GC contenders. His ride was enough to move him up into sixth place overall. He has not stayed with the top climbers on the mountain stages so far, but maybe today’s performance suggests a return to form for the pure climber. 

The Vuelta is half over, and the riders have six summit finishes remaining. The top four riders in the general classification are within a minute of each other, and have about a two-minute buffer over the next few riders. Fifth place Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha is 2:33 behind the leader Nibali, but 1:47 behind fourth place Chris Horner. Despite the seemingly comfortable lead between fourth and fifth places, the half-dozen remaining mountain stages offer opportunities for Purito, Pozzovivo and Basso—at least—to challenge Nibali, Roche, Valverde and Horner for podium spots in Madrid.

The top 25 after 11 stages and their recent progress

The above table shows the current overall standings for the top 25 riders in the general classification of the Vuelta a España after stage 11. Similar to previous posts, after the rank and name I listed the time splits, but here the last four columns show how many places each rider moved up or down since the beginning of the Andalusian mountain stages.

For example, the last column, with the heading “8”, shows how many places a given rider moved up or down in stage 8 from the place he held after stage 7. e,g. Vincenzo Nibali was leading the race after stage 7; Nibali finished stage 8 and dropped down to fourth place, so he lost three places. Therefore the stage-8 column has a “-3” for Nibali. The next day Nibali gained a spot and was third overall. So he has a “+1” in the “9” column. Nibali climbed up one more spot in stage 10 and then another in the stage 11 time trial, so he has “+1”’s in each of those stage’s columns.

I created this table mostly because I like to see the riders’ progression through stage races. It’s easy to pull interesting data out of these tables, and I like drawing conclusions of my own from various statistics. I don’t know how many others might find any of this compiled data of interest, but I am a statistics hound, so I indulge myself. This is a very simple chart. I won’t bore you (yet) with some of my more arcane analyses.

Stage 12 on the map

Stage 12 from Maella to Tarragona in Spain’s northeastern Catalonian coast, will give the sprinters another chance for a win. It will be interesting to see who came out of the time trial and mountain stages with enough gas to challenge in a bunch sprint. I would expect the same riders that we saw in stages 5-7 to still be contending for stage 12, and a few of those again on stage 13, although it has a markedly different finish profile.

Stage 12 profile

Final 5k of stage 12 has a few sharp turns
I don’t think any of the sprinters has a shot at winning the Points Jersey at this point. The climbers have too many more opportunities to score on the summit finishes. If Matthews continues to dominate the sprints, and none of the climbers dominates the mountains, then Matthews could potentially be an outside shot for the green jersey. Otherwise I’d say it favors the GC favorites, Valverde, for instance.

Favorites for stage 12: Matthews is probably the favorite, with Richeze and Meersman close seconds. Then there’s Gilbert, Boasson Hagen, Farrar, Flecha, Bole, Henderson, Janse Van Rensburg, Lodewyck, Roux, Wagner, Ratto, Soupe, etc. Oh, and whichever sprinter Argos Shimano feels has the best chance on that day.

Profile of the final 5k

I am going to pick Maximiliano Richeze to win stage 12. He has finished second twice, and Lampre is going to want to put some effort into winning a sprint because they are getting swallowed up in the mountains.

For stage 13’s short steep ramp to the finish on Friday, I would probably pick Gilbert or Boasson Hagen. I’m going to go ahead and say Gilbert. Maybe tomorrow I’ll say Boasson Hagen…

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