Thursday, September 5, 2013

Stage 12 Recap and comments 2013 Vuelta a España

After almost an entire year, Philippe Gilbert of Team BMC has broken the curse of the rainbow jersey. The World Champion beat Edvald Boasson Hagen to the finish line on stage 12 at the Vuelta a España today. Gilbert took his first win since his victory at the 2012 World Championship Road Race last September 23rd.

World Champ Gilbert breaks the curse

The finale of stage 12 appeared to be more difficult than the profile suggested. More inclines (though not steep) in the final kilometer particularly made a difference. The stage did come down to a bunch sprint finish, as expected, but it proved to be slightly more selective than I anticipated. 

The peloton caught the stage’s three early escapees inside of 19k to go, and a large field of riders was on hand to contest the finish. Edvald Boasson Hagen launched an impressive attack in the final 250 meters and built a quick gap, but Gilbert managed to come from behind and overtake the big Norwegian from Team Sky, in the last 20 meters. Both riders are tuning up for the upcoming World Championships in Tuscany. There, Gilbert will try to defend the rainbow bands in a 280k course that is supposed to be a difficult one.

Yesterday I mentioned that I wanted to see which sprinters were too tired from the recent tougher stages to contest the sprint. Max Richeze of Lampre announced this morning that he was negatively feeling the effects of the mountains. Well, it must not have been too bad, because he finished in third place today.

Orica’s Michael Matthews who had already bagged a stage win in week one, punctured on the run-in, and was unable to contest the sprint today. The win eluded OPQ’s Gianni Meersman again; he finished fifth, behind Katusha’s classics specialist, Luca Paolini.

There were no significant changes to the leaders’ places in the general classification. Ivan Basso managed to gain three seconds by winning the second intermediate sprint on stage 12, and Nicolas Roche shaved two seconds off of his time for crossing the INT line in second, behind Basso.

Vincenzo Nibali is still happy in red
Vincenzo Nibali held onto the red race leader’s jersey on stage 12; Daniel Moreno defended the green points jersey; and Chris Horner keeps the polka dots for another day. Also, Nicolas Roche continues to lead in the combination classification’s white jersey.

The biggest loser today could be Ivan Santaromita of BMC. He finished 172nd, with the grupetto, nine minutes back. He drops out of the top 20, from 16th overall to 32nd. I have not yet heard why, but he could be sick or tired from the mountains and the rest day and TT, or he might have lost the time on purpose, seeing that even a top ten finish would be a difficult at this point, so why not lose enough time so that he could be allowed to go in a breakaway group, and vie for a stage win somewhere. Of course everyone behind Santaromita in the top 30 moved up one spot as a result of his plummet.

The only other changes in the top 20 were Sammy Sanchez and Eros Capecchi swapping 15th and 14th places, as Capecchi finished with a group ten seconds behind the first finishing group that included Sanchez.

Just as a side note, Sammy Sanchez, Euskaltel’s leader coming into the Vuelta, and Domenico Pozzovivo, Ag2R’s big hope—both of whom got off to rough starts with a team time trial that left them working to regain ground—are two of just three riders in the top 25 who have not had a single day of losing ground so far. The third is Joaquim Rodriguez.

Euskaltel leader, Sammy Sanchez has not looked back
Sanchez has improved his position in the standings each day, except for stage six, when he maintained his same position, like most did on that sprint stage. That is ten days of continual improvement—including during most of the sprint stages, where most riders just hold their positions—and one day of holding his position, as just mentioned. He has climbed from a 79th place start to 14th place after stage 12—an overall improvement of 65 places so far. Can Sanchez earn himself a top-ten finish?

Purito Rodriguez started the race just a little ahead of Sanchez, in 71st place as a result of his Katusha team’s time trial performance. Overall Purito has moved up from 71st to 5th place, also without a single stage of losing ground. That’s an improvement of 66 spots so far—just edging out Sanchez’s success, but with better times, so he is higher up—but Rodriguez had six days of improving his position, and five days of maintaining it.

Domenico Pozzovivo is the most-improved rider so far
Pozzovivo, like Rodriguez, improved his position six times and held his position five times in the first 12 stages. However Pozzovivo started way back in 119th place after the stage-one TTT. Since then Domenico-the-diminutive has climbed all the way up to sixth place in the GC. That is an improvement of yes, 113 spots.

[Due to the technical challenges of today’s stage-12 finish, the race refs moved the 3k rule out to 5k. So any rider who got caught up in a crash or mechanical issue inside the last 5k would get the same finishing time as the group he was with before the incident occurred. Pozzovivo can be grateful for that, because he flatted just outside of 4k to go.]

Take it al into account and it looks like Sanchez has been working diligently every day to move up. His improving his standing every day but one is impressive. He gets my Spoke-n-Spin Sledgehammer Hardest-working-rider Award for today.

Purito is 5th, but hungry for more hills

Purito advanced about the same number of places as Sanchez, but he has clawed his way up to fifth place on GC, so he gets the Zenith Mountain Goat Award. (I’m just making these up as I go, so if the awards all have different names next time, don’t ask why).

Pozzovivo has climbed the furthest in the standings (among these three, and possibly overall), overtaking 113 other riders to reach his current sixth place. He gets the Spiked Outta-My-Way Award. His forte is a big, steep climb, so his prospects for more improvement are not out of the question, with six more summit finishes still to come. The Italian climber cannot risk one bad day in the mountains if he hopes to finish high. Puriito is his nearest foe, and he will be difficult to supplant.


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