Saturday, August 31, 2013

Preview of stages 8 to 10 2013 Vuelta a España

Three consecutive uphill finishes coming up on stages 8-10 before the stage-11 time trial.

Stage 8 on the map
Stage 8 Saturday is a big summit finish on the Alto de Peñas Blancas. The climb is 14.5k averaging 6.6%, with a maximum gradient of 12.5%. It rises almost a thousand meters in that span, and is a category 1 climb.

Stage 8 Profile

Final cat-1 climb of stage 8

As you can see in the profile, the climb is steep at the bottom, then levels off a bit for a couple kilometers before kicking up again for nine long kilometers to the summit.
The GC contenders will have a good battle on Saturday.


Stage 9 Profile

Stage 9 final 5k

Stage 9 on Sunday is a good opportunity for a breakaway. The category 2 climb at km142 is 6.1% average and tops out about 16.2k from the finish. The last kilometer tilts up to the finish line.


Stage 10 Profile

Stage 10's two tough climbs

Stage 10 ends with two big, painful climbs. The final climb to the finish is 15.8k long, but pay no attention to the average gradient. It includes the 3 kilometers of flat and descending road that precedes the real beast. The final 7+ kms are very steep, with max gradients approaching 20%. The first rest day follows, so stage 10 should see a good battle among the GC guys.

Pick your favorite climbers. The big steep finishes will offer guys like Purito and Pozzovivo a chance to gain back some lost time. I think Valverde and Uran should also shine this weekend. It will good to see if Horner and Roche and especially Zubeldia can keep their high places after these climbs.

My pick for stage 8: Domenico Pozzovivo

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stage 6 Preview 2013 Vuelta a España

I regret that I am unable to commit as much time this month to blogging about the Vuelta a España as I did for the previous tours. But I hope everyone is enjoying the race, and I will post when I can. Here's what I've got today:

Stage 6 heads south

First, I am happy that Time Warner Cable did something good for what seems like the first time ever, and finally made a deal last month to bring Universal Sports onto my channel lineup, so I can watch the Vuelta on TV in HD.  Of course it is part of the extended sports package I started paying for when the Giro d’Italia started being covered by beIN TV in the spring. I am not intentionally plugging these networks, just throwing the info out there in case anyone is looking for TV coverage in their area.


Matthews nabs a stage win in his first Grand Tour

So stage 5 went down as expected, with the peloton catching the five-man break, and Orica’s Michael Matthews taking the stage win ahead of Maximiliano Richeze and Gianni Meersman, and most of the Vuelta’s other few dedicated sprinters. The Argos train put on another powerful display, delivering Niklas Arndt to a perfect finishing position, but the speed of Orica’s 22-year old Matthews was too much for anyone on Wednesday.

Stage 6 Profile

The final 5k finish route

Without a single categorized climb on the course and a flat finish, Thursday’s stage 6 from Guijuelo to Cáceres should end in another bunch sprint, one even more amenable to the fast men than stage 5. There are half a dozen turns for the riders to negotiate in the final four kilometers, the last one is about 500m from the line, so that should make for a decent stretch to get up to speed on. Look for the same gaggle of sprinters to contest the finish.

Last 5k of stage 6
 Stage 5’s top ten finishers were all sprinters. But the 11th through 20th place finishers included seven climbers/GC contenders. That demonstrates first of all how important it is for the overall contenders to stay in front and out of trouble in a fast finish, but also how few sprinters have come to pick over the few trimmings available to them on this parcours. 

I expect tomorrow’s top ten to look a lot like today’s. Favorites will again be Matthews and Meersman, but Richeze and Arndt have thrown their names in to the mix as well. I think Matthews could win again, but predicting him would be no fun, so my prediction for stage 6 is that Tyler Farrar will improve his result to a podium finish.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Stage 3 Report and Stage 4 Preview 2013 Vuelta a España

The favorites for the General Classification at the 68th Vuelta a España found the short uphill finish of stage 3 too inviting to be left to the uphill sprinters, as some pundits claimed might be the case today. Team Radioshack’s 41-year-old American climber, Chris Horner, won the stage on a late attack on the final climb, claiming his first ever Grand Tour stage win, and first ever GT leader’s jersey.

Chris Horner made history on stage 3
The win also makes Horner the oldest rider ever to win a GT stage and the oldest ever to lead a Grand Tour. Horner had won the queen stage at the Tour of Utah a couple weeks ago, but had struggled through much of the season with a lingering knee injury. Five months away from racing in the heart of the 2013 season does not seem to have prevented the great American talent from finding his top form again just 58 days from his 42nd birthday. Relatively easy stage profiles for the next four stages suggest that Horner could potentially keep the red jersey for several more days.

Stage 4 on the map
Stage 4 to Fisterra on Tuesday takes the riders 189 kilometers to the end of the world. “La etapa del fin del mundo” is so named because the peninsula hosting the stage finish is the westernmost point in mainland Spain. A bumpy rolling route, stage 4 heads generally westward to another small uphill ramp to the finish. Half the size of stsage 3’s finish climb, the stage 4 finale climbs about 100 meters over 2.5k. This is the stage for the strong, uphill sprinters. 

The stage-4 route to "the end of the world"

The finale peninsula

Stage4 Profile

Profile of the final 5k of stage 4

Stage 4 is a tough stage to pick a winner, as a lot of riders will have marked this one down as a good one to go for. World Champion Philippe Gilbert might target this one for his first win of the season. Also look for the likes of Michael Matthews, Gianni Meersman, Simon Gerrans, Angel Vicioso, Juan Antonio Flecha, Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Jelle Vanendert, Daniele Ratto, Johnny Hoogerland, Grega Bole, Zdenek Stybar, Anthony Roux, or Luis Leon Sanchez to go for glory on Tuesday. Maybe Fabian Cancellara will treat us to an escape attempt tomorrow. Spartacus has enjoyed testing his legs on stages like this in the past.

My pick to win stage 3, Roman Kreuziger, finished 22nd, with the second group of favorites behind Horner, :13 back. [though I was ecstatic to see Horner get the win today].

My long shot pick, Huzarski, finished in the same group. He was 18th on stage 3.

My pick for stage 4: I like Grega Bole and Anthony Roux (among others) here, but I am going with Gianni Meersman of Omega Pharma-Quickstep.

For a long shot I’ll pick 21-year-old Warren Barguil of Argos Shimano. The young Frenchman has not produced much in the way of personal results this year, but he is riding well so far in the Vuelta, and looks to be in good form.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Stage 2 Report and Stage 3 Preview 2013 Vuelta a España

The son of a champ is champ for a day

Stage 2 of the 2013 Vuelta a España featured the first summit finish of the race, the category-1 Monte da Groba. The three-man break was caught on the early slopes of the 11-k climb to the finish, and the GC hopefuls showed their form as they tested their legs on the first serious climb of the race.

Four riders got clear of the bunch in the final kilometers and battled for the stage win. Leopold Konig of Team Netapp-Endura put in a promising attack, but was reeled in by Ag2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo, Team Saxo Tinkoff’s Nicolas Roche, and Daniel Moreno of Katusha. In the end it was Roche who took the win, showing his best form of the season, and netting his first win in two years. Before the race Roche stated that he was going for a top-5 spot on the general classification.

The bigger story may be the unexpected suffering of some of the race favorites on the final climb. Sergio Henao, Team Sky’s proclaimed leader, lost contact with the peloton and finished 60th, 2:41 behind Roche’s winning time. It looks now like Sky will pin their GC hopes on Henao’s fellow Colombian, Rigoberto Uran, who finished 10th today.

Sammy Sanchez, leader of the moribund Euskaltel Team, was dropped on the climb and lost significant time. As of this writing, his name does not appear in today’s stage results. His teammates Igor Anton, Gorka Verdugo and Egoi Martinez all lost 2:41, so the Basque team only has Mikel Nieve remaining in a competitive position, currently 29th, 1:14 off the lead. **UPDATE: They finally added Sanchez's name to the stage results: he finished with his teammates who had waited for him, 2:41 back.

Beñat Intxausti of Team Movistar was another casualty of the clock, losing more than two minutes. His team is of course counting on Alejandro Valverde for overall success, but Intxausti’s help will be vital in the big mountains to come.

First red jersey wearer, Janez Brajkovic of Astana, finished 40th, :51 off the pace, but more importantly, his leader, Vincenzo Nibali, took over the race lead with his solid performance on stage 2.

Stage 3 route

Stage 3 Profile
Stage 3 continues in Galicia, taking the peloton 185 mostly flat kilometers, from Vigo to Mirador de Lobeira. The circuitous route follows much of the local coastline, and should offer some very nice views. The only categorized climb on the route is the cat-3 finishing hill. It is about a 3k steep ramp that will favor the puncheurs.

The stage 3 climb to the finish
My pick to win stage 2, Rafal Majka finished 12th, with the main group of GC favorites, :14 behind the winner—Majka’s teammate, Nicolas Roche.

My pick for stage 3: I would say Pozzovivo, Gilbert and Purito are good bets, but I am going to pick Roman Kreuziger to give Saxo two consecutive wins.

For a long shot I’ll pick Bartosz Huzarski of Team Netapp to notch his first win of the season.

Stage 2 Preview 2013 Vuelta a España

Race leader Janez Brajkovic

The stage 1 team time trial saw Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana Team surprise the favorites and take the first win of the race. Janez Brajkovic crossed the line first for the Kazakh squad and will wear the race leader’s red jersey on stage 2. That is especially good news for the 29-year-old Slovenian who is shopping around for a new team contract.

Stage 2 on the map

Stage 2 continues in Galicia, and takes the riders 177.7k from Pontevedra to the first mountaintop finish in Baiona. The stage is mostly flat, with two distinguishing features: a 10k category-3 climb at about km 52, and—more importantly—the 11k cat-1 climb to the finish. 

Stage 2 Profile

The Alto do Monte da Groba is an undulating 11k climb, with an overall average gradient of 5.6% and a max around 10%. The Vuelta is establishing GC positions right from the get-go. Stage 2 results will illustrate who is in good form, and who is not quite ready to battle.

Astana may do what they can to keep the yellow jersey on Sunday, but the key for most GC contenders will either be limiting losses, or trying to regain some of the time that Nibali and his team took on stage 1. There are time bonuses for the first three at the line, so finishing positions are important.

Here is a short list of the times that some of the GC favorites lost to Nibali and his mates after the TTT:

Chris Horner lost :10 to Nibali, et al
Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran +:22
Alejandro Valverde +:29
Rooman Kreuziger, Rafal Majka and Nicolas Roche +:32
Bauke Mollema +:49
Michele Scarponi +:56
Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez +:59
Sammy Sanchez +1:14
Thibaut Pinot +1:25
Ivan Basso +1:26
Dan Martin +1:41
Domenico Pozzovivo +1:41
Carlos Betancur +1:59
Igor Anton +2:43

So, a lot of guys have their work cut out for them.

MY PICK to win stage 2:  Rafal Majka (TST)