Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Vuelta Expert Preview: Stage 11

David Etxebarria:
The rest day is over and the Vuelta is back. My favorite for today is Jaoaquim Rodriguez who needs to win back time NOW. He knows that the last climb won’t give much, so he needs to attack right from the bottom and take some risks. Euskaltel is another team who has changed their objectives and Katusha can benefit from that if the make an alliance again.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Vuelta Expert Preview: Stage 10

David Etxebarria:
I see two big favorites today. Bradley Wiggins because of his recent performances and of course Fabian Cancellara. Cancellara is the specialist and he has been thinking about this time trial the whole week. It’s also a very important day for all the climbers in this Vuelta. We will see who manage to minimize the loss the best and who need to take risks later on.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Vuelta Expert Preview: Stage 9

David Etxebarria:
It’s a very important day for the favorites today and my pick is Michele Scarponi. Another good one is Igor Antón who has the advantage that he has already lost some time in GC. Therefore the favorites won’t follow him if they are all together and Igor attacks on Covatilla. If Menchov loses time again his Vuelta is over.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

UPDATE - Bestial - best word describing the finish of Vuelta stage 8 to El Escorial

Since today is the day the Vuelta peloton visits El Escorial I just want to re-post my lille preview from a couple of weeks ago. Here you go:
So…after postponing it way too long, finally I got the time to go and check out the last part of Vuelta stage 8 to El Escorial. Ouch…

Here is how it's going down - or more precisely - up:

Entering San Lorenzo we have a the stage’s last intermediate sprint and after that it starts going uphill right away. 4,5 km with some of the steepest part right away in the town before hitting Pista Forestal.

Easy-piecy climb around 4% with only one really steep corner close to the top. Biggest challenge was the road. As the picture shows “en mal estado”. Meaning they are working hard, as I’m writing, to put on new asphalt.

While the uphill section was almost done, the downhill part still needed a lot of work…The picture below pretty much sums up the current state of the road!

This wasn't even the worst part...

Anyway. It’s a pretty fast descent without any complication, only the very last part in the forest needs a few technical skills. After that it’s the M-600 freeway back to El Escorial, turning right going under the railroad and then we hit the final 2 km. City cobblestone section for around 1 km going uphill (taking out a lot of energy, bumping around on those!). Then we take a right turn and hit the first of  many steep parts in the final. After it’s flat for about 100 meters before you turn left on Calle Cañada Nueva with the finishing line in sight – high above your head! I didn't believe my eyes are first...

700 meters straight up in the sky with percentages going as high as 28% - if not more! As you all know it’s almost impossible to capture the view on a camera, especially on an iPhone, but just to give you an impression of what I’m talking about, take a look at the pictures below:

Arrows on the road practically point up in the sky...

Last part of the finish, hitting 28%! Ouch!

I can say without any doubts that this is by far the steepest I've ever done on a bike and I honestly can't see any other than Purito winning this stage if the it’s together in the final.

Get ready for a spectacular final on the 27th of August!

Vuelta Expert Preview: Stage 8

David Etxebarria:
Well, finally I’m starting to hit my picks! Tomorrow is a day for a break away and I will give it a 90% chance of staying away. My favorite is David De la Fuente, but I have seen what Lastras is capable of, so count him in as well. Also Oroz and Txurruka from Euskaltel. There are so many candidates it’s difficult to pick one…

Friday, August 26, 2011

Vuelta Expert Preview: Stage 7

David Etxebarria:
Today is a day for the sprinters. It will be very difficult for a break away to stay away. My favorite today is Marcel Kittel, but remember to pay attention to the cross wind as well. We could end up getting a big show!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vuelta Expert Preview: Stage 6

David Etxebarria:
The level of Katusha has really impressed me in this Vuelta. The whole team is strong, not only Joaquim and one of the veterans. Today it’s a difficult stage to predict. It could be a break away. My pick is Luis Angel Maté, but also look out for Lastras who already knows what it takes to win a stage in this Vuelta.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vuelta Expert Preview: Stage 5

David Etxebarria:
Great win for Dani yesterday. Today I pick Joaquim once again :) Scarponi and Nibali with options as well. Also a very important day for one of the pre-favorites, Igor Antón. After yesterday’s result we will now see if he still has chances of winning the Vuelta or if he is already out.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vuelta Expert Preview: Stage 4

David Etxebarria:
I am still surprised with the differences made on the category 3 climbs - I guess it’s the because of the heat. For stage 4 to Sierra Nevada my favorite is Joaquim Rodriguez for the stage win and Vincenzo Nibali to take over the leader’s jersey. It’s the first big test in the mountains and we will see who is not going to win the Vuelta.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Exclusive Interview - Dani Moreno (Rider, Katusha)

One day before the Vuelta España started out in Benidorm, I made the following short interview with gifted climber and Purito’s right hand Dani Moreno. I’ve always been a fan of Dani and after seeing what he did in Burgos I expect big things from him during this Vuelta!

Dani, first of all. Congratulations on your performances in Burgos! I’m very happy to see you back in front of the hard races. This must boost your morale for the Vuelta?
Yes, sure. It’s a very good moment for me. I feel very well and my shape growing up. The results are definitely a boost for the Vuelta.

Let’s go back in time a bit. You have always shown great potential in the colors of Relax-Gam and Caisse D’Epargne, but you seemed to fade a bit riding for Omega Pharma-Lotto, before you once again shined with Purito at Katusha. How would you describe the year at Belgian team? And how are you feeling right now with Katusha?
It was a different work when I was in Omega-Pharma. The athletic characteristic of Gilbert and Van den Broeck were a little bit different than Rodriguez. And, above all, it’s better easier to work with other Spanish, we can understand better in race.

One day before the Vuelta, how do the legs feel right now?
We did a hard work before Burgos and the we saw the results. After Burgos I was tired but I think it’s normal. Now after several days of rest I feel good. The Vuelta course suite us perfectly so we are motivated.

No secret you will be passing up Purito for most of the race, but what are you own ambitions? Will you be able to go on the attack like in the Giro this year?
Sure. My job is to help Joaquim, but if there will be the possibility I’ll take it on like I did at the recent Giro d’Italia were I was near the stage victory.

Looking at the course of the Vuelta, there are a lot of mountains, but also one very long time trial. Last year Purito lost the Vuelta on the time trial, what do you think he can do this year? Are there enough mountains to gain time on the rivals before the time trial?
There are several stages were we can earn time: above all the 4th and 5th race days. In particularly the finish line in El Escorial, which is similar to a classic like Fleche Wallone.

Last one. How does your personal final top5 look like?

Vuelta Expert Preview: Stage 3

David Etxebarria:
After Peter Sagan surprisingly enough didn't sprint yesterday, my favorite is now Marcel Kittel, even though I think Sagan in fact will sprint today - and I see him with good chances! Another rider for today is Tom Boonen, who looked very strong yesterday, but be aware of attacks on the last category 3 climb, Alto de la Santa, which could give us another surprising winner.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Exclusive Interview - Wout Poels (Rider, Vacansoleil)

One of my young personal favorites Wout Poels unfortunately had to abandon the Tour de France cause of illness, but now he is back on the bike and ready to shine in the Vuelta when the peloton hits the big mountains! 

Wout, last time I made an interview with you, you came with brilliant legs to the Tour. Unfortunately you had to leave [at stage9] before the show really started. That must have been a big disappointment?
Yeah, very big indeed! I was truly disappointed because due to the illness I couldn’t see what I was up to. It is never fun to be ill.

You took revenge with great performances in Poland and especially the stage win in Tour de l’Ain, how do you feel now?
I think the races I did as preparation towards the Vuelta were very nice. My shape was good and I think it will be the same in the beginning of the Vuelta.

Is the shape better or worst compared with how you started out the Tour?
I think the shape is the same. But for me the most important is that I am still fresh.

About your ambitions. A lot of mountains must mean a lot of opportunities for you?
Yeah, when I am doing ok that is most likely something I am good at. And if I am not a player in the GC anymore there are many good stages to attack.

Do you already have any specific stages in mind, where you want to shine?
No, I will just see it day by day.

Once again Vacansoleil-DCM comes with a very interesting team to hunt for stage wins, who would you say we should keep an extra eye on? Except for Wout Poels of course…
Two riders in their first Grand Tour. Dutch champion Pim Ligthart and Martijn Keizer who won a race this year. They are both in great shape!

You can the read my Tour de France interview with Wout Poels from June by clicking here...

Vuelta Expert Preview: Stage 2

David Etxebarria:
A day for the sprinters. I see 3 big favorites in Cavendish, Sagan and Kittel. Cavendish is the fastest, Kittel the one “in-shape” but Sagan rides with the motivation of getting the leader’s jersey in his first Grand Tour. I pick Sagan to win but all of those 3 guys have good chances.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Exclusive Interview - Thomas Löfkvist (Rider, Team SKY)

After skipping the Tour de France and becoming father in July, Thomas Löfkvist is now back in the Team SKY tricot ready to help his team mate Bradley Wiggins in the Vuelta. And hopefully his performances in Spain will gain him a spot as the only Swedish rider at the World Champions in Copenhagen after the Vuelta.

Thomas, once again congratulation on becoming a father. How has your Vuelta preparation been since that?
Thanks a lot. I just got the word that I was on the team right before Tour of Poland, so it has been a very fast preparation this time.

So how is your condition right now?
I think it’s all good. I have been training hard in the summer and now with Tour of Poland in the legs, the condition should be all right.

What is your role on the team this time?
Well, originally I wasn’t scheduled to be in the Vuelta, but since Wiggins decided to go the team wanted a strong line up, so I was picked to help him in the mountains like I did in the Tour last year.

Wiggins started out the Tour in the shape of his life, how do you see his chances in the Vuelta after his crash?
I have heard that he is still very sharp so we have high expectations! I don’t know if he can stay up front on the very steep climbs, but if his condition is good everything should be fine.

And what about the opening time trial? Could it be a disadvantage to get the red jersey on the first stage with such a tough Vuelta ahead?
For sure we want to do a great TTT and we won’t mind taking the jersey either. Having the race leader on the team will give a big boost on the morale!

In the Giro, you started out pretty strong but lost time on the first long climb (Etna, stage 9). In the Vuelta the first long climb (Sierra Nevada) comes on the stage 4 already. Does that fact worry you?
Well during the Giro I had no flow because of my two antibiotics treatments, so ever since stage 8 I wasn’t really myself. Normally it suits me when we hit the mountains early in a Grand Tour when I’m still fresh. We will see...

What about the rest of the course?
I have only taken a quick look at it, I need to study the race book a bit more. There are a lot of mountains on the menu, but no ‘crazy’ days so it seems like an okay route. Of course Angliru will be something extra, but I’ll take it day by day and if I get the opportunity I will try to go for a stage win.

How about the hot weather in Spain?
I hope it won’t be as hot as last year. I like it when it’s a bit cooler!

About the World Champs. in Copenhagen. Sweden will only have one rider at the starting line. Are you already selected or do you have to prove yourself during the Vuelta?
Well, I hope it will get the spot. The Vuelta is a great way of getting ready, so I really hope it will be me on that starting line!

Vuelta Expert Preview: Stage 1

David Etxebarria:
In the Vuelta the first week is very important, since the level between the favorites will be more even hereafter. It’s therefore an important day for all the favorites. Like Igor Antón, Euskaltel has never been good in the disciplines against the clock and will lose time. Even the biggest favorite, Denis Menchov, will have to wait and see how much time he ends up losing.

My pick for the stage win is Leopard-Trek.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Vuelta Expert: David Etxebarria

During the Tour de France this summer, former pro-rider David Etxebarria figured as one of the four experts on this site, and now he is ready to stand out as the main expert for the Vuelta España. That means that Etxebarria not only will give his best pick for the stage win but also write a little bit about each stage and what to expect.

You will find David Etxebarria’s preview of stage 1 to be online Saturday morning.


Exclusive Interview - Mauro Gianetti (Manager, Team GEOX)

Bringing one of the strongest teams in many years to the Vuelta, Team GEOX is certainly the team to watch during the next three weeks. To get a better picture of what we can expect, I took a chat with team manager Mauro Gianetti about his view on this year’s race.

Mauro, first of all, how do you feel about your team’s chances in the Vuelta?
Well the team is good. Everybody is ready. We are coming to the Vuelta with Denis [Menchov, edt.] to win the race. He has been working hard and reached a good level so everything is good. We also have Carlos [Sastre, edt.] ready to be a big player. I think it’s very important to have two so experienced riders in the team. It's not very often you get to have two riders with Grand Tours wins on the same team for a race.

Let’s take a look at the 9 riders and what their roles are…
Menchov is our leader. He is ready to win - no doubt about that. He is a great, great rider and has already won the Vuelta twice. He has a very high level and together with Purito and Antón he is one of the rider’s who can win the race. Sastre is coming in a good condition as well. The Vuelta is very important to him so we expect him to be one of the key riders. The same goes for Cobo. He has been having a difficult time, but now is he back again with great motivation. He has class and his job is to work for the team in the hard moments uphill and help Denis. He is a very good rider for our team. Blanco is another very important rider for the team. He can help in any aspect of the race. He is ready to use his experience and big class to help the team on both the flat parts and in the moutains. Same goes for Ardila and Kozonchuk. Their main job is to work for the team. Young Brändle is in the race to learn. He has great potential it will be good for him to stay with Denis and Carlos for as long as possible. He is a man for the future! De la Fuente is a good climber and it’s his job to stay with our leaders. He is very important in the first part of the climbs. Last we have Duarte. We hope he can surprise us. It took him a very long time to get back after his knee injury in the Giro, so we have to wait and see.

All the bookmakers have Team GEOX set as the big, big favorite for the team classification and looking at the riders you easily see why…
That’s true. And it’s very good for the morale as well. It means the riders know that we have a great team and that can help on the mentality. We are firstly here to win the race, but the team classification could be a goal later on as well.

What about the opening team time trial?
Honestly I don’t like this discipline so much. Cycling is an individual sport and with the team time trials a good rider can lose a race just because his team isn’t among the best ones. But since this one is only 14 km, there won’t be very big differences. So it’s okay, it’s a good show.

Looking at the rest of the course, what do you think about this year’s route? The long time trial must be good for Menchov’s chances in the GC?
Sure. The time trial is very important, if you can take 1½ min on your rivals it’s important. But every day is different. This year there are so many mountains and uphill finishes, so riders like Antón and Purito still have a good chance of winning the race compared to last year, where Purito lost it in the time trial.

Who is your own personal favorite for the overall victory?
Nibali. He showed last year that he is capable of winning the race so he must be the big favorite.

Last question. Carlos Sastre ends his contract with the team after this season. Will this be his last Vuelta?
Well, we don’t know yet. We will see how the race goes and then Carlos will have to make a decision...

Monday, August 15, 2011

UPDATED 15/08 - Quick look at the favorites & outsiders for the Vuelta

With less than two weeks to the start of this year’s Vuelta a España, I think it’s time to take a quick glance at the favorites and outsiders for the final podium in Madrid.

Chances are that I forgot a few, my apologies. Anyway here goes the overview. Feel free to leave a comment stating if you agree or not. Thanks! 

I have decided to update this post regularly and to make it easier to find the latest added riders, their names will be written in red.

Big time winner favorites:
Igor Antón – Best rider last year before his crash. Ready to get revenge when the race visits his Basque home soil.

Purito Rodriguez – Best climber when the percentages rise above 10. Probably spend too much energy on getting the red jersey for the stage in Catalunya last year. Paid for his effort on the time trial.

Janez Brajkovic – Showed last year in Dauphiné how great he can climb. Has a lot to show the world after his early exit in the Tour.

Vincenzo Nibali – Outraced the pure climbers like Purito and Mosquera last year, finally keeping his head cool at all time. Another long ITT in his favor this year.

Solid podium contenders:
Denis Menchov – Missed out in the Giro, but everybody knows what he is capable of. Will have the strongest of all teams to help him.

Jurgen Van den Broeck – Seemed to be in the shape of his life before crashing out of the Tour. Could fight for the overall win if he shows the same strength in the Vuelta.

Bradley Wiggins – Pretty much the same story as above...

Michele Scarponi – Showed in the Giro that he is one of the strongest uphill. Could be a serious contender for the overall win if he gets his impulsive counter-attacks under control.

Andreas Klöden – The big joker. One of the strongest in the Tour before his crash. Think he will either top of flop…

Nicolas Roche – Got his Tour ruined by the crash in Dauphiné. Has shown he is stable enough to do better than “just top10” in the Grand Tours.

Thiago Machado – Failed his first big test in the Giro, but I believe he has what it takes to do Top10 in the a Grand Tour. Won't be easy with both Klöden and Brajko to work for tho...

Fabio Duarte – Would probably have surprised quite a few in the Giro without his knee injury. Be prepared to see this little Columbian rider up with the best in the mountains. Will have to ride for Menchov, without that; podium is possible.

Mikel Nieve – Right hand and last man for Igor Antón. Showed last year in the Vuelta and this year in the Giro that he has what it takes to win in the big mountains.

Andrey Kasheckin – Former top3 in the Vuelta back in the happy Astana days. Now he is back with Astana, ready to show that Lampre made the wrong decision when leaving him out of the Tour. He says he can do Top5 - let's see...

Luisle Sanchez – Should be the front figure of the Rabobank team. Aims big at the Vuelta, but he always has one bad day…

Daniel Moreno – Purito’s best man in the mountains. Has showed his strength many times in the Grand Tours and proved in Burgos that he is right where he should be!

Carlos Sastre – If Carlos is taking part in the Grand Tour, you can’t rule him out of the top10 before the race starts. I doubt he will make much noise, but I sure hope I’m wrong in this case.

Juanjo Cobo – Another Geox rider with Top10 potential. Showed in Burgos that he is ready!

Ezequiel Mosquera – I know...But the guy still ended 2nd last year! One of the best climbers and he never has an off-day. Still the chances of Eze being at the start in Benidorm seems “not very likely*”.

Chris Anker Sørensen - Being Danish myself, of course I have to mention Team SaxoBank's Vuelta-leader. According to himself he aims at a spot among the best in the GC, but I'm pretty sure he rather wants stage win in the mountains than securing 9th place..

Jakob Fuglsang - Another Dane, I know...but Jakob Fuglsang is still the best GC-rider LeopardTrek brings to the Vuelta this time. About time Jakob gets his own chance in a Grand Tour. I think he can do top10 without any bad luck.

David Bernabeu - Spanish veteran. Don't be surprised if good old Bernabeu will up there with the 15 bests in the last week. Solid a rock!

Rein Taaramae - Great climber and time trialist. Came close to a top10 spot in the Tour. Normally not a big fan of the hot weather, which could put a very likely place in the top10 in danger...

Steven Kruijswijk - Gifted young climber. Outstading performances in the Giro and Tour de Suisse. One of many possible top10 candidates Rabobank brings to the Vuelta. Barredo, Slagter, LLS.

Wout Poels - Got his Tour de France ruined by a crash before they hit the mountains for real. Has been showing great climber legs all year long, time to make it count this time?

* I was told by Vacansoleil-DCM press officer Ard Bierens on the 8th of August.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Bye bye HTC

Well...I won't say I'm surprised about the news of HTC not continuing in 2012 - disappointed fits better I think. How can the most winning team of all times not find a new sponsor - and why won't HTC continue? If you want your brand name to be known, what better they can you think of than sponsoring Mark Cavendish and his record-winning team?!

I'm pretty sure I could be writing about this matter for days, but since I'm still officially on vacation I think I will just kick back and let the rest of the news outlets do their job.

See you all soon!