Friday, September 7, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 20

Just a few days ago we all thought this would be the stage where the Vuelta would find its final winner. In a way it still is, but definitely not like we expected it to be. Only a total off day or bad luck can rip the red jersey of Alberto Contador's shoulder and I can't see it happen.

Contador will win this year's Vuelta España, like predicted, but the second place is still wide open! Before the stage there are only 46 seconds between Valverde and Purito and even though only the victory seemed to count for Purito I'm sure he will do everything he can to end second instead of third. No disrespect for Alejandro Valverde, but it's no shame to lose a Grand Tour to Alberto Contador. Second place after the Spanish legend is still something you can be proud of.

Therefore I expect Purito to give everything he has left in the tank in order to drop Valverde on Bola del Mundo. So far Purito has taken 55 seconds (without bonus seconds) on Valverde on the previous stages ending with a climb (without taking stage 4 into consideration) but it has never been more than maximum 19 seconds á stage (without bonus seconds) so he really needs to dig deep and probably even win the stage in order to overtake Valverde in the general classification. Not an easy task, but never the less a task I think Purito can manage. Mentally it won't be easy but there are no doubts  that the last climb suits Purito very well with parts of 23% within the last kilometer.

Bola del Mundo - Click for larger view!
A few days ago I thought Purito might let Contador take this stage on home soil near Madrid, but after the epic stage to Fuente Dé the tables have turned. It would be an amazing finish to this Vuelta for Alberto Contador if he wins on Bola del Mundo in the red jersey - and I’m sure he will try hard to do so - but I also  but I think it will be difficult to drop Purito if the Katusha captain can put his mind to take the 2nd place overall instead of winning. No matter what this is a stage you need to watch live!

As you can see I think this will be a fight between the best riders and therefore it's very difficult to pick a joker. I really think Igor Antón will try something on a climb that suits him perfectly but it won't be easy to get away as Rabobank will work hard in order to protect their 6th and 7th place overall. I agreed with Felix than any rider outside of the top3 can be seen as a joker for this stage the only problem is who to pick? I have a feeling Antón has what it takes to pull it off, but I also have a good eye to Sergio Henao. It seems like Team Sky are giving Uran and Henao green light to try own luck as the podium is out of reach for Chris Froome and if the favorite hesitate a bit Sergio Henao could profit with a strong attack.

With my luck the last couple of days (Tiralongo & Valverde on stage 17 and Degenkolb and Matti on stage 19) it will probably be the one I don’t pick who wins. Anyway I’ll take Antón and hope for the best!

Winner pick: Purito
Joker: Igor Antón

To make this Vuelta a little bit more interesting I’ve challenged Eurosport blogger Blazin' Saddles to a winner pick duel during the race. You have my winner and joker picks above, here you have Felix':

Winner pick: Alberto Contador
Joker: Thomas de Gendt

Explanation: Belgian all-rounder Thomas de Gendt came into the race with high hopes but so far has just a couple of breaks and a second place to his name. The 25 year old loves these big stages - just look at his track record with the Stelvio and Ciutu Negru - and he also has the polka dot jersey in his sights. A good day could see de Gendt take the stage and become king of the mountains before riding into the sunset on his belated honeymoon. If so, then his new wife will be a lucky girl... But my favourite for the Bola del Mundo showdown is the man I always tipped to win the entire race: Alberto Contador. His form had been consistently high and he's in the ascendency after that win at Fuente De. He also deserves a second stage scalp in a race he has lit up with his constant attacks. That said, I can envisage a situation where the Big Three mark each other out all the way to the summit and Contador gives the win to Purito or Valverde in a magnanimous display of seigneurial largesse.

Overall score:
Felix 9 points
Mikkel 9 points 

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