Saturday, August 24, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 2 Preview & Favorites

Saturday's opening team time trial ended like we expected. OPQS set best time but in the end, Radioshack and Astana turned out to be a bit stronger. Of course it didn’t help OPQS that they had to wait a couple of times when Tony Martin made a gap to the rider behind him. Janez Brajkovic is first rider in the Red Jersey and that’s a perfect way to start out this race for the Slovenian rider. Brajkovic is without a contract for next year and he’s now using the Vuelta to show how great of a rider he is. Naturally, Vincenzo Nibali is the team leader, but Brajkovic hopes to make a good result overall while supporting this captain.

Usually it’s not an advantage for the big favorites to get the leader’s jersey already after the first stage. Therefore we often see a breakaway making it all the way early in the race. On paper, this second stage looks good for a break but since Brajkovic wants to get maximum attention in this race, I doubt he will give up the jersey.

The 177.7 km from Pontevedra to Baiona takes the riders south alongside the Galician coast. The TV-viewers are in for a spectacular view but the riders won’t have time to enjoy it. There aren’t many flat meters in this area and even though the profile doesn’t look very tough, it won’t be an easy day in the saddle.

The first categorized climb of this year’s Vuelta comes after 62.9 km and we should see a breakaway in front at this time. For teams like Euskaltel, Caja Rural, NetApp & Vancansoleil-DCM it will be important to get the KOM jersey and I think all four teams will be represented in the morning break.

Alto do Monte da Groba. 11 km - 5.6 % avg.
The stage finish with an 11 km long ascent up to Alto do Monte da Groba. The climb is steep in the beginning with parts of 10 % but then it evens out for about 4 km with gradients of 2-4 %. The final two kilometers have an average gradient of 7.5 % and especially the last corner is very steep. If you manage to get a little gap in this right hand corner, you should end up winning the stage with only 300 meters to go.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez (Katusha) didn’t have a great start to the race. Movistar lost Beñat Inxtausti early due a mechanical problem and Katusha had to wait for Dani Moreno as he was the 5th and last rider in the end. Movistar lost 29 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali and Astana while Purito already is 59 seconds behind Nibali in the GC. There is still a long way to Madrid but Purito needs to win seconds every time he can. This means that Katusha most likely will try to control the stage in order to set up Purito for the win and the 10 bonus seconds on the line. Movistar should be able to help out as well since Valverde is very fast too.  The two Spaniards are definitely the big favorites this Sunday.

The final right hand corner towards the finishing line.
Had this been the Giro, I would have put Carlos Betancur down as one of the favorites. But, as I wrote in my overall preview, Betancur didn’t have an ideal preparation to the Vuelta. He’s been sick and he doesn’t look too good right now. I’m sure Betancur will be flying by the end of the race but I doubt we will see him in the very front already. 

His countryman, Sergio Henao, however is one of the outsiders who can win this stage. Henao has a strong kick and if he times it perfectly, he may be able to get a jump on Purito and Valverde if the two favorites start looking at each other. It’s also worth mentioning that Team Sky won’t be taking their usual role in a Grand Tour. Astana, Movistar and Katusha have the three big favorites for the overall win and therefore Team Sky don’t have to work as much as usually. They can save energy and wait for the right time to attack. Personally I think Dario Cataldo will have a great Vuelta and I won’t be surprised if he attacks and makes something big on Alto do Monte da Groba.  

In my overall preview I named Tomasz Marczynski as one of my jokers for the GC. The polish rider is very aggressive on the climbs and if he sees a moment to attack in the final, he won’t think twice. His teammate Wout Poels is in great shape right now and in those two, Vacansoleil-DCM have a couple of very strong outsiders for the win. Luisle Sanchez is back on the big scene again and he must be eager to show himself in his home country. The final kilometer may be too steep for Sanchez but on a good day he could give Belkin something to cheer for after the team lost Theo Bos before the race even started.

Eurosport is covering this year’s Vuelta a España intensively. Before and after each stage you will get inside information from the many interviews with the riders. The interviewer is Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer. She knows what’s going on inside the peloton and each day she will get you her own personal winner picks for the stage.

For Stage 2, Laura picks Sergio Henao to win.

For live coverage of the stage go to

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