Friday, August 31, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 14

Welcome to the mountains. Forget about the "walls" we have seen so far, now it's time for some real climbing. With no less than five categorized climbs on the menu and only 149,2 km to cover it all this is surely one of the key stages in the Vuelta.

The final climb, Puerto de Ancares, had its Vuelta debut last year and that made for a brilliant show despite it being placed in the middle of the stage. The climb is 9,5 km long with an average gradient of 8,1% but with steep parts up to 12-15% within the last two kilometers. Some people calls it "the Spanish Mortirolo" and even though it's not as tough as Mortirolo you can understand the comparison. Before the riders get to Puerto de Ancares they need to tackle another category1 climb, Alto Folgueiras de Aigas. The average gradient is "only" set to 6,7% over 9,7 km but that's because of the last part where it evens out a bit a kilometer before the top. It's very steep in the beginning and then it stays 7+% all the way.

Puerto de Ancares - 9,5 km / 8,1% avg.
Looking at the profile I would say this is a great stage for Alberto Contador to drop guys like Chris Froome and Alejandro Valverde. The final climb is so hard that the selection will happen without many attacks and if Dani Navarro and Rafa Majka manage to stay with Contador again, I think the Saxo boys can make life very hard for the rivals. Alberto Contador knows he needs to drop Purito in order to win this Vuelta but he also knows it's only the classification in Madrid that counts. Contador won't panic if Purito stays in his wheel on the steep parts and I think the two of them will be able to profit a lot if they can work together again.

The bonus seconds seem to be very important again this year but on such a steep climb like Puerto de Ancares it's not only a matter of seconds but of minutes. Therefore I think a break will have a decent chance of making it again and if so I would like to point out Paolo Tiralongo. The Italian came here to go for the GC but crashed on the opening team time trial and hurt his hip. Day by day Tiralongo has been feeling better and on the stage to Barcelona he showed he is ready to attack again when he took 3rd place after Gilbert and Purito. 

I think Paolo Tiralongo is back to his real level now and if he manages to get into the break he has very good chance of taking another Grand Tour stage this year. Tiralongo could also profit from the favorites looking too much at each other on the final climb and then attack without being a threat in the overall classification. In any case I see him as a very good joker for the stage win. It's also a very good stage for riders like David Moncoutie who aims at the KOM jersey. Also Nairo Quintana could do well on a steep climb like this one, but since I can only pick one, I'll go with Paolo Tiralongo.

Winner pick: Alberto Contador
Joker: Paolo Tiralongo

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: Amets Txurruka

Explanation: At last, we're in to the proper mountains. The Asturias beckons with a short and sharp stage 14 that gets harder and harder with each climb. While Joaquim Rodriguez has proved himself to be quite the canny tactician in red over his trademark ramps during the opening two weeks of racing, things will now take an entirely different complexion. I expect Alberto Contador to finally throw down the gauntlet and get that elusive win. With it, Bertie should take the red jersey as well. As for my joker, Euskaltel are due a win and Txurruka could be the man to deliver. Igor Anton is still too much of a threat on GC to be allowed to get into a break - but Txurruka should be given free reign to attack. I expect David Moncoutie to be in the break too - but I don't feel the French veteran will have the strength to prevail on the fierce Puerto de Ancares.

Overall score:
Felix 9 points
Mikkel 9 points 

Right winner pick gives 3 points, if the joker wins it's 5 points while it's 1 points if the joker makes top3 on the stage.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 13

Purito made up for what happened on Arrate and leveled out the score in my ittle duel with Felix. Great. Now it’s time for another sprint finish and trust me, I won’t make the mistake of picking Ben Swift again.

John Degenkolb has shown to be unbeatable in this Vuelta so far and without many chances left - and with the desire of taking back the points jersey - this is a stage he can’t afford let go of. There isn’t a single categorized climb on the menu but as always in Spain that doesn’t mean there are no uphill sections. About 15 km from the line it kicks up with 5% for 2-3 kilometers but it shouldn’t really change the fact that this stage will end up in a mass sprint.

Only thing talking against it is Degenkolb’s superiority so far in the race. Like with Purito, no one really wanted to help out Katusha on stage 12 and that could very well happen for Argos-Shimano as well. The way I see it there are only two other sprint stages left in this race but even though the sprinters won’t get many chances from here on it will require a lot of confidence from guys like Viviani, Bouhanni and Bennati if their teams should start helping out Argos-Shimano.

Therefore you must not rule out the chance of a breakaway making it this time. There are some uphill sections in the beginning of the stage and I think it will be another fast start with everybody trying to put a guy in the break. Euskaltel showed on stage 12 that they are back ready to attack and it would make sense for them to send out a guy like Ruben Perez. He is good at picking the right breakaways and he is also very fast on the line. So far he has been sprinting to places from 10-25 in the previous bunch sprints but if he manages to get in the break he could go all the way in Ferrol.

Winner pick: John Degenkolb
Joker: Ruben Perez

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: John 'Jaaaa!' Degenkolb
Joker: Assan Bazayev

Explanation: The stage starts in town of Santiago di Compostela, the destination of the major Catholic pilgrimage route of the St James' Way. As such we can expect a likely attack from Javiers Chacon and Aramendia - although it hardly takes religious fervour to force those two out in front of the peloton. It's a tricky, undulating route, but given the lack of opportunities for the sprinters following this stage, I expect it to come down to a bunch finish. If that's the case then you can't really look beyond Degenkolb - it's almost as stupid as picking someone else to win on a punchy ramp other than Joaquim Rodriguez (as Saddles did yesterday - simply to allow Mikkel the chance to draw level and spice things up). While I don't expect a break to stay out, the final kilometres are challenging and there is also a difficult uncategorised climb near the finish. If someone attacks early, they could hold the pack at bay. That someone could be Astana pocket rocket Assan Bazayev.

Overall score:
Felix 9 points
Mikkel 9 points 

Right winner pick gives 3 points, if the joker wins it's 5 points while it's 1 points if the joker makes top3 on the stage.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 12

Purito managed to keep the red leader’s jersey with just 1 second after the time trial and now it’s time to make the gap bigger. This is another stage tailor made for Purito and unless a breakaway makes it, it will be a massive surprise if Purito doesn’t take yet another stage win in this Vuelta.

The stage follows the coast line up north from Vilagarcía de Arousa to Dumbría and on paper it looks totally flat - that is, until the last 1900 meters up to Mirador de Ézaro. The average gradient shows 13,5% and with parts up to 25% it sure is perfect for Purito. There are 12 bonus seconds on the line and with three hard mountain stages, starting after Friday, in a row it would be good for Purito to have a bigger gap to Alberto Contador who - as expected - seems to get stronger and stronger every day.

Let the suffering begin! Mirador de Ézaro -1,9km 13,5% avg. 
The fact that everybody knows Purito is the big favorite also means that only few teams - if any - will help Katusha catch the break. Therefore it’s very important for the Russian team that only a tiny break gets off in the beginning. With such a hard week ahead, there is now way they will used up their whole team chasing back a strong break just for Purito to gain a few seconds. Still I’m pretty sure this will end up with the favorites fighting for the win and as you can see I have no doubts Purito will win such a fight.

In case of a break makes it I would like to pick Jan Bakelants as my joker - again. As mentioned before Bakelants has been very showing some great shape in the recent weeks and he is not afraid of attacking either. Furthermore he is fast and even though an extremely steep finish as this one doesn’t suit him perfectly he is still very explosive in an uphill finish.

Winner pick: Purito
Joker: Jan Bakelants

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: Philippe Gilbert
Joker: Tiago Machado

Explanation: Looking at the finish, I'm tempted to go for either Rodriguez or Moreno - that ramp seems tailor-made - but the Katusha pair may hold back until the weekend's mountain stages. Gilbert showed that he's riding back into form in Barcelona and that may have been the mental boost he needed. After all, the Belgian won these kinds of stages for fun last year. The likes of Tiralongo, Roche and Rabobank's top ten trio could be dangerous too. As for my wildcard, I first went or local rider Gustavo Cesar, who owes a win to all those people who painted his name in the road for the time trial. But instead, how about Tiago Machado? RadioShack need a win and we're not too far away from the Portuguese border. Plus Machado is no longer any threat on GC. 

Overall score:
Felix 9 points
Mikkel 6 points 

Right winner pick gives 3 points, if the joker wins it's 5 points while it's 1 points if the joker makes top3 on the stage.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 11

Some says the Vuelta España first starts for real on Friday, but if it hadn’t already I would say it starts on stage 11. It’s the only individual time trial in the race and I’m sure we will see some important changes in the classification when the day is over.

Knowing the current World Champion, Tony Martin, is in the race it would be natural to pick him as the favorite, but looking at the profile I’m not so sure it will be easy for the German time machine. Of the course’s 39,4 km no less than 10 is uphill followed by a tricky descent the last 16 km. That means that Tony Martin really just have the first 13,4 km to make the difference and I doubt that will be enough with the category 3 climb, Alto Monte Castrove, following right after. Its average gradient is “only” 4,4% but the beginning is very tough with percentages around 7-8 the first three km. Tony Martin tried the course on the rest day and according to Martin himself he was very disappointed of what he saw.

Therefore I think it will be a fight between Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. Froome has been outstanding in his recent time trials taking 2nd in the Tour (in front of Fabian Cancellara and only beaten by Bradley Wiggins) and 3rd at the Olympics after Wiggins and Martin. If Froome still has something left in the tank this could be his big chance of taking some time back on Contador, Valverde and especially Purito before the mountains and according to himself the course suits him despite its tricky parts.

Alto Monte Castrove - Category 3 - 10 km / 4,4%
Logic says I should pick Froome as my favorite but I think I’ll go with Alberto Contador instead. While the other riders have only tried out the time trial once or maybe twice, Contador had been riding the course 8 (!!) times before the Vuelta even started. All he has been thinking about during the ban was winning the Vuelta and remember that Contador was actually talking about taking an Olympic medal on the time trial last year before he got banned.

When Bjarne Riis signed him he said he believed he could make Contador improve his time trial skills a lot - a lot he said - and don’t forget Contador has already won time trials in the Tour de France beating Fabian Cancellara. No one is as motivated as Alberto Contador for this time trial and if it stays dry on the tricky descent I think Contador’s first win in this Vuelta will be in Pontevedra.

To be honest I can’t see any other riders than the three already mentioned wining this time trial. A guy like Andrew Talansky showed in Tour de Romandie that he can compete with the elite, when he was only beaten by Wiggins by a few milliseconds and as I have him predicted to end in the Top10 overall I also think he will do well in this time trial. Another guy I know for a fact will give a real try is Thomas De Gendt. The Giro sensation was very disappointed with his performance in the Belgian national championship against the clock and is eager to take revenge in Spain. He has already been out in breaks trying to find his legs and if everything goes perfectly he might be able to get in top3. I doubt it, but hey for a joker he could be a good pick!

Winner pick: Alberto Contador
Joker: Thomas De Gendt

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: Andrew Talansky

Explanation: This one is hard to call. I expect it to be a three-way tussle between Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Tony Martin - probably finishing in that order. With a climb in the middle, this is quite similar to the Tour's first time trial, in which Froome finished second. After so many exertions this summer, Froome must be knackered - and he hasn't looked half as strong as he was on the Tour. Martin would be favourite were this a flat course, but the bump puts him at a disadvantage. The worlds are more likely for the German, who by then should be back to his best. Contador is a bit of a punt but time trialling is one thing you can practice on your own - and he's had six months going solo. The Spaniard to win - by less than seven seconds, putting Froome in red. My wildcard? Andrew Talansky has been quiet so far but there must have been a reason by Jonathan Vaughters made him Garmin's leader. A former youth TT champion, the American would kick-start his Vuelta with an unexpected win.

Overall score:
Felix 9 points
Mikkel 6 points 

Right winner pick gives 3 points, if the joker wins it's 5 points while it's 1 points if the joker makes top3 on the stage.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 10

I guess it won’t come as a chock for you but I had Ben Swift put down for this stage on my pre-Vuelta stage winner paper. A lot have changed in the first 9 days though and I must admit that my statement about Swifty being the fastest guy in the race hasn’t really been as accurate as expected. That being said, don’t be surprised if he ends up winning in Sanxenxo!

It’s a classic transition stage getting to the mountains and even though it’s alongside the sea with a good chance of cross wind I think it’s safe to say it will end up in a bunch sprint. The last kilometer kicks a little bit uphill but not more than a few percentages and it seems perfect for John Degenkolb to take his 4th stage win in this Vuelta España. Argos-Shimano have been outstanding in their way of setting up Degenkolb in the finals - even when Team Sky seemed to have gotten the better of them on the Motorbike circuit - and it will take something very special to beat Degenkolb this time.

Picking a joker for a stage like this is nearly impossible. A joker should be a guy no one expects winning (Swift?...) but in a sprint like this it will be the same 4-5 names we have already seen in action. I have to pick one so I’ll try Lloyd Mondory. The French sprinter is always up there around top10 and I have a feeling it won’t take long before he gets into Top3. He surprised me on Sunday’s stage in Barcelona where he managed to hang on to the front over Montjuic and took 15th place and according to Mondory himself he feels better and better every day. I doubt he can beat Degekolb but if the cross wind splits up the peloton and Mondory manages to stay in front I think he could have a decent chance of top3 – which in this case you give me some much needed points in my duel with Felix!

Winner pick: John Degenkolb
Joker: Lloyd Mondory

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: John Degenkolb
Joker: Thomas Dekker

Explanation: The stage is likely to end in a bunch sprint and there's no evidence to suggest that anyone is good enough to beat Degenkolb and his Argos Shimano train in that kind of finish. Ben Swift's performances have been so off-key that I was almost tempted to throw him in as my joker - although Mikkel probably wouldn't have allowed that one (he clearly has a soft spot for Swift, having stuck with him on three - three! - occasions so far). Given the early Cat.3 climb, the likely crosswinds coming off the Galician coast and the prospect of Wednesday's time trial, a break could well stay out. Thomas Dekker, riding his first major tour since coming back from suspension, has been quiet so far. This could be the chance to remind the world of his talent.

Overall score:

Felix 6 points
Mikkel 3 points 

Right winner pick gives 3 points, if the joker wins it's 5 points while it's 1 points if the joker makes top3 on the stage.

Vuelta - Rest Day

No preview today as the riders take a well deserved rest day after 9 days in the extreme temperatures. 

Preview of tomorrow's stage 10 will be online later today. Untill then, here are the previous Vuelta pieces:

Preview - Stage 9
Preview - Stage 8
Preview - Stage 7
Preview - Stage 6
Preview - Stage 5
Preview - Stage 4
Preview - Stage 3
Preview - Stage 2
Exclusive Interview: Denis Menchov
Preview - Stage 1
Preview & Favorites
Exclusive Interview: Thomas De Gendt
Exclusive: Froome ready to take on Contador

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 9

It’s the last stage before the first rest day and many riders are tired after more than a week in 35°c. It’s the second longest stage in this Vuelta España and I think it would suit the peloton perfectly if a break could get away. That being said there are quite a lot of riders who will have marked this stage in the race book for a potential sprint in Barcelona.

The stage is 196,3 km but actually it’s only the final 5 km you should be concerned about. Entering Barcelona the peloton faces Alto de Montjuic up to the Olympic stadium. It’s only 1,1 km long but an average gradient of 8,1% should bring the attacking feeling out in the many riders. From the top of Montjuic there are only 3,4 km to go and if a strong rider gets a gap he will be difficult to catch on the tricky descent before the last 700 meters uphill.

The final 5 km of stage 9 - click for larger view!
I know for a fact that Danish Matti Breschel has this stage red-circled and I’m sure he will try go for it if it comes to a sprint. Still I have to say my favorite for the win will be have to be Gianni Meersman (look ma', - not Swift!). 

The Belgian sprinter has shown super shape in the first week and he even managed to stay with the best a long way up the nasty finish in Jaca where he ended 19th on the stage. Lotto-Belisol haven’t really much to do in this race without Jurgen Van den Broeck going for the GC and if they are to get any kind of success Gianni Meersman will definitely be their best card to play.

For a joker I put my faith in Pim Ligthart. Vacansoleil-DCM have - as always - been very active in the breaks so far in this Vuelta but so far without getting much out of it. Thomas de Gendt came close the other day and same de Gendt told me before the Vuelta to keep an eye on Ligthart. So far the former Dutch champion hasn’t shown much but I think that if he can stay near the front on Montjuic he could be a good joker for the stage.

I can only pick one joker, but I would like to point out that this finish also suits Simon Clarke perfectly! I don’t know if GreenEdge want to give Davis another chance but in my opinion they should let Clarke have a crack at it. Purito has also said he would like to something in his home town and together with Dani Moreno, Katusha could really spice up this stage if they attack on Montjuic!

Winner pick: Gianni Meersman
Joker: Pim Ligthart

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: José Joaquin Rojas
Joker: Biel Kadri

Explanation: The easy money is on John Degenkolb making it four but that tricky Montjuic climb towards the end could well prove too hard for Argos Shimano to control. Jose Rojas has been quiet so far but he should get over the rise and then have enough juice to take the sprint in Barcelona. As for a wildcard, Biel Kadri is a nice all rounder who could pull off a win from a break. It's a bit of a stab in the dark, but that's the point of choosing a joker!

Overall score:

Felix 6 points
Mikkel 3 points 

Right winner pick gives 3 points, if the joker wins it's 5 points while it's 1 points if the joker makes top3 on the stage.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 8

Okay. Let’s get it over with. Third time was not the charm for Swifty - it was third strike instead. I think I’ll jump on the Degenkolb wagon from now on and with that out of the way, let’s have a look at stage 8 to Andorra.

While the finish to Estación de Valdezcaray on stage 4 wasn’t really steep I can assure you that it will be to Andorra. The category1 climb Collada de la Gallina is 7,2 km with an average gradient of 8%. it’s a nasty climb with more than just few parts of 15% and compared to stage 4 you can’t hide in a big group this time. Not if you want to be in the front!

The peloton enters Andorra after 134,9 km (40 km to go from there) and that means there won’t be an easy part of road from there on and to the finish line. With 20 km to go Alto de la Comella starts. It’s a category2 climb and despite its average gradient of “just” 5,2% the last kilometer doesn’t drop below 11%. The descent from Alto de la Comella is very tricky and technical and once again you need to be in the front already in order to start Collada de la Gallina in a winning position.

Collada de la Gallina. 7,2 km - 8% avg.
My favorite for the stage is Purito. I thought he might would have let go of the Red jersey on stage 7, but there is no way he is giving away just before entering his home town the following. Purito lives very near this climb and knows it better than the most and I haven’t seen anything so far that would make me doubt his strength. I think (and hope!) that Alberto Contador will go hard and keep on attacking in order to get away, but it will be very difficult for him to drop Purito. 

On Arrate Contador showed that he can drop Froome with his accelerations and this time I think Purito will help him out if they get away together. Rumor has it that Contador and Purito have never really been the best of friends but on Collada de la Gallina they could take a huge step towards the overall podium if they manage to work together.

As I said I doubt Purito will let the jersey go, so you better be way out of the overall classification before you even think about going into a breakaway. That being said I think it’s time to see guys like David Moncoutie, David de la Fuente, Amets Txurruka and Damiano Cunego make an appearance in this race. Moncoutie crashed hard in the Tour and said just before the Vuelta that he still had problems standing up attacking the climbs. He might need a few days before he’s a good pick. Still if he is ready now, he is a solid candidate for a breakaway win. 

My personal joker for the stage is Damiano Cunego. The “Little Italian Prince” didn’t come to this Vuelta to chase a good overall place but instead to get in shape for the World Champions on a course that has never been better for him. Cunego has lost time every time the road went uphill in this Vuelta and again today he lost time in the hectic finish with the crash and the cross wind. Afterwards Cunego said that he just took it easy since he is only in the race to go for a stage win. I think he will fancy a chance tomorrow but I’m sure Felix wouldn’t agree to downgrade Cunego to a “joker”, so instead my joker pick will be Jan Bakelants.

Bakelants has shown great condition the last month and being almost seven minutes down in the overall classification Katusha shouldn’t worry too much about him taking the jersey. Bakelants has been in the mix in the other uphill finishes so far and he has shown, just before the Vuelta, that he is not afraid of attacking. If he can hit the right break he could be very dangerous on Collada de la Gallina.

You can see a video clip from Spanish TV about the final climb guided by Purito's team mate Xavier Florencio by clicking here!

Winner pick: Purito
Joker: Jan Bakelants

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: Gustavo Cesar Veloso

Explanation: We're yet to hit the big mountains but Contador will be keen to put down a marker in Andorra after his slight uphill stutter at Jaca in stage six. The Spaniard's attacking performance in stage three is a better indicator of his form than one small climb in which he was suffering from cramps and dehydration. Contador won't make the same mistake twice and he'll want to get in on the act after wins for both Valverde and Rodriguez. There is, of course, always the possibility of a break staying out - and you can bet casa on Andalucia being involved. Gustavo Cesar Veloso is a half-decent climber and is worth an outside punt - especially if his fellow escapees are also sufficiently low on GC. 

Overall score:

Felix 6 points
Mikkel 3 points 

Right winner pick gives 3 points, if the joker wins it's 5 points while it's 1 points if the joker makes top3 on the stage.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 7

But on the seventh day thou shalt rest”. The riders have been suffering from extreme temperatures in northern Spain the first six days of this Vuelta and even though this stage looks to be a sprint finish I wouldn’t be surprised if the peloton decides to take an early rest day and let a break fight it out.

There are no categorized climbs on the menu but since we are in Spain it’s safe to say that the riders will still be going up and down for most of the day. It’s another short stage, only 164 km, and once again temperatures around 35-40°c are expected on the way to the newly build MotorLand in Alcañiz.

John Degenkolb has been a level above the other sprinters in this Vuelta so far and I have to admit that my statement about Ben Swift being the fastest guy in the race doesn’t look good. Still, we haven’t seen Swifty and Degenkolb mano-a-mano so far. On Stage 2 Swift had to come from far behind and on Stage 5 he got boxed in after Bennati nearly made him and Davis crash when he opened his sprint. If Swift manages to position himself right I still believe he has what it takes to beat Degenkolb on the line. Therefore I’ll stick with him as my favorite if it comes to a sprint.
Final left-turn on the last km. Slightly uphill last 600 meters.

Still I have to say that it won’t be easy for the sprinters teams to keep it together. The fact that Degenkolb has been so superior in the first two bunch sprints means that it’s up to Argos-Shimano to catch the break and I honestly doubt they can do it alone. Katusha and Purito will be happy to give the jersey away - to rider out of the GC-fight - and save some energy for the coming battles.

It’s never easy to point out a single rider for a break on a stage like this one. Names like Philippe Gilbert, Alessandro Ballan and Jan Bakelants come to mind, plus how long can Euskaltel go without attacking? My joker for the stage is Lars Boom though. Boom comes with a fresh win from Eneco Tour and he knows how to hit the right breakaway. He has already won a stage in the Vuelta before and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lars Boom is the man giving Rabobank their first (and only?) win in this race.

Winner pick: Ben Swift
Joker: Lars Boom

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: John Degenkolb
Joker: Cameron Meyer

Explanation: The three best sprinters on the Tour de France all nailed a hat-trick of wins in July and so it makes perfect sense that the Vuelta's only decent sprinter achieves that feat in the opening week in Spain. Not only is the German youngster the fastest, his Argos Shimano train seems to be the best of a bad bunch. As such, a win for Degenkolb is entirely logical. That said, we have yet to see a break stay out on a flat stage so an escapee joker is on the cards. While it would make more sense to name someone from Andalucia or Caja Rural, I'm going to go for Cam Meyer. GreenEdge have been very active on the Vuelta and I expect that to continue. They need a plan B other than Allan Davis on the flat - and Meyer is now sufficiently low in GC not to warrant any alarm bells from the race favourites. If in the break he can use his track skills - a la Simon Clarke - to take the win. 

Overall score:

Felix 3 points
Mikkel 3 points

Right winner pick gives 3 points, if the joker wins it's 5 points while it's 1 points if the joker makes top3 on the stage.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 6

This stage has Purito written all over it. If the stage finish in Eibar was good for Purito this one is nearly perfect. The stage looks a lot like stage 5 from last year’s edition with the traditional finish in Valdepeñas de Jaén and even though the finish this time is a little longer, it still suits guys like Purito & Valverde very well.

The finish up to Fuerte del Rapitán is 2,8 km long with an average gradient of 7,5% and comes right after the Cat3 climb Puerto de Oroel, which according to former top climber Fernando Escartin isn't very difficult, but has a very fast downhill section with a lot of corners. "Therefore it's very important to be positioned in the front already on Puerto de Oroel if you want to have a chance to win the stage", Escartin points out.

The beginning of the last climb up to Fuerte del Rapitán.
2,8 km - average gradient of 7,5% - Parts of 14%
It’s not only the descent from Puerto de Oroel that includes many turns also the final climb to Fuerte del Rapitán can compete on that level. No less than 13 hairpin curves in the last two kilometer with parts up to 14% wait the riders before the finish line.

Purito missed out on stage 3 and said he was pissed at himself and never would let it happen again. I think he will be extremely motivated to take his first stage win in this Vuelta and especially while he’s wearing the red leader’s jersey. 

In Vuelta a Burgos he delivered Dani Moreno perfectly in the finals where Dani easily won and now it’s time to pay back the gesture. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dani even makes Top3 on this stage after setting up Purito.

Still my joker for the day is Bauke Mollema. He missed out on a good result in the Tour de France because of the big crash early in the race and he seems very eager to take revenge in the Vuelta. These kind of steep finishes are normally not really this thing but with the shape he’s showing right now I think he can surprise a few. Another thing that people tend to forget is that Mollema is actually very fast on the line and even though he can’t compete with guys like Valverde and Purito he is still a lot faster than many of the other guys.

Winner pick: Purito
Joker: Bauke Mollema

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: Nicolas Roche
Joker: Pablo Lastras

Explanation: Nico has never won a stage on a Grand Tour and he's been riding well so far on his Saxo Bank work experience stint at the Vuelta. The Franco-Irish rider is never going to win a major mountains stage and he's not a big enough threat on GC to be denied access into a break and beyond. Could he finally come of age in the Pyrenean foothills? Probably not, but hey, there's no pressure in this competition: I have a 3-point lead and Mikkel is never going to guess the correct winner. Truth be told, Roche is just as much a wildcard as my choice for joker: the evergreen Pablo Lastras. With Valverde now out of red, the Spanish veteran is free to do his own thing, which usually translates as kicking ass in his home Tour. This could be his day - although deep down I feel that Vacansoleil may provide the winner of this unpredictable stage, a puncheur's paradise. 

Overall score:
Felix 3 points
Mikkel 0 points

Right winner pick gives 3 points, if the joker wins it's 5 points while it's 1 points if the joker makes top3 on the stage.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 5

After two stages for the climbers it’s now time for the fast guys to fight for the stage win. It’s another relatively short stage, only 168 km, with 8 laps of 21 km in Logroño, meaning that the sprinters will get time to study the finish before the end.

It’s a tricky route and even though the last kilometer if flat on the big Avenida de la Paz there are some difficult turns the riders need to pay attention to. About two kilometers from the line the route turns right in roundabout before turning left in another one 500 meters later. The last turn comes just before “flame rouge” where the riders turn right in a 90° curve.

It seems to be another hot day in Spain and with an expected head win the last kilometer, the sprinters need to save energy for as long as possible. My pick is once again Ben Swift who is strong in a tricky finish like this one and who I still see as the fastest guy in the race. On stage 2 he was in a terrible position in end and had to come from behind and got out in the wind way too early. Allan Davis and John Degenkolb took his wheel and only managed to pass him on the last 50 meters. 
Last 4 km - click for larger view!

Swifty’s only problem is that Team Sky’s focus is on Chris Froome and the overall classification and that means he will only have Flecha and Stannard to help out in the end. Still, Swift showed to have an incredible kick on stage 2 and if he manages to arrive in a good position he shouldn’t have  any problems taking his first (of many?) stages in this Vuelta.

My joker for the stage is Manuel Cardoso who’s been good in the Vuelta before. Cardoso’s team mate Marcos Garcia got world famous when he celebrated his 4th place on stage 4 as had he won it and it would be nice for the little Caja Rural team if they got some real success now. I doubt Cardoso can beat guys like Davis, Degenkolb and Swift but he’s used to the warm temperatures and he knows how to perform in a bunch sprint after a tough mountain stage.  Furthermore, without a team to take control in the finale, the sprints will get very chaotic and that could be just what Cardoso needs to surprise the pack like he did when he won in Tour Down Under a couple of years ago.

Winner pick: Ben Swift
Joker: Manuel Cardoso

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: Ben Swift
Joker: Klaas Lodewyck

Explanation: The return to the Spanish plains should give the sprinters another rare chance to do battle in this year's mountains-heavy Vuelta. Swifty missed out on stage two but I expect him to draw level with Degenkolb on Wednesday. But Belgian youngster Lodewyck has been zesty so far and you get the impression he's enjoying being the joker of the pack. 

Overall score:
Felix 3 points
Mikkel 0 points

Right winner pick gives 3 points, if the joker wins it's 5 points while it's 1 points if the joker makes top3 on the stage.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 4

Close, but - despite the name - no cigar for Purito on stage 3 after he stopped pedaling the last 5 meters. Afterwards Purito said he was “pissed at himself for not winning a stage he practically had in his hands” and you can understand his frustration. Stage winner Alejandro Valverde lost Tour Down Under on bonus seconds earlier this year because he stopped pedaling just before the line, he learned his lesson and I’m sure Purito has done so too now.

New asphalt on the road to Valdezcaray. 
Good thing for Purito is that he already has another change of success on stage 4. 160 km finishing at the Valdezcaray Ski Resort with a 13,4 km Category1 climb. The Rioja government recently spent 234.600 Euros on improving the Valdezcaray road (LR-416) so at least the riders can’t complain about the road conditions.

The climb itself isn’t very difficult and with an average gradient of 5,2% it’s definitely one of “lightest” mountains in this Vuelta. The steepest part is in the very beginning with 7,8 & 9% over the first four kilometers, but with the expected head wind it will be difficult to attack and stay alone in the front. Especially because the last 3,4 kilometers almost are flat (1-3%) compared to earlier.

Alberto Contador showed to be the strongest on Alto de Arrate on stage 3 attacking 6-7 times and I expect him to continue that on his way to Valdezcaray. Looking at the finish it should be another fight between Purito and Valverde though, but it’s an open climb with a lot of wind and if Purito isn’t 100% mentally ready again after his mistake on stage 3 he could be suffering a lot - as he has done in the past on these kind of “light”, long climbs. I still think Purito will stay up front with the best but I must say I think it will be another Katusha rider who’ll take the win.
Final climb - click for larger view!

Because this is such an “easy” second part of the climb it’s very likely that a big group with many of the favorites and some strong team mates swill be together in the end and if so I think Purito’s team mate Dani Moreno could be a good pick. Moreno just won Vuelta a Burgos overall two weeks ago after winning two stages with an uphill sprint finish and that could very well happen again in Valdezcaray.

Alberto Contador would be the natural winner pick here, but as I said, this “easy” finish suits Dani Moreno a lot better. We are still in Pais Vasco and that means that the Basque riders of course will try sneak away and snatch a stage win. It’s not a good climb for Igor Antón but instead his team mate Mikel Landa. It’s true that Landa almost lost two minutes on stage 3 but I still think he will be able to put in a strong attack. Plus the fact that he did lose time on Arrate means that the other favorites won’t go after him right away.

I think it will be a sprint in selected group of favorites but if not, Landa could be a good pick on home soil.

Winner pick: Dani Moreno
Joker: Mikel Landa

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: Amets Txurruka

Explanation: Bert showed enough on the final climb of Arrate to show that he's in great form. On a longer, more arduous ascent we can expect him to take the win without too much ado. As for my joker, well, Euskaltel missed a trick on Monday and the only way to make up will be a win near the Basque region. Txurruka to get in the day's main break and hold on is my wildcard choice.

Overall score:
Felix 3 points
Mikkel 0 points

Right winner pick gives 3 points, if the joker wins it's 5 points while it's 1 points if the joker makes top3 on the stage.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 3

If you have been following the Vuelta a Pais Vasco the last years the finish on Alto de Arrate won’t be unknown to you. Samuel Sanchez has won here the last three times but also Purito has proven to be strong on this climb.

There are three categorized climbs on the menu before Alto de Arrate and with the stage only being 155,3 km long we are in for another hard day - especially in this extreme heat. Most likely a group of 4-5 riders will get away early and fight for the KOM points but I’m pretty sure it will all come back together on the final climb. An important factor in this Vuelta is the bonus seconds on the finishing line and with 12 seconds to the winner you can be sure that the overall favorite will do everything they can to take the stage win.

Alto de Arrate. 2 km to go from the top.
Alberto Contador already showed on stage 2 how important the bonus seconds are to him, when he took 2 seconds in front of his rivals and being only 14 seconds after the GC, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he takes over the Red jersey from Movistar’s Jonathan Castroviejo after the stage. Personally I think it will be a fight between Contador and Purito on Alto de Arrate and if they arrive together Purito will win the stage having the strongest sprint. As Samuel Sanchez has shown time after time it’s essential to be first in the last corner with 250 meters to go and Purito knows that as he took 2nd place after Sanchez earlier this year. 

Alejandro Valverde is a bit of dark horse as this finish suits him very well, but wasn’t really set to do the Vuelta until the very last moment. If he’s ready this could be his day - as he would get the leader’s jersey too - but I have more faith in Purito to be honest.

As said I expect this to be a fight for the stage win between the overall favorites but if I should mention a joker it would be Javier Moreno from Movistar. Moreno finally got his chance with a ProTour team this year when he signed with Movistar and he showed right away how strong he is on the uphill sections when he - all alone - railed back all breakaway attempt on Willunga Hill so Valverde could sprint to victory.  Moreno has been great the entire season, latest in Vuelta a Burgos, and if he gets the green light I’m sure he will try an attack on Arrate.

Winner pick: Purito
Joker: Javi Moreno

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: David Moncoutie
Joker: Romain Sicard

Explanation: The French veteran is going for a fifth successive king of the mountains title but given the brutal parcours this year, Moncoutie will need to rack up the points as early as possible. It remainds to be seen how he’s riding following that nasty fall in the Tour, but Moncoutie may be tempted to puit down a marker today. Alejandro Valverde was a tempting choice for the win because he seems to be riding into some form – plus he would clearly like the idea of wearing red on his return to the Vuelta after a three-year absence. For my wildcard, how about Romain Sicard? The French rider from Bayonne is a tidy climber and this is the only stage that ventures into the Basque region so expect a sea of orange on the final Alto de Arrate. That said, Igor Anton and Amets Txurruka are probably more likely options... while Juan Manuel Garate might find some form in his old legs on the Arrate.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 2

It looked like an easy win for Team Sky in the opening team time trial but despite clocking the fastest time at the check point, Chris Froome and co. couldn’t keep up the high speed and ended up losing 12 seconds to Movistar at the finish. I think the Brits are eager to take revenge and the way I see it they have the fastest guy in the peloton to count on in the expected bunch sprint on stage 2. More on that in a bit.

First let’s take a look at the route. Despite it being a flat stage it’s up and down all day long. Not very difficult climbs, but enough to make it hard in hot weather. A Cat3 climb (Alto de la Chapela) is located with about 100 km to go and being the only categorized climb on the menu, we should get a good fight between the escapees to get first mountain jersey of this year’s Vuelta. The final 20 km is pancake flat and the last 5 km straight out run-in should make for a high speed finale. Still, this is the Vuelta and not surprisingly there is a roundabout with about 500 meters to go that could be tricky for some.

Last km - click for larger view!
My favorite for this stage is Ben Swift. The young Brit was devastated when he crashed out of the Giro on the day before it was about to start and he has been working hard in order to show the world what he can do in a Grand Tour. A month ago Swift won two stages in Tour de Pologne where he ended in the top3 in the other two bunch sprints. I have Swifty down to win 3 or 4 stages in this Vuelta España and I think the first win will come on stage 2.

Without any super sprinters the level is fairly equal and if the young French champion Nacer Bouhanni has something left en tank I think he could be up there too. I doubt he can win, but looking at the competition anywhere near top3 means the stage win is within reach.

Winner pick: Ben Swift
Joker: Nacer Bouhanni

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: John Degenkolb
Joker: Philippe Gilbet

Explanation: Picking Philippe Gilbert as a wildcard stage winner 12 months ago would have been ridiculous but more laughable now is the fact that the Belgian is still in search of that elusive win in BMC colours. PhilGil looked pretty determined as he led his team over the line in Pamplona and so perhaps he has the legs to try something in Viana, which has a slight uphill rise to the line. More likely, it will be a bunch affair and the Argos Shimano team of John Degenkolb took things easy on Saturday, perhaps with Sunday's stage in mind. Degenkolb is as swift as Swift on his day - and it remains to be seen how Team Sky treat the flat stages. Protecting Chris Froome may be the priority...

Vuelta Interview - Denis Menchov

Denis Menchov had his whole season built around the Tour de France but after a good start he faded off and never got to be the key player in the classification that he had hoped to be. Many thought that would be the end of Menchov’s season but to make sure that his home country’s team can get another GT podium this year, he decided to do the Vuelta as super domestique for Purito. Here is what he told me the day before the start of the Vuelta.

Denis, first of all, can you put a few words on your Tour de France performance?
I started  out well and then I had a crises, which of course came as bad surprise for me. Unfortunately that can happen in sport, especially on the highest level. I didn’t lose my motivation though. I know that you always need two or three days to recover from such a thing.

And now it’s time for the Vuelta. Are you here only to support Purito or what is your role on the team?
Well, for me the most important is the team’s results. Of course I want to do a good race myself, but it’s more important for me that Katusha get a good result than I do. I will do my best and if that means I can take a win, why not do it?

What do you think about this year’s route? Seems to be very good for Purito...
Sure, I think it’s a very good route for him, like last year. Actually they are quite similar I think. I don’t see it as super hard, but instead very nervous and with a hard final part of the race. It suits him well.

Have you already checked out any of the stages?
I have only studied the course in the road book and on the internet because I already know the important stages and climbs of this edition’s race. Personally I like the stages in the third week the most, specially stage 15 to Lagos de Covadonga.

How about the opening team time trial? Is that a goal?
For sure, but it’s a goal for a lot of teams. We will try to do the best TTT we have ever done and by that gain some time on our main rivals. Of course the best would be to win it.

Looking at the other favorites for the overall classification. Who do you see as the main rivals?
Except for Contador I will say Froome, Cobo, Valverde and Antón. Froome might be a little tired because the Tour was very stress and normally you would some rest after a race like that. But of course he is motivated since it’s the first time he can be the team leader of Team Sky.

Last question. How does your future look?
Well, my plan is to stay with Katusha.  it’s a really strong team and I’m happy to be in this group. I’m glad I still have one more year left here.  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 1

Have you ever wondered how it would be to do the classic Basque ‘San Fermin’ bull run on a top class bicycle? Well if you are among the few with that kind of desires you should be doing the Vuelta España this year. Not only does the race start out in Pamplona but the course for the opening team time trial actually includes the final parts of the bull run route finishing inside the bullfighting arena.

Miguel Indurain has been helping out designing this spectacular route and the former grand champion points out how important it is to get the machine running smoothly in the first part of the route. The stage starts out on big roads without any real danger and this is where the teams need to get into time trial mode as fast as possible. 

Teams with big engines like Quickstep (Tony Martin) and Team Sky (Chris Froome & Richie Porte) will have an advantage in the beginning before the roads become narrow and the corners tricky and if they can manage to keep the lead I expect them to have at the check point, I think they will be difficult to catch if they can avoid crashes in the last part of the stage.

One of the teams that could surprise on this course is Katusha. In the Giro they came out of nowhere and took 2nd place after Garmin. A huge surprise at the time and if they can repeat that perfect performance this time (remember they even have Menchov to help out now), I think Purito will be able to take some valuable time on Contador and Antón from the very beginning of the Vuelta.

Winner pick: Team Sky
Joker: Katusha

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: Team Sky
Joker: Garmin

Explanation: Usually, Garmin boss these kind of events but Jonathan Vaughters has sent a team of relative unknowns (plus a former doper riding his first major race since 2007) and so the inculcated robots of Team Sky have to be favourites. But if the Garmin boys can keep true to their team's ethos, then an upset could be on the cards. To be fair, none of the teams on paper – not least the Spanish ones – seem entirely comfortable against the clock as a unit, but the time losses won't be huge because it's not a very long course. Perhaps they should release some of Pamplona's famous bulls to up the ante a little...

Vuelta España - Preview & Favorites

If you know a little about cycling - and let’s be honest, the fact that you are reading this now means you’re not a rookie - you know there is one rider above everybody else for this Vuelta España. Alberto Contador is back and if you think he latest Grand Tour performance (Tour de France 2011) showed his real level, you’re very wrong.

Alberto Contador is THE favorite for this Vuelta and if he stays upright and avoid any bad luck it will be a surprise even bigger than Juanjo Cobo’s overall win last year, if he doesn’t wear the red leader’s jersey in Madrid.

Looking at the route one could argue that it favors explosive riders like Purito a bit more than Contador, but the fact is that any route suiting a climber suits Alberto Contador too. Team Saxo Bank desperately need a big victory and the way I see it anything but the overall win will be a big disappointment for the Danish team.  I could write several pages up and down about why Alberto Contador will win this race, but I really don’t see the point in it. Instead let’s take a look at some of the riders fighting for the last to spots on the final podium.

Forgetting Contador I count three riders with a solid chance of doing Top3 in this Vuelta. First one is Chris Froome. Despite an outstanding performance in the Tour de France the ex-Kenyan still feels ready to rock in Spain and remember that the Vuelta always has been Froome’s main goal this season. He showed in the Tour that last year’s Vuelta podium wasn’t a one-time-only achievement and with strong riders like Henao, Uran and &Porte to help in the mountains, Chris Froome will be the most dangerous rival to Alberto Contador. Froome himself calls this “the big chance of my life” and he says he still feels fresh despite going all-in in both the Tour and the Olympics.

The way I see it another podium spot for Froome should be a sure thing, but it requires he can keep his high level from the Tour and that won’t be easy in the last week and especially on Bola del Mundo. If Chris Froome is ready he most likely takes 2nd place overall but if not, Team Sky could end up riding for Sergio Henao or Rigoberto Uran instead.

Not many riders - if any - can follow
Purito on a short, steep finish.
Next rider up is Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez. Purito showed in the Giro earlier this year that he has what it takes to win a Grand Tour and as I said, this route looks to be designed by Purito himself. A lot of steep uphill finishes, a short team time trial (where Katusha nowadays are among the favorites) and only one time trial that even includes a climb in the middle. This is Purito’s biggest chance ever to finally get on the Vuelta podium and hadn’t it been for Contador’s presence I would have tipped him to win it. 

To support him in the mountains, Purito once again has Dani Moreno as his right hand but also Denis Menchov has decided to chip in and help out when needed. Both Dani and Menchov could probably do Top5 overall had they been team leaders on other teams and together with Alberto Losada, who seems to be very strong right now, Katusha is surely one of the best teams in this race. I will be surprised if Purito won’t be on the final podium in Madrid.

Last rider I see with a real chance of the podium is Igor Antón. It’s an even year this time and that means that the Basque climber will be ready, or at least so it seems. In 2008 Antón was called up to be the biggest threat to Alberto Contador in the Vuelta but unfortunately Antón had to abandon after a crash early on the Queen Stage to Angliru. In 2009 Igor Antón barely showed anything, but in 2010 he was back – better than ever! Anyone following the Vuelta that year can agree that Igor Antón would have won the race hadn’t it been for a horrible crash with less than a week to go. Antón was leading the Vuelta and seemed to have a gear more than the others uphill, but once again his race was ruined by a crash.

Last year Antón decided to change his program and do the Giro before the Vuelta. He took a beautiful stage win on Zoncolan, but the hard race had drained him for the Vuelta where he couldn’t stay with best. This year Igor Antón hasn’t showed much so far and that is actually a good sign. According to himself he feels as good as back in 2010 and with his strong performance on the mountain stage in Vuelta a Burgos and in Classica San Sebastian earlier this week I think we will see Igor Antón as strong as ever in this Vuelta.

Some might argue that riders like Robert Gesink, Bauke Mollema, Juanjo Cobo and Jurgen Van den Broeck should be named as well as riders with a chance of the podium, but I must admit that I can’t see it happen. Gesink and Mollema seems to be a strong duo and they definitely want revenge from the Tour, but both of them still need to show they can stay with the best in all three weeks. For what concerns Cobo and VdB I just simply don’t think they have anything to show in this race. Cobo took the cycling world by surprise last year but I strongly doubt he can do it again this time – and let me remind you that Cobo often fails when he changes teams.

Quintana makes climbing look easy.
Instead I think Movistar will do a lot better with guys like Beñat Intxausti and Nairo Quintana, not to mention Javier Moreno. Intxausti showed to strong in the Giro but had one bad day and lost his GC. If he can be steady this time he could very well end up being the best Movistar rider in the final classification. Nairo Quintana is another interesting rider. This young guy is a born climber and when he’s in shape he makes even the most difficult climbs look easy. I have Quintana down for winning the Giro or the Vuelta in two or three years and I wouldn’t be surprised if he already took a stage win this year and maybe the mountain jersey too.

There is no fun without a couple of jokers and of course I have a few for you as well this time. First up is Andrew Talansky. There is no doubt that this young American is a future Tour de France contender and given the leader role in the Vuelta I think (and hope) Talansky is ready to prove me right. In Volta ao Algarve, Tour de Romandie and latest in Tour de l'Ain he showed small glimpse of what he can do and even though he might had preferred another time trial in the race I think his strong climbing abilities will be enough to give him a spot in the final Top10.

Same goes for Eros Capecchi who has been one of my favorite “talents” for (too?) many years now. Capecchi was outstanding in his U-23 years but he still hasn’t had his big breakthrough on the professional scene. In Giro del Trentino this year he showed to be one of the strongest in the mountains, working for Szmyd and in Giro d’Italia he showed the world how strong he was as super domestique for Ivan Basso. The route suits Capecchi very well and being quite fast on the line as well, there are many stages where the Italian can try his luck for a stage win. Capecchi will be riding for Movistar next year and if he wants to get a chance of being team leader in Giro d’Italia he needs to show that he can perform over three weeks when he’s the designated leader. I hope Eros Capecchi will be able to make Top10, but Top15 might be a more realistic goal.

There are a lot of riders fighting for the places from 5th to 20th in the overall classification and to give you a better idea about how I see their chances I have decided to give you my own Pre-Top20 for this year’s Vuelta España right here. Enjoy and thanks for reading!

1. Contador
2. Froome
3. Purito 
4. Antón
5. Gesink
6. Henao
7. Tiralongo
8. Mollema
9. Talansky
10. Quintana
11. Machado
12. Intxausti
13. Uran
14. Capecchi
15. Dani
16. Cobo
17. Monfort
18. Kessiakoff
19. Cataldo
20. Cunego