Friday, August 17, 2012

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


  1. Have him as 21st ;) - Did you read the interview with him? Doesn't sound like he's up for it this time... Still, if he turns out to be ready like in the Giro, he should be among the riders figthing for Top10!

  2. Yep, I've read the interview with him and that indeed didn't sound very good, but today he gave another interview for Sporza (Belgium TV) in which he said that he went to the the team doctor, who said he had lost too much weight. That's why he failed @ the T.T. in Belgium. I think (or hope...) that there isn't anything to worry about his current form.

    GO TDG!

  3. When pick stage 1 vuelta 2012?