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...

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