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.

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