Saturday, September 1, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 15

There may not be as many climbs on the menu as on the last stage but I think we will see a very similar scenario. Team Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank did everything right and with 500 meters to go it looked like Alberto Contador would be able to pull it off. The way I see it they need to continue this strategy in order to tire out the rivals and then hope Contador will keep on getting stronger and stronger.

Even though I expect Saxo to keep working hard, the profile of the stage makes it a lot easier for a break to get good gap in the beginning and I wouldn’t be surprised if a break makes it all the way like in 2010 when Lagos de Covadonga last appeared in the Vuelta. What has changed from back then is the weather. In 2010 Carlos Barredo won on his training climb in pouring rain but this time it should stay dry and once again without much wind.

Detailed profile of Lagos de Covadonga
Click for larger view! 
The climb up to Lagos de Covadonga is feared by many riders and the profile shows why. It’s said to have an average gradient of 7% but that is mostly because of the two short descents near the top. When the climb really starts, about 11 km from the line, the percentages don’t really drop below 8,5% for 8 km before the first descent of 500 meters. After that the climb kicks up with 11%  before yet another short descent with 1 km to go. The last 500 meters are uphill with about 10% all the way to the line.

It’s another perfect stage for race leader Purito as he should be able to re-join Contador on the small descents, if Contador drops him, and then  beat him in the final uphill sprint. Still I expect Contador to take stage win soon and it’s really a crap shoot between him and Purito again this time.

As I said, I think a break will make it. One thing is setting a high pace, but I’m sure Contador and the rest of the Saxo boys are getting tired of Purito stealing the bonus seconds every time. Therefore it might be more clever to let a break go to make sure Purito doesn’t get any bonus seconds and then try to drop him on the final climb.

Because the chances of a break making are pretty good almost every rider want to get in the break. It’s difficult to pick just one since riders like Nairo Quintana, Paolo Tiralongo, Christophe Le Mevel, Tiago Machado abd Damiano Cunego all sound good to me, but will try my luck with Arnold Jeannesson. The French climber came to the Vuelta with pains in his knee but has been getting better and better every day. On stage 12 he tried to attack early on the steep final climb but died trying because of a wrong gearing. After the stage Jeannesson said he still aims for a stage win in the mountains and if he manages to get in the right break I think he will be difficult to shake on the final climb.

Winner pick: Purito
Joker: Arnold Jeannesson 

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: David de la Fuente

Explanation: Let's be honest - there's really no point picking a wildcard in these key mountain stages because the winner will surely only be one of the Big Four (or Dani Moreno). Twice I have picked Alberto Contador - and twice I thought the points were in the bag until the final few hundred metres. First, he was beaten to Jaca by Valverde and then yesterday he was pipped by a rampant red Rodriguez. Contador's morale must be pretty low, with his Spanish rivals now having five stage wins between them. But surely it's a matter of 'when' and not 'if' Contador takes a stage scalp. For all Rodriguez's dominance, he still only holds a 22-second lead over Contador in the GC. One attack that sticks and Bert will be in red - and although I have a major man crush on J-Rod at the moment (and hopes he takes the overall win) I am going to go against the grain and stick to Contador to take the win at the mythical Lagos de Covadonga. As a token joker, how about Caja Rural's David de la Fuente? He's kept quiet and may fancy getting into the break. I have a feeling about Andrey Kashechkin too. 

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.

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