Thursday, September 6, 2012

Vuelta Preview - Stage 19

On paper this looks like another sprint stage without any categorized climbs on the menu, but don’t let that fool you! We are in Spain and especially the last 65 kilometers are up and down all the way to the finish line where it kicks up with 4,5% the last 1700 meters.

With about 8 km to go there’s a another uphill part with an average gradient of 7% over 800 meters on a tiny road towards Zamarramala. After that it’s downhill again before the final 1700 meters I just described. The forecast says the riders should have a tail wind the last 30 km and that means it will be another fast finish despite the ‘climbs’.

The uphill part with 7% towards Zamarramala. 8km to go.
In my opinion this stage looks good stage for guys like Gianni Meersman - fast guys with a good punch in a slightly uphill finish - and therefore I think that especially Lotto will do everything they can in order to set up Meersman for the final sprint. 

So far Rabobank haven’t even been close to a stage win and if they miss the morning break (again) they should be willing to help out Lotto, Argos-Shimano, GreenEdge and whoever wants to give their fast guy a chance. I have a feeling Matti Breschel soon will strike. He's using this Vuelta as warm-up for the World Champions and tomorrow's stage would be a good rehearsal for Limburg! Look out for the fast Dane...

It’s not given it will end in a sprint and even though the morning break might get caught before the line, the uphill part with 8 km to go will be a good place to attack for guys like Gilbert, Nocentini etc. Why not even Purito who will be eager to take some time on Valverde and maybe put Contador a little under pressure.  On the other hand, Valverde could be a sneaky pick for the stage win which will give a bigger gap to Purito before the Saturday’s steep finish on Bola del Mundo.

My favorite though is once again John Degenkolb. The fast German missed out on stage 18 in the last tricky corner and I’m sure he will be eager to take revenge in La Lastrilla. Some might say that the finish is too hilly for him but don’t forget that he has won on steeper finishes than this one earlier in his career. If Argos-Shimano can manage to keep it together before the last 2 km, I think it will be very difficult to beat Degenkolb. Even for guys like Meersman and Gilbert.

Winner pick: John Degenkolb
Joker: Matti Breschel

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: Gianni Meersman
Joker: Remi Pauriol

Explanation: Lotto Belisol are down to just five riders but Friday's uphill sprint will be each man for himself and I have a feeling Gianni Meersman may finally turn things round for the winless Belgium outfit. I expect fierce competition from Philippe Gilbert, perhaps even Alejandro Valverde, and a whole cluster of riders also looking to deliver a first win for their teams - Dutchmen Pim Ligthart and Robert Gesink, for instance. I fancy Astana to have a pop through Seeldraeyers, Zeits or Bazayev. But I'll stick with Meersman for his sprinting abilities. For my joker I'm going to go for a Frenchman. We're two stages from Madrid and still yet to see a win from a French rider. Christophe Riblon or Romain Sicard are long shots, but I'm going to go even more outré with Remi Pauriol from a break. With the scores tied 9-9 it's time to be bold. Or 'fou' as they say in France...

Overall score:
Felix 9 points
Mikkel 9 points 

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