Thursday, April 4, 2013

Vuelta Pais Vasco - Stage 5 Preview

Remember the epic stage in Tirreno-Adriatico won by Peter Sagan a month ago? Good, now it’s time for part two. This stage is very similar to the one in Tirreno, there aren’t any parts of 30%, but we get close to 20%. The 166,1 km include no less than 10 categorized climbs and the last one has its top just 5,8 km from the line. I’m talking about Alto de Olaberria - a climb the riders will get to enjoy three times - and even though it’s only 1,4 km, it will provide a selection with its average gradient of 12%.

There will be about 3300 meters of climbing for the riders and once again, the weather forecast shows rain all day long. Team Sky have only six riders in the race and it will be impossible for them to control it. I’m sure Movistar, Saxo-Tinkoff, Ag2r, Katusha and Euskaltel will do everything they can to isolate Richie Porte and Sergio Henao as quickly as possible and we should be in for a great show.

The beginning of the stage invites for a break to be established, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the stage evolves like the one in Tirreno. All the GC riders want to be up front to avoid crashes on the wet descents and that will make for a furious pace. If a break should have any chance of making it, it needs to be very strong riders working together. Pre-favorites who are now out of the GC like Jakob Fuglsang, Igor Antón, Thibaut Pinot and those kind of guys. Igor Antón did something similar in the Vuelta two years ago, but I honestly doubt an early break will make it.

I think Movistar, having the strongest team in the race, will launch one attack after the other. Quintana, Intxausti, Herrada and Rui Costa are all within 1:46 min of Sergio Henao and especially Herrada and Quintana have been very strong lately. Beñat Intxausti came to the race hoping for podium spot and if he still wants to achieve this, he has to attack. Intxausti did very well on the similar stage in Tirreno-Adriatico and with everybody looking at Quintana; Intxausti may be able to sneak away. Movistar went to recon these stages last week, giving Quintana the knowledge to attack into the final corner on Arrate to win stage 4, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they take another stage win in Beasain.

Alto de Olaberria - 12% avg. 5,8 km to go from the top.
Euskaltel have, naturally, also been out doing some recon of these stages last week, and I’m sure Samuel Sanchez will be eager to take the first personal win in over a year and Euskaltel’s first win of the season. Sanchez too was very good on the similar stage in Tirreno-Adriatico and the short hills and tricky descents are perfect for him - especially in the rain, where other riders have problems.

Team Sky lost Tirreno-Adriatico overall on the similar stage and with only six riders in the race and every team against them, it could very well happen again. I would expect the peloton to be blown into pieces and naturally, Porte and Henao can’t respond to every attack. Nobody wants to get away with Richie Porte, knowing his time trial skills, and that could mean Henao ends up in a small front group with Porte left behind.
Damiano Cunego has been getting better and better day by day in Vuelta Pais Vasco and he seems ready for the Ardennes Classics soon. On paper, this is a stage that suits him perfectly with short steep hills and tricky descents. Like Samuel Sanchez, Cunego too is great on the downhill sections and if he stays up front, I’m sure he will try something in the final.

In Tirreno-Adritico, Sagan, Nibali and Purito were the three big favorites for the stage and they ended 1st, 2nd and 3rd. On this stage, there aren’t any big favorites but indeed a lot of solid candidates. It’s close to impossible to pick only one, so I’ll leave you with my list of candidates instead.

Favorites: Quintana, Sanchez.
Solid outsiders: Intxausti, Cunego, Betancur, Antón
Jokers: Fuglsang, Gilbert, Vicioso

For live coverage of the stage go to

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