Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 12 Preview & Favorites

Fabian Cancellara confirmed his great condition by beating Tony Martin against the clock for the first time a couple of years. As expected, his teammate Chris Horner lost the Red Jersey, which is now back on the shoulders of Vincenzo Nilbali. A wasp stung the Astana captain the evening before the time trial but Nibali showed that a wasp can’t take out of shark.

Vincenzo Nibali will have no problems keeping the Red Jersey on Stage 12. This is a day for the sprinters and after missing out on the last two occasions, their teams will be extra motivated to control the race. The first part of the 164.2 km from Maella to Tarragona is up and down most of the time. The riders will be battling cross- and headwind all day long and I don’t expect a breakaway to get much of a gap. The sprinters’ teams won’t take any chances and the strong, opportunistic riders know they may have a better chance on stage 13.

There is a single categorized climb on today’s stage. Alto del Collet starts after 83 km and the 7.5 km towards the top have an average gradient of just 3.6 %. From the top, there are 73.7 km to go and this is definitely the easiest part of the route.

It sounds like a broken record but once again, the race organizers have created a tricky and difficult final. The peloton will be heading towards Tarragona in high speed and a couple of sharp corners will test the riders’ ability to stay upright. With 3 km to go, the peloton turns left and rides next to see beachfront. The following kilometer is flat and we can expect Argos-Shimano and GreenEdge to set a high pace. However, after crossing the 2 km to go-port, the road starts to kick. Not much but enough to tire out the leadout teams. An uphill U-turn and a couple of 90° turns will serve as good place to attack if the sprinters’ teams can’t keep it together.

Map of the final 5 kilometers of Stage 12. The road starts to kick up with 2 km to go. The final kilometer is flat.
The final kilometer is flat but not without danger. Right after crossing flame rouge, there is a sharp left-hand turn and with 300 meters to go, the riders have to cross a roundabout in high speed. The ideal scenario is to enter this roundabout in second position with a single leadout rider in front of you. If you are not among the first three riders here, you won’t win this stage.

The last two bunch sprint stages have been extremely chaotic. Tony Martin almost kept the peloton at bay in the first one and the day after, Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar manage to hold off the pack with a late attack. The uphill kilometer in the end doesn’t favor the sprinters but I think they will keep it together this time. The way I see it, Michael Matthews is still the fastest rider in this bike race. GreenEdge have been saving their riders the last two days, thinking about this stage and among the remaining sprinters, I can’t see who should beat Matthews in a clean sprint.

Gianni Meersman is fast too but I don’t think he can match Matthews’ speed right now. Meersman usually positions himself very well but without a leadout, I doubt he will do better than top3. Max Richeze has been very strong so far in his Vuelta. He has already finished second twice and if anybody is able to beat Michael Matthews, it may be Lampre’s Argentinian sprinter. Richeze is very fast on the final meters but he needs to enter that last roundabout among the first three riders. Alone against the leadout trains, that’s a tall order.

Tyler Farrar deserves to be mentioned as well but the American sprinter is much better at making top3 than at winning bike races. Farrar is very consistent but he lacks that extra edge. It would be a mistake to count him out in this field but it will also be a bit surprising to see him win in Tarragona.

Argos-Shimano hasn’t been able to control the race as well as they have done earlier this season. They bring a very young team to the Vuelta and their inexperience shows. However, the team is still strong and with riders like Nikias Arndt, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Ramon Sinkeldam they should be able to do a great leadout. Sinkeldam is very fast and if Arndt and Janse van Resnburg can keep the speed high and make sure they enter that last roundabout in front, Sinkeldam may surprise a few. I doubt he can outsprint Michael Matthews but I think he will put up a good fight.

Another interesting rider for this stage is Edvald Boasson Hagen. Team Sky has been very anonymous so far in the race and without anybody able to fight for the overall win, they may change their focus to the sprints. Boasson Hagen doesn’t need a leadout and he knows how to position himself well in the final. The uphill kilometer towards flame rouge favors the strong Norwegian and if he’s not scared of doing the sprints - after getting back from an injury - he should be able to fight for the win.

Riders like Juan-Antonio Flecha and Philippe Gilbert are never afraid of attacking and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them trying a late attack on the uphill part in the final. The many twist and turns don’t favor the peloton but it won’t be easy to stay away. Instead, Friday’s stage 13 looks a lot better for Gilbert and the other puncheurs. 

Eurosport is covering this year’s Vuelta a España intensively. Before and after each stage you will get inside information from the many interviews with the riders. The interviewer is Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer. She knows what’s going on inside the peloton and each day she will get you her own personal winner picks for the stage.

For Stage 12, Laura picks Michael Matthews to win.

For live coverage of the stage go to

1 comment:

  1. Final km was not flat actually. Average was flat bug big downhill then big hill.
    Good preview else.