Monday, 27 August 2012

Rest Day Round-up: Froome Cracks, Gilbert Is Back, Hincapie Retires And More...

Today is a rest day for La Vuelta a Espana which means the perfect opportunity to stop and take stock of the latest changes in the race and the rest of the cycling world. Here is a round-up of whats been happening over the weekend and what the week ahead has in store...

Froome Cracks?
Stage 8 of La Vuelta saw riders tackle a 7km uphill finish. Attacks were sure to be on the cards and it was Valverde who took off from the front first with 3km to go but it was fruitless and he was brought back by the favourites though it looked like Rodriguez was having an off day. Christopher Froome accelerated out of a corner with 1km remaining but couldn't shake Contador who caught and surpassed him and built up quite a lead out front on his own. Bonus seconds for riders placing 1st, 2nd and 3rd have grown in importance in this race and their value is high as the favourites are so close together it could be these bonus seconds that decide where riders finish on the podium - Contador looked good to gain some time, but Rodriguez and Valvered sprinted for the finish and surpassed Contador metres from the line who must have felt gutted, missing out on the stage victory and the chance to take time out of the leader Joaquim Rodriguez - it wasn't all disappointment though, as Froome cracked and couldn't match the pace, eventually finishing 15 seconds behind Contador - the first sign of weakness? Maybe, but more likely a lack of tactical awareness on Froomes behalf as he ditched the measured effort and tried to attack like the Spaniards - maybe not the wisest move for the Brit.

Philippe Gilbert Is Back
After a torrid year fighting form and illness, Gilbert finally announced his comeback taking victory on stage 9 of La Vuelta yesterday. The short Sharp up-hill finish made Gilbert favourite for the stage but it was Joaquim Rodriguez who made the decisive move. This wasn't a day marked out as one that would affect the General Classification but Rodriguez had other ideas as he jumped from the bunch on the penultimate climb with 4km to go and Contador, Froome and Valverde didn't have the legs to follow. Gilbert though did have the legs and managed to pace himself back to the wheel of Rodriguez where they both decided to work together (Rodriguez using Gilberts strength to pull out time on the other favourites, Gilbert using Rodriguez as a springboard for the uphill finish and a shot at a stage victory). Gilbert eventually outsprinted red jersey wearer Rodriguez for a well earned and long awaited win but the real winner yet again was Rodriguez who put another 12 seconds into the favourites, plus an 8 second time bonuses meaning he went into the rest day with a 53 second lead on second place Froome - something he's going to need come Wednesdays individual time trial.

Hincapie Calls It A Day
Huge fan favourite George Hincapie put an end to his 19 year professional career in Fridays final stage of the USA Pro Challenge. The 39 years old has racked up some classy career highlights and earned a reputation as one of the most faithful domestiques in cycling. Hincapie is rumoured to be one of the riders to have given testimony to the USADA in the Lance Armstrong case having served as domestique to his fellow American. If George Hincapie now finds the time to write a book, its sure to be one hell of a best-seller...

All American Podium At USA Pro Challenge
Contrary to the name and the outcome there were plenty of A-List non American riders participating in the USA Pro-cycling Challenge this year including the likes of Cadel Evans and Vicenzo Nibali, but with Levi Leipheimer going into the final day and time trial as race leader in what has been an incredibly close race, it looked as though the American would hand on to win his home tour - fellow American and Garmin-Sharp rider Christian Vande Velde had different ideas though and put in the Time Trial of his life, not only beating Leipheimer but pushing him from 1st to 3rd overall. Taylor Phinney, as expected, put in the winning time but it wasn't good enough to see him win the overall and he eventually took second place, making it a 1,2,3 for the USA. 

Coming Up In La Vuelta
The leaders could be excused for thinking that this week presents itself as a week off as there isn't another mountain in sight until Saturday - don't be fooled though as a hilly individual time trial on Wednesday will see the general classification well and truly shaken up:

This isn't necessarily one for the TT specialists but more the the time trialists who can climb and descend as the profile suggests. Christopher Froome and Alberto Contador will both do well here as they habe pedigree in both climbing and time trialing. Valverde and Rodriguez are far more likely to struggle here and goes some way in explaining just why both have been eager to grab those bonus seconds last week. Of course a route like this will do no favours for the grimpeurs like Igor Anton who has already lost a fair bit of ground. The question is will Rodriguez lost the red jersey? Well, he has a 53 second cushion going into the stage but I'm not convinced it's enough - I think Froome may well start Thursday in red. The remaining stages this week will give the sprinters something to work towards and with Degenkolb dominating the sprints last week maybe Sky's Ben Swift can earn a victory or two this week. If its a GC battle and plenty of climbing that you are waiting for then don't be disheartened as Saturday will be a massive day of climbing and its all up and down from here till the finish - only the climbs get steeper and longer. Between Saturday and the finish there are 20 categorised climbs, 5 mountain top finishes all of which are over 10km in length. Critics are already calling this the 'best' grand tour of the year and that final week really does make for a mouth watering prospect...

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