Sunday, 19 August 2012

Vuelta: A Summit Awaits...In Week One?

So, two days in and what do we know? In fact the Team Time Trial produced slightly more time gaps than I thought it would, with Garmin losing a minute thanks to a crash out on the coarse. It also showed us who's riding well and who's struggling, last years winner Juan Jose Cobo got dropped in the run in to the finish line by his team as he struggled to keep up, though he has previously said he doesn't think he will figure anyway because of illness. Today's sprint finish was, well, a sprint finish so no real change to the General Classification here - though it was nice to see a sprint that didn't involve Mark Cavendish for a change and this in itself makes for more interesting flatter stages. Tomorrow though, is a different story...

In recent years it has become pretty standard that we don't see much in the way of climbs usually within the first week of a Grand Tour, allowing for riders to become familiar with their race-pace and to let the sprinters have their moment in the sun before dropping out when the roads climb skywards. The Vuelta is different, tomorrow sees four categorised climbs and a summit finish atop the Alto de Arrate - a 6km climb averaging around 8% gradient with peaks over 11%.

The race will not be won here, but the fight to win it will truly begin here. The GC contenders will have to be on the ball even before the final climb because it's a pretty tough up and down day in the saddle, especially so early in the week. The final climb will be frantic with everybody trying to get to the front and maintain a stiff pace, though the stage winner may well not be a GC contender, especially if they start looking around at each other and the pace drops. It's also the only Basque stage in this years race, so expect to see Euskaltel Euskadi setting the pace and fighting hard for a stage victory - it does, however, look like a stage built for a certain couple of Spaniards in the shape of Joaqium Rodriguez and Valverde which could be an interesting battle - more so if it transpires that Valverde will be taking more of a lead role if current Movistar team leader Cobo continues his run of poor form.

It doesn't get any easier the following day either, with Stage 4 finishing on a 10km climb. Though neither of these stages will make or break the race they will be an early indicator of form and show just who has turned up to take the fight to Contador and Froome. The early climbing in a GC is rather refreshing, especially after this years Tour de France race profile, though things look like they may be different for the French race next year if rumours are to be believed that riders will face the infamous Mont Ventoux in the first week. The Vuelta though has clearly offered a warm welcome back for the grimpeurs who were left out in the cold at the Tour, and it starts here...

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