Saturday, 23 March 2013

Volta a Catalunya: End Game

Tomorrow is the final day of the Volta a Catalunya and if it's a Time Trial or a sprint to the finish that your expecting then you won't find one here. Stage 7 is set to be just as gruelling as the rest of the week has been and it looks as though the winner will be one of the above. Many have suggested this final stage is almost designed for Rodriguez but nobody expected to see Dan Martin in the leaders jersey and until now he has defended it well, the question is: can he keep it?...

There are no major climbs in tomorrows stage but that isn't to say that the route will not be difficult. As the race comes to it's conclusion the general classification will be decided on a final 6km circuit which is essentially 8 climbs and descents of the Alt de Montjuic.

Each climb is about 1.5km in length and averages a tolerable 5% - if the race was to be decided on just one ascent then Rodriguez name would be written all over it, but the repeated climbs makes this final day something more akin to a Flandrian classic and the legs will soon tire especially with the leading group taking the climb at pace - there will be no lagging here like a 12km Tour climb, it will be ferocious from start to end and at speed. If the actual climb suits Rodriguez then the circuit suits Dan Martin.

I spoke earlier in the week of Dan Martins ability to perform on undulating one-day classic style stages like this, last year he finished highly in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and La Fleche Wallonne and in 2011 was third in the lumpy Giro di Lombardia. He's been up here in Catalunya before, finishing second overall in 2009 and third in 2011. If he can go on to take victory here it will be his first stage-race win since the Tour of Poland in 2010.

The question we often have of Dan Martin is consistency - he's a rider who can work a miracle one day (much like he did on Stage 4 last week) and flop the next day, rolling in well down on the leading group. He struggles in the spring and early summer with extreme allergies which often effects his racing and accounts for some of the inconsistencies too, but what we do know is that Martin is a very strong climber - he took victory in a summit finish on stage 9 of the 2011 Vuelta a Espana ahead of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali - and he's still only 26.

Better news is that since taking the race lead on stage 4 he has defended it with some guts and class, even hoovering up the time bonuses on the intermediate sprints which means he's now some 17 seconds ahead of Rodriguez in the overall - time like that will be hard to win back on a stage like tomorrows but if there is a man capable of it it probably is Rodriguez.

Wiggins and Sky have been off the
 pace a little this week
In comparison to Martin we have come to expect nothing less than consistency in Joaquim Rodriguez. Starting life as a promising puncheur he has progressed over the last couple of years into an all-round climber and Grand Tour rider capable not only of sprinting away on extreme gradients but of also going the distance over longer, alpine climbs. This race is his home-tour as a Catalan born and bred rider and we can guarantee he will be on the attack tomorrow - it will be up to Dan Martin and his Garmin-Sharp team to try and control the race and keep things under control.

My gut feeling? I'm not so sure, I like both riders but on this occasion it would be nice to see Dan Martin take the win. We have long expected great things from him and it would be pleasing to see his 'arrival' in the WorldTour good and proper - so Catalunya isn't the most prestigious of races, but if he wins here he will have beaten the likes of Rodriguez, Michele Scarponi and Bradley Wiggins, no mean feat and perhaps a hint at just where Martins riding could be heading. Could he be a Grand Tour man? At just 26, there is still time... 

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