Vuelta Contenders

Friday, 17 August 2012


Alberto Contador is the predicted winner, for some the question is merely the margin of his victory. Certainly he has had time away with his suspension but this is was not the normal two year ban, instead he has only missed six months of racing, enough time to get in plenty of training without losing too much racing speed.

But luckily this is sport and as the race winds around northern Spain this year we can expect plenty of surprises and besides, if Contador rides away, who can follow him?

The race offers a diverse field with several top Spaniards but a strong international presence and the chance to salvage the season for several riders and teams alike.


Contador is clearly in great form. He was seventh in the time trial stage of the Eneco Tour, surrounded by bulky time trial specialists and the following day he was even on the attack on the Kapelmuur in Geraardsbergen. So if he can do well in a race in Belgium that doesn’t suit him, what will he do at home on a route that’s almost made for him?

But even at the height of his powers Contador sometimes isn’t as impressive as many think. Those searing accelerations in the mountains? Yes but if he has a jump often he doesn’t pull out much time as you think and he could find Sky’s “team time trial” pace-setting awkward if Chris Froome is on form.

Froome is the unknown quantity. Bring out your canine clichés and your doggy descriptions because the Froome-dog is out of the kennel and off the leash. Yet it’s hard to imagine him being fresh having done the Tour and Olympics and look back further, he’s been on form since the Dauphiné in June. That said, maybe he was able to ride the Tour at 95% and he wasn’t troubled by the stress of leadership so he could be fresher. However if some things are uncertain, we know some other things. This time Froome will have to step up and lead the team, an added pressure. We also know he wasn’t planning to ride the Vuelta until plans changed in July and this means, unlike the Tour, the stages have not been ridden in advance reconnaissance. Plus Sky’s team looks marginally less cohesive, gone are the diesel wagons of Wiggin’s mountain train like Knees, Boasson Hagen and Rogers, in come the high octane turbo tandem of Colombians Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao. I’d like to see these guys on the attack rather than pacing but we’ll see, certainly these two riders could lead other teams and a high finish is possible.

As for the others, Igor Anton gave us a clue in the Vuelta a Burgos when he made the front group in the Queen Stage, along with the ever-improving Dani Moreno of Katusha; Anton is the better climber of the two and a podium contender but Moreno has the potential to win several stages along the way, he’s an uphill sprint specialist. But he’ll have to work for Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez, second in the Giro and now racing on home soil with several stage finishes to suit him, and just like the Giro, the time bonuses will help him too.

Movistar come with defending champion J-J Cobo but he’s been invisible all year and for those who say he was absent in 2011 too until the Vuelta, in fact he was strong in a few results before the race. Instead the squad comes with Alejandro Valverde but he also hasn’t quite shone this year, although injury and bad luck have played their part so don’t rule him out. I’m interested to see Nairo Quintana, the house Colombian, he beat Team Sky in the Dauphiné to win the stage to Morzine and should provide entertainment if not results.

Amongst others I see only outsiders. Rabobank come with Robert Gesink, keen to finally land a result. He needs it, the team needs it and they come with Bauke Mollema who finished fourth last year. Another rider needing a result is Jurgen Van Den Broeck often touted as an overall contender but he’s only ever one race in a ten year career which makes him stealthier than Dennis Menchov, the Russian who seems to be fading away from the peloton these days. Ag2r come with a surprisingly strong squad on paper but are they in form? We get bald mountain eagle John Gadret and the departing Nico Roche who had a good ride in 2010. Finally there’s Thomas De Gendt who, for a brief moment, looked like he could win the Giro d’Italia. It still seems improbable but he could land a big result again.

Sprints
I think there are nine stages where a bunch sprint is possible, and six where the chance is even higher. But unlike the Tour de France, this time a lot of sprinters have stayed away and so have their sprint teams. This means an interesting balance between the breakaway riders and the sprinters, perhaps this time tilted towards the escape artists? Amongst the sprinters we have J-J Rojas, Nacer Bouhanni, the Kreder brothers, Elia Viviani, Allan Davis and Julian Dean, Daniele Bennati, Ben Swift and John Degenkolb plus a few others like Gert Steegmans and Matti Breschel who might have a go.

But in several cases here note the teams have other goals, namely the overall classification. And we have no “dead cert” sprinters, like Mark Cavendish or André Greipel, where a team will work all day because they know their man can land the win. Instead the intensity of a chase will depend who a team has up the road.

Stage Wins
If there will be fewer sprint finishes, there should be more breakaways. Several teams come with strong riders for stage wins… and an eye on the world championships too. See BMC with Gilbert, Astana with Gasparotto, Lampre with Cunego, Omega Pharma-Quickstep with Cataldo and possibly Stybar, as well as most of Vacansoleil-DCM.

El Futuro
There’s no white jersey for young riders but watch out for several riders. Andrew Talansky won the Tour de l’Ain recently and gets his grand tour leader debut. FDJ’s Arnold Jeannesson is back after injury put him out of the Tour de France (freeing a spot for Thibaut Pinot). Also Cameron Meyer is tipped, the former pursuit rider might be trying to “do a Wiggins” although he’s been strong this year, the results are visible on results sheets but not on TV yet.

Podium Picking Summary
Alberto Contador is the obvious pick and I see Igor Anton on the podium with him. I still can’t be sure with Chris Froome, if we get the Froome of July then he should worry Contador but he’s got to be tired by now? If not Froome then I see Joaquim Rodriguez as the other podium pick, with an outside chance he’s overshadowed by team mate Dani Moreno.

El Gato de la Cala August 17, 2012 at 12:45 pm

add to that the forecast of HOT air coming in from the Northern Africa (maybe Philippe Maertens has finally found his true shelf – now as as a meteorologist) with temperatures up to 42 degree Celsius, and a visit from Gordon, a tropical storm though primarily at the Gallic coast, promising strong wind gusts.

I go for a Spanish win on home turf in these conditions, as no hot pants are required for the next three weeks.

Suerte Alberto!

Erik B. August 17, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Nice preview, for me Dutchie it’s going to be interesting to see if Gesink and Mollema can hold on and even try to get a good result. Bonus seconds at the finish will make the mountainsprints more interesting than in de Tour de France.

AC will win, no doubt about it, nr 2 till 5 is more exciting.

InTheGC August 17, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I can see Froome struggling by the third week and maybe Henao taking on the lead role for Sky. Anton is inconsistent but I would love to see the Euski win a Grand Tour.

Other than that though, I can’t really see beyond Cotnador at the minute. J-Rod has been keeping a low profile but i’m not sure he’s that great on the long climbs, he prefers more a kick and the short sharp stuff, plus if Hesjedal can beat J-Rod in the mountains as per the Giro, then it probably wont be a problem for Alberto…

Anonymous August 17, 2012 at 2:56 pm

I don’t know about Rodriguez, I think in the Giro he showed he can do the long ones now too. Think of his ride up the Stelvio on the penultimate day. But saying that, Contador will have the beating of him in the ITT.

Owen August 17, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I thought Talansky rode la Vuelta last year, could be wrong.

Sim August 17, 2012 at 1:42 pm

He did. This is his GT debut in role of leader for sure.

Owen August 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I misread the leader bit. Fool!

Cyclone August 17, 2012 at 9:15 pm

I missed it too. I got a little confused with Sim’s reply to your above question. Gotta slow down the reading just a little bit.

Adi August 17, 2012 at 2:07 pm

It will certainly be an interesting race. On one hand Contador will certainly be very fresh and could ride himself into race form over the three weeks. On the other hand few convicted dopers have come back as strong as they were before their ban. Will Contador buck the trend?

An interesting three weeks ahead.

The Inner Ring August 17, 2012 at 2:21 pm

I think the difference is the length of the ban, he’s not been out for two years when riders can really lose condition without racing. Plus the obvious point, he was not caught with “heavy” doping and therefore his comeback, like, say Basso, isn’t going to be at a lower level.

Martin W August 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

“On the other hand few convicted dopers have come back as strong as they were before their ban.”

But one of those who has is… Alberto Contador in 2007. OK it was a general ban for his team after Operacion Puerto but I think he was still out of contract for at least 6 months and then came back and won the Tour. He’s only been out for 6 months this time too, whereas others like Valverde, Millar or Vinokourov served full 2-year bans.

Cyclone August 17, 2012 at 9:24 pm

As our insightful host has already stated: “he was not caught with “heavy” doping and therefore his comeback, like, say Basso, isn’t going to be at a lower level.”
The key word in this statement is “‘heavy’ doping”. The three riders you have mentioned were caught with several bags of blood in a Gynecologist’s office (Valverde & Basso), more EPO than a chemo ward (Millar) and blood cells that didn’t originate within their own bodies (Vinokourov). Contador will likely still be doing whatever he did before, regardless of the ban he just served.
On a side note, just remember that Landis still refutes the testosterone results, stating that testosterone was the only thing he didn’t take during le Tour in 2006.

Larry T. August 17, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Thanks for the great report. This might be the first Vuelta that captures my attention enough to watch more than casually. The route looks like it might avoid those boring slogs into the wind across the deserted countryside on major highways? Of course if Il Pistolero starts wiping the floor with the rest all the air goes out of it like the recent Giro he “won” but I’ll look for some pirate video in the mornings since I’m stuck back here in the US of A until early in 2013. Need something for inspiration to ride the boring roads here in Iowa.

Bundle August 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Excellent overview. I tend to agree on most of the points. The big question is to what extent Froome will be pushed to his limits. I think he will be great, as good as in the Tour, very near Contador in the climbs, and a little ahead in the TT. So it can be very close, given that the Katiusha uphill-finish duo will have captured a lot of bonuses by then, and will ahead in the GC.
On the young element: watch out for locals Intxausti, Castroviejo, and Landa (all of them basque), I feel at least one of them will win a stage or be near the top-5, and for Movistar’s future rider Capecchi.

The Inner Ring August 18, 2012 at 11:50 am

Good picks. With Landa, note that Euskaltel-Euskadi have said they’ll “race for points” which implies a more steady approach to get high places on GC rather than do-or-die mountain attacks. That said we’re sure to see them attack.

Frogboy August 17, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I really hope Alberto Contador makes a brilliant come-back in the Vuelta. He’s an entertaining rider and has that most important quality for a Latin viewer, Panache! However, I will be supporting my favorite rider in his latest farewell race: David Moncoutie, who is lining up to see if he can win one more stage and one more King of the Mountain competition as he has the last 4 years in a row. Bonne Chance!

The Inner Ring August 17, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Many would like to see this but the points look suited to the big climbs and summit finishes, it will be very hard to beat the big overall contenders.

Germán Ospina August 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm

A few points:
Sky has had problems with GC since the 2011 tour. Wiggo broke his collarbone, his whole team waited for him, losing plenty of time for GC chances. Uran was there with the white jersey but got ill towards the end, however, he would have been on top if it wasn’t for the team’s decision. Next comes the Vuelta, with Froome waiting for Wiggins and barely losing to Cobo (and a phenomenal penultimate stage, I may add). We know what happen in the 2012 tour, but in reality it was people blowing smoke at Froome..he never would have beaten Wiggins, not with the TT time. Froome shouldn’t be the leader for the Vuelta. He will burn out. No way to keep form. I hope they don’t make Uran or Henao wait, but in reality, they aren’t up to par with Contador yet. I am also waiting to see what happens with Cobo/Valverde/Quintana situation. Quintana can hold his own on TTs. Valverde is probably burned out due to the 30,000 miles he put in before his suspension :)

Cyclone August 17, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Don’t forget all those sit-ups!

Dean August 17, 2012 at 11:32 pm

You forgot to mention Uran as a contender in any sprint finish ;-). More seriously I’m very excited to see what Talansky can do if he’s over his allergies and very happy AC is back. Never thought I’d miss him but I have.

Germán Ospina August 18, 2012 at 12:42 am

Lol. Of course Uran is great at these sprint escapes! Contador showed how to use that in the Giro, when in “flat” stages, he would gain 20+ sec when people weren’t paying attention. I have been amazed by Uran for a long time. Besides his hair I remember him being the only one in the Caisse team to keep up with Contador, Kloden, Wiggins, Lance and the Shlecks. Before that, I remember him taking huge risks in dowhills, then flying and breaking his collarbone. Best was towards the end of the year last year for Sky, when he kept in coming 2nd in Canadia events LOL. He celebrated his victory only to realize he still had one lap to go :). Another thing to look forward to the Vuelta? TONS of young guns. Of the 6 Colombians, 5 are 25 and under. Actually, 42 riders are 25 and under :)
Some in the peloton joke with Uran saying that he has been riding for too long to be still considered for white jerseys.

thierry Mtl August 18, 2012 at 1:54 am

Froome at the top ?
If Froome is able to be that strong from june to september (including, Dauphiné, 2 Grand Tour and the Olympic), it who’d be incredible, amazing, better tham Armstrong, almost like Pantani and very, very supsicioooooous.

Pepe August 18, 2012 at 4:27 am

It is already incredible what he has done with the SKY team since the beginning of the season, he is good at everything and always peaking at the right time, only naive can still believe he is a clean rider. SKY anyway is a doped team, seeing how they started to defend Armstrong these last months in newspapers, not much doubt anymore about their agenda…

Gavin August 18, 2012 at 8:51 am

When Team Sky are found guilty of doping practices then i’ll believe some of the bile written about them. Until that day then I shall celebrate every success they have. I understand that cycling has produced its own unique band of cynics but sensationalist statements backed up by no facts whatsoever do nothing to help the situation.

If you look at Froome’s performances since the Vuelta he has been extremely consistent. He’s not struggling one day only to bury everyone the next. I hope that he does well at La Vuelta though I fear that it will be a step too far.

Pepe August 18, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Armstrong has been found guilty of drug practice and almost 10 years after, he is still denying, even if his teammates have all said that he has, half of the cycling supporters are not entirely sure he has doped, still after evidences like a teammate . Contador has been found juicing…But no, for Spanish supporters and for others, he is 100% clean, just ate a bad piece of meat. So no worries, SKY will never be found guilty of doping practices..or if they are, it will take years to come out and still Wiggins will deny until his bed death (even more if he is being knighted). Being naive is nice in a lot of cases, but in cycling, it is lying to yourself. All TDF winners are doped and it is not cynic, it is realistic. I do not see why SKY would be suddenly the first one to not dope. Their main doctor is an Ex-Rabobank, big doped team. And SKY is claiming they have nothing related to doping ? Wiggins has finally never gave his blood sample result like he has always said he would do and now they are all defending Armstrong and US postal openly. It is obvious like a nose in the middle of the face but you are right, for a part of it, it is done to probabilities and the faith you have in these riders. Being nice does not mean anything in this sport, lots of nice riders have been found guilty of doping.

Pepe August 18, 2012 at 2:10 pm

And Froome has the typical form of the doped guy. Coming almost from nowhere and peaking almost all the season. If he wins the Vuelta, I’m quite sure that guys like you will continue to deny the evidence.

Larry T. August 18, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Wow, I thought I was cynical! The “everyone is doped” idea is ironically what causes so much of the doping as JV pointed out in his NYT piece. Cadel Evans might have an argument with you Pepe, along with a few others. While I share some of Paul Kimmage’s doubts about the SKY Team, I’m far away from calling every winner of the TdF a doper. You come across as the opposite of the defenders of BigTex, but your claims are equally extreme and impossible to back up. “Everyone is doped!” is just as untrue as “He passed all the tests so he’s clean!”

Pepe August 18, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Larry, I said every winner of the TDF is doped, I did not say anybody. Armstrong, Riis, Ulrich, Pantani, Contador, Indurain, …in the last 20 years. Then maybe Evans and Wiggins are clean, who knows ? Who wants to bet on this ?

Pepe August 18, 2012 at 4:34 pm
steppings August 18, 2012 at 1:58 am

Cant wait to see if Alberto can replicate those “searing” accelerations in the mountains!

grumpyoldman August 18, 2012 at 9:49 am

Current betting (implied percentage chance in brackets) is as follows:

Contador 4/7 (63.6%)
Froome 11/4 (26.7%)
Rodriguez 7/1 (12.5%)

While it may be the case that Contador is entitled to be favourite, I can’t understand why he is so far clear of Froome and the rest.

If Contador is riding clean (and he’d be foolish to try to pull another fast one) I think it’s unlikely that he’ll be that far ahead of Froome, who has shown that he can pull off good performances without performance-enhancing substances.

That said, I don’t have a lot of experience in evaluating races, and will not be having a bet.

Rider Council August 18, 2012 at 2:59 pm

‘team time trial’ even pre race analysis is adapting to the new way of racing, in a few short months. It’s like we have stepped back into the Matrix. Pill the colour of you pill and enjoy the show.

@sciencetwitt August 18, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Froome’s main goal is to gain experience as a team leader and get another GT in his legs. He has had several incomplete seasons due to illness and getting kms in the legs and experience of deciding tactics based on how he feels is what he needs going forwards. If he wins great but this is a step to bring him on for the coming years, physically and mentally. It wasn’t his primary objective, which was the tour. the most interesting aspect of the race is can he follow Comtador and Rodriguez on the climbs. Racing against the former will be invaluable for the next two or three TdF attempts.

Doug August 18, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Froome is an outstanding talent. I firmly believe he can win this one.

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