The Spin – Vuelta Stage 10

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

A flat stage that twists and turns along the coast, this looks like a day for the sprinters but it could be hard to control. As well as the preview for toda, I’ll add some ideas about the race so far and what we can expect for the overall classification below too.

The Route: the stage hugs the Galician coastline, twisting and turning as if the stage is a tribute to mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot, the father of fractals. But if the peloton could fracture, the only maths needed is arithmetic based on distance, speed and time to see if the sprint teams can haul back the day’s breakaway in time for the finish.

The Finish: a fast finish into the town of Sanxenxo. It’s slighly downhill into town and then a clear run along the coast until the final kilometre where there’s a roundabout with 900 metres to go. But fear not, the road is still wide and large. Here the road begins to drag up but only at the lightest of gradients.

The Scenario: a breakaway goes on the early climb but it will be brought back by the sprint teams. However the twisting nature of the coastal roads makes this a bit harder as a chasing bunch likes a long straight road. If it comes down to a sprint we could see John Degenkolb win again. He’s impressed a lot yet each time he’s just managed to hold off the others so don’t be surprised to see someone else strike.

Could the race split in the crosswinds? It’s possible but the wind doesn’t look too strong in this morning’s forecast and above all many will be thinking of the time trial tomorrow.

Weather: cool conditions for a change. The peloton has raced through a heatwave but today’s temperatures will be below 20°C (68°F) and there will be a 25km/h breeze from the south which means a crosswind, tailwind and headwind at some point in the day.

TV: as ever 4.00-6.00pm with the finish expected from 5.25pm onwards. Tune in for the finish if you want action but sit down earlier for great shots of the Galician coastline… and maybe the race being split in the crosswinds but this sounds like wishful thinking.

Galicia: where to start with this region? First it has some Celtic ancestry. Many might think Celts are from Scotland and Wales but head south and in France’s Brittany you can hear the bagpipes play and in Galicia it’s the same too with the gaita. The region has its local language in Galician, a sort of cross between Spanish and Portuguese but that’s still a crude amalgam. If you want to know how to pronounce today’s stage finish town here it is:

 

The Week Ahead
Four riders have literally risen above the others. On each of the uphill finishes we have seen a quartet emerge, with Joaquim Rodriguez, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde as the prime contenders. Whilst Nicolas Roche, Daniel Moreno, Igor Anton and Robert Gesink have been close at times but not consistently so.

Rodriguez is expected to lose time in the time trial on Wednesday but he’s also got a good cushion of time with 53 seconds over Chris Froome. This won’t be enough to keep Froome at bay but the Catalan has taken time out of Froome and everyone else during the first week and there’s every reason he will strike again during the next two weeks. As the Giro showed, he can cope with the high mountains and even thrive in the final week of a grand tour. But once he is behind Froome and Contador overhauling them will prove very difficult.

Froome might look forward to the time trial as he should take time on his rivals. But the course is hilly, going from sea level to 500m and back down during less than 40km. Froome showed he can turn a big gear in the Tour de France but the hilly course in the Vuelta means his rivals won’t flounder as much if the route was flat and they’re forced to turn a 56T chainring. Should Froome take the overall lead then he’ll face the pressures of leadership, from dealing with the media each day to the weight of the red jersey. It’s a good problem to have but some cope and some don’t. Froome can see how it feels. But as the race goes on we’ll see how he copes with the fatigue and the long climbs.

One week in and Alberto Contador is a more unknown quantity than this time last week. Everyone was expecting him to stomp all over the race but instead he’s attacked a lot but got no where. In my pre-Vuelta preview I highlight how exciting he can be but said those attacks often don’t take much time. This time it’s cost him for his uphill attacks have been countered on the finish line, surrendering time bonuses to others. He should do well in the time trial and then we’ll know more about him in the high mountains soon enough.

Alejandro Valverde is expected to lose time in the time trial but he’s in such good form that it’s hard to count him out, certainly of the four I think he might be the weakest of the quartet, but this is only by a tiny margin.

The Race
It’s been a great race but is this because of the course or the riders? Or both? The use of several uphill finishes in the race is unique for a grand tour and wisely Unipublic have deployed short and sharp climbs instead of full mountain stages. This way the suspense is building in the race rather than seeing large gaps appear in the general classification. But much of this is down to the riders, we have the quartet and others all within striking distance of each other. We’ll know more this week as we get some big climbs later this week.

Adzim August 28, 2012 at 10:05 am

I think you’ve got to swap one of the Chris Froome’s to Alejandro Valverde In the paragraph after The Week Head title… :-)

Batman August 28, 2012 at 10:08 am

Thanks for great preview
NB: In your quartet of GC contenders you list Froome twice – probably prophetic!

The Inner Ring August 28, 2012 at 10:14 am

Fixed, thanks. There is only one Chris Froome.

Bundle August 28, 2012 at 10:52 am

The gaps are being so tiny, even smaller than time bonuses. It’s as if the 4 had arrived together, and if it goes on like this, the GC will be decided by time bonuses, by sprinting. None of these stages will be remembered in 5 years.
If guys can still sprint at the end of the last climb of the day, the stage just wasn’t hard enough.
We haven’t seen any attacks yet. Yes, well, the day Sky attacked Valverde on the way to Valdezcaray. The rest have been just unsustained accelerations, which is not all the same thing.
I really hope we are not condemned to admit that this is the best possible GT cycling nowadays.

Always A Pleasure August 28, 2012 at 3:15 pm

What a crazy statement. If the stages where easy why isnt everybody up there at the end, instead of four people?

Guadzilla August 28, 2012 at 11:42 am

I reckon Contador is going to be peaking by the time the race reaches the high mountains. Compared to how he is usually positioned after the first week of most Grand Tours (the 2010 Giro apart), he’s doing quite well. And he is a much more tactically savvy rider than people give him credit for.

This is definitely the most interesting grand tour of the year – TdF was a snooze-fest.

The Ladder August 28, 2012 at 11:49 am

Does anyone else think that Sky have got their tactics for Froome all wrong? They are trying to drive the peloton along like they did in the TdF, but all that has achieved really is to allow Rodriguez and Valverde to follow and then rack up the time bonuses (as they are clearly better at finishing off the mountain sprints).

As Froome is a better time trialer than both Rodriguez and Valverde, surely they could have sat back somewhat and made Katusha and Movistar do the work to pull back breakaways, to activate the end of stage time bonuses. It feels like Sky have been playing into their opponents hands. And as for Froome leading out Swift? He might be staying safe on the front, but it seems like an utter waste of valuable energy.

Unless the plan is to try and put Contador into the red, knowing that he is the most likely person to challenge for the final GC, once the time trial is out of the way. I just can’t see Froome winning the race, using the current tactics.

jerome August 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm

good analysis ladder, i suppose this is what i miss having to steephill final kms each morning :(

casualpedlar August 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Possibly it is just a taste of what to expect from them in the high mountains? Last year they tried a similar tactic and it put Rodriguez in trouble on the really big slopes, maybe they are hoping for the same again?

The Ladder August 28, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Possibly, although he didn’t seem to have much trouble following the Liquigas train during the Giro.

It is nice to see the Sky train being challenged (or dare I say, being taken advantage of) after the relative ease of the TdF.

Sam August 28, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Dont get me started. I’ve been face-palming too much for my own good. Nicolas Portal’s the lead DS for the Vuelta – he’s only been a DS for the last 18 months since retiring from riding for the team. If Sky are serious about this, get Sean Yates over there pronto.

The Ladder August 28, 2012 at 3:07 pm

He certainly seemed a bit oblivious on the stage when Valverde hit the deck, so you could be onto something there.

Sam August 28, 2012 at 3:17 pm

I understand why so many team DS’s coming from the ranks of the retired pros, but for such a major race as a GT, I’m surprised that he’s the lead DS here

Sam August 28, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I should say all DSs, of course…

homebrew August 30, 2012 at 4:05 am

I’ve had the same thoughts about Sky’s tactics. They seem to be killing themselves for no benefit. Burning riders up with the other teams sit in their draft. And Swift is in too big a gear when he sprints.

Winternet_ August 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I can see Rod, Froome and Conta all within a minute difference until the penultimate stage of the Vuelta.

Anonymous August 28, 2012 at 12:16 pm

I think the comment on Contador is interesting, but I already feel that it may be a case that Contador is not particularly concerned with Rodriguez and Valverde, and maybe the purpose of his attacks is to overcome Froome.
On that level, he has been relatively successful, given that when he cramped he lost time.
His comments after the finish into Barcelona seemed to agree with this, when he said that he could have gone with Rodriguez, but tactically faltered.

jason August 28, 2012 at 1:32 pm

I think this might be the wrong tactic from AC.. as Purito looks the strongest and seems to be able both to attack and counter attacks from the other while taking bonuses in the end. I assume if Froome does not do well in the TT the focus will shift to the others…

Shawn August 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm

I would interested to know what the standing would be minus the time bonuses. I’m not a big fan of them, especially on uphill finishes. I just don’t feel as though Purito has been so much stronger than the rest to hold 53 seconds over them. I also don’t buy that they make riders more combative. If you have to create a gap to gain time, that should be equal if not greater motivation to be combative.

The Ladder August 28, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Without time bonifications, the standings would be as follows:

Rodriguez
Froome +29″
Contador +30″
Valverde +59″

For the record, they have each accrued the following time bonifications:

Rodriguez 36″
Valverde 28″
Froome 12″
Contador 6″

hamncheeze August 28, 2012 at 6:02 pm

To me, Froome is starting to look a bit cooked. He struggled in the finale into Andorra and was not looking too fresh into Barcelona. Tactically, he got it very wrong on the Andorran stage when he was up the road with Contador but then sat up and let Purito and Valverde back into it. It would have been better to have ridden for time on the two of them and dealt with Contador only. Instead he had the worst outcome, Contador attacked him and then the other two slipped away as well.

Just a hunch, but can only see maybe 3rd place in the final GC for Froome. This Vuelta will come down to Purito and AC, and I’m very interested to see how effective Contador is in the TT tomorrow.

Sam August 28, 2012 at 6:28 pm

He did get it totally wrong with Contador on that stage. All that was served by track standiing to try to force Contador to go in front, was him losing his own tempo altogether. He really cant handle such extreme changes of pace, whereas its right up Contador’s street. He certainly did look shattered at the finish in Barcelona. Let’s see what the rest day has done for him – plus today was basically a rest day too the way that it was ridden.

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