The Spin: Vuelta Stage 4

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Yesterday provided plenty of excitement with seven attacks from Alberto Contador during the short final climb and sprint for the line.

Stage 4 brings a ski station summit finish but it’s a more gradual affair, a road wide enough to ensure visitors can reach the estación de esquí with ease. By contrast it won’t be easy for the riders but that’s because the pace will be high.

The Route: the race heads south, away from the Basque region and back to the Rioja area. The Puerto de Orduna is a major climb, 7.7km long and averaging 7.8%. Then it’s a gradual approach via an intermediate sprint and on to Ezcaray, after which the race finishes up on the ski station above the town. An important element to note is the distance, it’s just 160km and therefore we should fast racing with fireworks, as opposed to the energy sap and attrition of a 200km mountain stage.

The Finish: it’s 13km at 5.2%. The steepest part comes at the start with a 9% gradient and the first part is the hardest. We should see a selection here but anyone who makes the grade has a chance to hang on later on as the gradient eases. The pace might pick up but a weaker rider can try to cling on to the back, benefiting from the draft. Note how much it flattens out towards the top with the last kilometre being just 2% and easing to 1% on the line.

The Scenario: a breakaway might go and Movistar should chase to protect Alejandro Valverde’s red jersey although only 45 riders lie within three minutes of Valverde on the overall. So there’s a chance that some riders are allowed to stay away whilst the overall contenders mark each other. But there are no gifts and I think today’s stage suits riders like Dani Moreno, Joaquim Rodriguez, Valverde and others who can sprint fast after a climb so we could see several squads trying to set up their riders for the win.

Still we have a clear indication of the top riders already as Valverde was joined by Joaquim Rodriguez, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. Contador rode up yesterday’s finish as if there was a cactus on his saddle, no sooner would he sit down then he’d stand up again, grimacing as he accelerated. It underlines how exciting he is to watch but for all the effort, he finished fourth yesterday and so actually lost time to the other three.

History: the race has visited the ski station four times before and the first winner was Irishman Sean Kelly. A classics specialist, he nevertheless won the Vuelta in 1988 but it gives us a clue about the finish, it is not exclusively for the mountain goats.

Weather: sunny and hot with temperatures reaching 33°C (90°F). A light breeze of 20km/h will offer a crosswind during much of the stage.

TV: Live images should start around 4.00pm Euro time with the finish expected between 5.25 and 5.55pm Euro time. As ever see cyclingfans.com and steephill.tv for pirate video links after 4.00pm.

Local rider: I can’t find the local pro but the town of Ezcaray has San Lorenzo as its patron saint so who better than Rabobank’s Laurens Ten Dam to enjoy the day?

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{ 34 comments }

Ankush August 21, 2012 at 10:21 am

Contador was amazing to watch yesterday but can’t excuse his tactical blunder at the finish, same holds for Purito. I too think that today’s stage will be won by Dani Moreno.

jcoxbar August 21, 2012 at 10:43 am

I am a bit of a Newbie but can someone please explain why there is such eulogising of Contador’s performance yesterday (to some extent here but elsewhere on the web more strongly)? Is he not returning for his first race post-ban and thus as a proven drug cheat? Should we not be a bit more cautious in praise of his attacking style?

The Inner Ring August 21, 2012 at 10:52 am

He wasn’t caught doping. Rather he had a positive test for a banned substance but when things went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport nobody could show where it came from, some said doping, some said contaminated food or nutritional supplements.

There is a subtle difference. To illustrate the point, imagine finding a few banknotes in someone’s wallet where the numbers match those stolen from a bank robbery. It is possible the holder of the notes is the bank robber but it’d would be hard to convict because it is also possible there’s another explanation. By contrast we could convict the robber if they were caught in the act of raiding the bank.

Sim August 21, 2012 at 12:30 pm

It might have helped if Contador hadnt come up with the nonsense about a contaminated steak, mind. Fact is that he is yet another rider returning from a ban, who divides fans. Doubts amongst at least some are always going to be present now as they watch him ride.

Peter August 21, 2012 at 10:52 am

It has been said before, but Contador is not a ‘heavy’ doper. He’s partly viewed as the victim of a lengthy and frustating legal process, compared to someone like Vino or Ricco who both upset a lot of other riders and fans. Also, in Spain they (the public, the fans) don’t care that much about whether a rider dopes or not (Valverde is a prime example of this).

And personally, I like attacking riders. It will make an interesting Vuelta. Froome and Sky want to calculate their watt outage and the win, but Contador doesn’t really seem to do that, he rides more with his intuition. It could make for an interesting Vuelta!

Bundle August 21, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I don’t think it’s true that the Spanish public doesn’t care if a rider dopes. The main concern for a lot of people, fuelled by powerful jingoistic sports-tabloids such as Marca and As, is that the Spanish, in their mind, don’t get due process, probably (again, in their mind) because of being Spanish. The (wrong) idea regarding Valverde was that he was convicted without proof of doping (because, it was underlined, having a bag of blood at a rogue doctor’s is no real proof of doping). The idea regarding Contador was that, regardless of the letter of the Code, the amount found was too small to have an impact on either performance or health, and that the “strict liability” principle is an aberration from a legal point of view.
Just to set the record straight. :)

Sim August 21, 2012 at 1:28 pm

With the blood stored under the name of his German Shepherd dog – still my ‘favourite’ touch :)

Dave August 21, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I thought it looked “normal” enough. He couldn’t make the attack stick like he did in days gone by

Vanilla_Thrilla August 22, 2012 at 12:24 pm

Exactly, he’s used up his get out of jail free card so if he gets done for doping again he’s banned for life. Was interesting watching a clean Contador crack on stage 18 of last year’s tour. Not sure that happened too many times prior to his positive test

Erik B. August 21, 2012 at 10:48 am

Purito had a black out yesterday?? Prety stupid to let Valverde pass him, today again a chance for him, I guess.

Nice comment that Contador rode like he had a cactus on his saddle, I think he wants too much, too much to think clearly, he will get his revanche.

El Gato de la Cala August 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

Maybe Contador had a point yesterday by his headless attacking.

15 yrs ago – in 1998 – Team Boss Bjarne Riis won his last ever victory as professional rider in the stage race Bizikleta Vasca on stage 5 from Iurreta to, yes right, Eibar. As captain of Team Telekom he attacked towards the top of Alto de Aarrate and won eight seconds in front of the Abraham Olano – current route architect at the Vuelta a Espana. Colombia rider José Joaquim Castel Blanco came third while Frenchman Laurent Jalabert came in fourth place 21 seconds after.

Maybe Contador wanted to make a point or pay tribute to one of his strongest supporters during the last two years. All inn for the stage win. Brothers of arms.

Anonymous August 21, 2012 at 11:47 am

I’m not sure you inject the stuff in your arm…

Patrick August 21, 2012 at 12:01 pm

For the stat fans among here, check out Laurens Ten Dam’s Strava data from yesterday;
http://app.strava.com/rides/19165952

Jason August 21, 2012 at 12:36 pm

what is meant by “Oh Eibar Arrate, Where you climb in the mariuhana smoke!”????

Tom August 21, 2012 at 2:36 pm

From what I’ve heard the basque fans “know how to party”

Patrick August 21, 2012 at 10:30 pm

I hope none of the riders inhaled, or they may have some explaining to do!

Jason August 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm

From what I saw yesterday, everybody will wait for AC to attack and if they hang on then make their move in the end…

Symo August 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Agree, Froome didn’t have to respond much at all, in fact he spent most of his time in the saddle bringing all three back, they would go again but he would just keep moving forward and drag it back.

Froome for win, J-Rod second and AC third.

Alex Combes August 21, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Whatever the case, the last 10min of yesterday’s stage blew away the entire TDF.

Iron horse equestrian August 21, 2012 at 3:01 pm

Have to agree. It was impressive to see Sky chug their train up la planche des belles filles but there was nothing to compare with yesterday’s Vuelta in the TdF.

For my money, it looked like Contador was eye-balling Froome more than Jo-Ro or Valverde during his attacks yesterday. Contador has said he considers Froome his main rival but could they not spend the whole time dueling and let the other two run away with it, as they very well did yesterday?

Bundle August 21, 2012 at 4:48 pm

I think I preferred Belles Filles.. There was more agony, …and much bigger gaps.

jcoxbar August 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Thanks for the comments on my earlier post. As a lawyer myself I know all too well about strict liability and whilst I know nothing of the Valverde case my belief is that AC had a banned drug Clenbuterol in his system and could not account for its presence innocently = guilty of doping in my mind – even if there are more egregious cases.

I am also troubled by all the talk about how much better yesterday’s stage was than TDF because of all the attacking etc. Do we not need to be careful what we wish for – as I suspect from what I have read about EPO etc that it is a lot easier to make like AC yesterday when you have doped! Leaves me uneasy about what I am watching.

Lankian August 21, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Fully agree.

Jack August 22, 2012 at 12:34 am

Maybe stop watching then? If it leaves you so uneasy I mean. Some of us still here still believe that if a rider has paid his dues (Millar, Levi, Vino, Basso, and many others) he is allowed a fresh start in the peloton. If you don’t want to move on that is your prerogative but please let the rest of us enjoy Contador again.

Joseph August 21, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Kind of funny reading all the comments about doping and how uneasy people feel. Has anyone ever watched the NFL, European Football, tennis, or practically any other sport??? I never hear comments on drug use in other sports, but it’s there. Defensive line in the NFL, 330 pounds natural? Are you kidding???

Big Mikey August 21, 2012 at 6:28 pm

+1
If they did the testing they do in cycling on any other sports league in the world, football, soccer, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, etc.), the numbers would be shocking.

Case in point, most of the blood they found in Puerto wasn’t even from cyclists.

Ad August 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Valverde having a dig at sky for being ‘unsporting’ made me chuckle.

Sim August 21, 2012 at 8:53 pm

He’s still squawking away on his Twitter feed. Could be a long evening for his followers:)

Patrick August 21, 2012 at 10:55 pm

maybe we should take ‘piti’ on him?!

Tricky Dicky August 22, 2012 at 2:10 am

Isn’t karma a bitch, eh? He and his mates should have thought of that when they attacked unfortunate fallers earlier on this year (Leipheimer was one in Paris Nice I think, Siutsou another in TdF). Apparently it was the subject of a lot of discussion in the front echelon despite Portal claiming Sky “innocence” after the event. Good on them. Would Valverde have waited? Past behaviour suggests not.

rhys August 22, 2012 at 4:04 am

In any case, that’s racing and he ought to dry his eyes and get on with it. Very early in the piece, perhaps he could convert his anger to watts and let his legs do the talking.
And really, a lack of respect? Maybe earn it through composure and exemplary behaviour and skills.

Anonymous August 22, 2012 at 2:39 pm

+1

Valverde being such a “paragon of virtue”. It is okay to cheat with chemicals – just no cheating on the road, right? 1-Nil to clean cycling.

BarkingOwl August 22, 2012 at 9:01 am

Some are saying Sky caused the crash. Before you think this is just bitter grapes from Movistar Adam Hansen from Lotto Belisol (also caught in the crash) suggested the same. Any thoughts?

Sim August 22, 2012 at 10:27 am

In the case of Hansen, I think its very difficult when a rider’s caught up in the crash and the aftermath, with all the confusion and with emotions are running so high. He was on his way to be x-rayed when he tweeted and emotions running even higher at the thought that he might have been out of the race and so his goals of doing the Giro-TdF-Vuelta triple, scuppered (they’re not, he’s back racing today). Other riders such as Hayden Roulston backed up the ‘not-Sky’s fault’ position.

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