A sprinter’s stage as the flat profile above suggests but what the profile doesn’t show is just how this route is exposed as it crosses the bay of Cádiz. No strong winds are forecast but the route does pass several famous windsurfing spots and it could catch a few riders out.
Stage 1 Wrap
A home win for Movistar and their Basque time trial specialist Jonathan Castroviejo takes the red jersey. Nairo Quintana looked strong, stretching out the line of riders when it was his turn to pull. Cannondale were the surprise of the day. I’m unsure looming unemployment is a good motivator – if it was Vacansoleil-DCM would have finished 2013 in style – but they did a great ride. Trek’s time could have been hit by their crash with eight out of nine falling during a practice run.
It’s easy to scan the results and see BMC 9th, Sky 11th and Astana 13th but the relative ranking isn’t so important because the time gaps are small, just 31 seconds separate Movistar and Astana.
The Route: the start’s in Algeciras whose name is from the arabic Al Jazeera, meaning
lighthouse island, and a term more commonly known today as a TV channel from Qatar. It’s uphill right from the start but despite it’s name, the Alto del Cabrito is not for the peloton’s mountain goats as it’s just 1.5km at 4%, a Category 3 climb with 3-2-1 points. But who ever crosses first takes the mountain jersey for a day and the trip to the podium is always valuable.
The rest of the stage is flat and passes along or near the coast. No more so that by Cádiz where the race takes the exposed coastal road and bridge to the city which is part port, part island as the race heads around the Bay of Cádiz to San Fernando. It’s very exposed here as the Google streetview screengrab shows:
Remember there are time bonuses awarded with 10 seconds for a stage winner, 6 seconds for second place and 4 seconds for third place, except on the the time trial stages. Each of the two intermediate sprint awards 3-2-1 seconds as well.
The Finish: four bends in the final 1,500 metres and it’s uphill between corners 2 and 3, nothing steep but if the bunch is already lined out by the speed and corners it’ll be even harder for someone to make up lost ground.
The Scenario: an early breakaway will be rewarded by the mountain points but the climb comes so early we could see something resembling a bunch sprint. Otherwise the interest for the rest of the day is reduced, expect to see the wildcard teams try their luck in the breakaway before a sprint finish. A bunch sprint seems highly likely because several teams have sprinters and they don’t have many chances to strike.
The Contenders: with the absence of the golden trio of Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and André Greipel the sprinting field in the Vuelta is relatively open. Perhaps the race is perhaps all the better for it because it means more uncertainty and changing scenarios.
It’s hard to have a prime pick but four names come to the fore. Nacer Bouhanni had a great Giro and resumed racing at the Eneco Tour with a stage win. France is famous for its high speed TGV trains but FDJ’s sprint train isn’t as celebrated, they’re often effective in smaller races but have yet to impose themselves in a big race; Bouhanni’s Giro success often saw him surf wheels through the final kilometre. Astana’s Andrea Guardini won the opening stage in the Eneco Tour. Since moving to Astana he’s almost vanished from the results but is back in form and he has excellent speed and a fearless style. John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) is the third of the trio and perhaps the most all round rider, he can sprint but he can also ride the classics and we should note the team’s back-up with Nikias Arndt. With a strong team and today’s uphill moment in the finis he could be the one to profit. Last but not least of the quartet is Moreno Hofland of Belkin, he took two wins in the Tour of Utah and has huge power and speed.
Otherwise there’s a long list of other names. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) will be interesting to watch during the race, is he up for this or has he already banked that new contract with Tinkoff-Saxo and has his mind on other things? With Cannondale’s ride yesterday he can take the race lead. Michael Matthews (Orica-Greenedge) could be Sagan’s equal on the uphill finishes but will surely contest the sprint and if he’s got form like he had in the Giro.
Ben Swift is another who might prefer a more selective finish and, whisper it, he’s Sky/Britain’s Project Rainbow candidate this year, will he risk contesting the big sprints every day or save himself for the most suitable days?
Next there’s a long list of others who could strike it lucky. Lotto-Belisol’s Jens Debusschere is due a big win and often seems to hit form late in the season. MTN-Qhubeka’s Gerald Ciolek pops up when you forget about him. IAM Cycling’s Matteo Pelucchi won a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico this year and has just won a stage in Burgos. Europcar’s Yannick Martinez is the son of Tour mountains jersey winner Mariano and brother of MTB champ Miguel but has different DNA to sprint fast. Lampre’s Roberto Ferrari is often a threat in more ways than one. Ag2r’s chances in the Vuelta seem slim as long as Carlos Betancur is so fat but Minsk Missile Yahueni Hutarovich could be their meal ticket. Finally there’s Tom Boonen, an infrequent sprinter but he might give it a go.
|John Degenkolb, Moreno Hofland|
|Nacer Bouhanni, Andrea Guardini|
|Jens Debusschere, Matteo Pelucchi, Michael Matthews, Peter Sagan|
|Ciolek, Martinez, Hutarovich, Ferrari|
Weather: warm and sunny with temperatures of 30°C. Crucially the exposed coastal road to and from Cádiz will see a breeze of 20km/h or more. Not fierce but maybe just enough to trap a few badly placed riders.
TV: Sunday’s got a busy sports schedule but you might only want to tune in for the last hour anyway, from 4.45pm to 5.45pm Euro time.
Daily Díaz: Tarifa (km 18,5) is the closest the World Tour will get to Africa, which is only 8.9 miles away. The Spanish word estrecho has several meanings, including “narrow” and “strait”, so you could say Gibraltar es un estrecho estrecho, which would sound weird but would not be wrong at all. Anyway, the Strait of Gibraltar connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea, and separates Europe (mainland Spain and the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar) from Africa (Morocco and the Spanish city of Ceuta). It is, therefore, one of the borders between the First and
the Third World, with significant population movements that have cooled down (but not disappeared) in the last years.
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel