Vuelta Stage 12 Preview

The race returns to the Basque Country with a finishing circuit around Bilbao. So far many stages have been the kind where it pays to tune into the final 15 minutes but the doble climb of El Vivero means more action for longer.


Stage 11 Wrap: a maxi-breakaway of over 20 riders went clear but only after a struggle and 50km were covered in the first hour. All for nothing as Tinkoff set a high pace and reeled them in just for the start of the final climb. Were they planning to send Alberto Contador into orbit? Yes but the team is relatively weak and lacks climbing support so arguably all they could do was set the pace on the flat. Moscovite Matvey Mamykin – one of this site’s neo-pros to watch –  tried an early surge but it came to nothing. Esteban Chaves launched the big attack but his long range move smacked of desperation or audacity. He took 20 seconds, went into oxygen debt and founding himself repaying at a high interest rate as he was caught and passed and eventually lost time. Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome rode clear, no hare-and-tortoise pacing for Froome this time and they’re now the joint picks for the race but as of now it’s advantage Froome, he beat Quintana to the win and the time bonus. Quintana has only 54s on Froome which is not enough with the time trial in mind.

The Route: the race rides into the Basque Country which sounds normal given the region is a hotbed of Spanish cycling but for years the race skirted around the region given the political and nationalist tensions of the Basque region, the Vuelta was seen as an imposition from Madrid by some but in 2011 the race rode in and, fittingly, Igor Antón of Eusktaltel-Euskadi won the stage. It’s not just historical significance, the finish was similar in Bilbao with the El Vivero climb.

Before there’s the first category climb of the Puerto de las Alisas, 10km at 6-7% most of the way and a good incentive to go in the breakaway for the likes of Omar Fraile, Alexandre Geniez and Thomas de Gendt who sit high on the mountains classification but know they can’t rival the bigger names in a summit finish show down.

The Finish: El Vivero is 4.2km at 8.5% and climbed twice as the race laps a compact circuit around Bilbao before a flat run to the city.

The Contenders: an ideal day for a breakaway so who to pick? The descent says Luis-Leon Sanchez, he’s riding well and has taken many wins on terrain like this. Simon Yates got the better of Sanchez the other day and sprints well but can’t get in a breakaway. Fabio Felline is good in a breakaway and packs a punch in a finish here while Moreno Moser, Simon Gerrans and Dries Devenyns are all good picks. Some random names are Ag2r’s Quentin Jauregui, half-French and Basque and Zdeněk Štybar needs no introduction but could do with a win.

L-L Sanchez, Fabio Felline
Yates, Moser, Gerrans, Devenyns, Štybar

Weather: a few clouds but otherwise a warm 28°C and benign conditions.

TV: the finish is forecast for 5.40pm. It’s on Eurosport and you can rely on Cyclingfans and for links to feeds and streams.

54 thoughts on “Vuelta Stage 12 Preview”

  1. Noteworthy that Movistar, Sky and Orica Bike Exchange all have two riders in the top 10. Obviously that speaks to who the strongest GC teams are relative to the startlist, but that does seem somewhat odd, although perhaps those who have been following pro cycling longer than I could add more perspective.

    • It isn’t unusual for teams to have more than one rider up in the GC. Almost every GT this is the point. Maybe it’s a bit odd, because now it’s three teams. This could be due to the fact that La Vuelta isn’t normally targetted by GC contenders, as is mentioned below. Instead, it’s a nice bonus to the season or the last chance to make a terrible season worthwile.
      Another part of the explenation is that GC-talent seems to aggregate in a small number of teams. Movistar has Valverde and Quintana, Orica has Chaves en the Yates brothers, Sky has a large quantity of riders that can put in an at least decent GC effort (Froome, Kennaugh, König, Poels, Henao – perhaps twice-, Nieve, Landa, Roche, Kwiatkowski, Thomas), and Astana has Aru, Nibali, Lopez, Rosa, Fuglsang and Scarponi. They do this to surround their team captain with the best helpers available. Those helpers could in many cases seriously contend a top-10 or even podium themselves.
      Many other teams have, obviously, also GC contenders, but usually it’s just one or two, because they can’t afford more luxuary domestiques and/or also focus on other terrains (most notably sprints or the cobbled classics).

      Of course, this has been the case for almost as long as road cycling in commercial teams exists, but to me it seems that the last couple of years it’s getting more and more clustered into a few teams.
      Noteworthy is that Giant/Sunweb is building such a team for the years to come with Dumoulin, Barguil, Oomen and now Kelderman. Interesting to see wether they can take the step to the top GC-teams in the next couple of years.

    • As previously stated it is partly because GC teams bring domestiques that are capable of being in the top 10 in their own right.
      Another reason is that these super domedtiques are not having to do that much work due to the stages being mainly uphill sprints.
      This situation might change on Saturday as they might have to start working on the penultimate climb meaning they will lose time on the final climb whereas the likes of Talansky will be fresher and could move up on GC. A lot of ifs oe buts though because this is cycling and it is unpredictable !

  2. Some are tipping Matthias Frank for today also.
    He is riding well, like many of his team mates.

    I’ve seen your Twitter feeds, Inrng, where you’ve said that you didn’t feel that IAM’s upturn in fortunes was due to riders looking for new contracts elsewhere but how can their virtual anonymity last year have changed so dramatically otherwise?

    • They’ve often been on the attack but it hasn’t paid off. It’s hard to pin it down to a cause but the idea that they have to race well otherwise they’re out of a job doesn’t work as the ones winning at the moment are mainly those who have already got a contract for 2017.

      • A valid point however there appears to be a more carefree ‘why not’ attitude to their racing which was a bit stifled before. Now they are racing for themselves they seem willing to take more risks and this generally seems to pay off.
        That, or they’re just a bit more fortunate with the moves they’re making this year.
        Either way it has been refreshing to see them achieving good results.

  3. It’s probably a reflection of the fact that other teams do not target the Vuelta, so the strength of their squad may be less and the condition of their GC rider not as finely tuned as the bigger teams. Tinkoff would be the exception to that generalisation; as the team is about to fold, and Alberto no longer looks a credible GC prospect, I suspect there is little to ride for.

    • As for Contador I just think his heart isn’t in this Vuelta. He showed at the Giro last year just how good he still is, but I reckon he only cares about winning another Tour, the only race he really has something to prove in.

      • I’m always suspicious of those who base a rider’s status, form or worth on a performance in the Giro. Why? Because the Giro is the weakest grand tour of the year judged by its entrants. The simple fact is no one wanting to put in a creditable TDF performance does the Giro. That’s why Froome never does it and Quintana only has once (he won, of course). Its arguable that these two are the best grand tour riders in the world now. Yet they barely do the Italian race. Next ask yourself who Giro winners have to beat. Nibali had to beat Chaves and Kruijswijk this year. Good riders, to be sure, but would he have beat Contador, Froome or Quintana being four minutes down? Not a chance. Quintana beat Uran the year he won. Nibali beat Uran and Evans in 2013. You start to see my point? So the fact that Contador beat an Aru who, at that time, wasn’t even a grand tour winner and Landa, a guy on the same team as Aru and who, for a time, was better than his team leader, to my mind, does not speak volumes for “how good” Contador still is. To my mind it speaks of the fact he has fallen from his best. Where his attacks used to put EVERY rider in difficulty now, against the very best, they more often than not only put him in difficulty relative to them. Quintana and Froome are now a level above him.

        • You make some valid points, but being first up the Giro never becomes the consolation prize for riders whose Tour didn’t work out and/or those trying to impress during contract season. There is more to a race than start list alone, and I’d wager the Giro is a race more riders target specifically rather than being a last chance saloon like the Vuelta.

        • Overall, I definitely see your point RonDe. However, Contador’s Mortirolo ride last year surely was something special – a level or two above what he’s showing now?

        • You don’t take into account the fact that the three races are quite different in themselves and sometimes highlight very different qualities. Besides, 2015 apart, the Tour isn’t having *great* top-tens, either (yeah, not even when Nibali won or podiumed in it!). You look at the podium to decide “who you beat”, but the top-ten is often more relevant for the overall quality of the performance. But comparing the three GTs would be a complicated debate and we just had one elsewhere, so I’ll skip it.

          Contador put in two impressive athletic performance during the 2015 Giro: not only the Mortirolo, but also the ITT. The winner Kiryenka who bested Contador by some 14″ was having a *huge* year in ITT terms: he took part in ten, won half of them (including the WC) and had a 80% of top five placings. He was out of the first ten spots only once.
          And Contador had just four riders within a minute of difference (including those who beat him), which is quite a high level of selection (generally comparable to that produced by Froome).
          It’s not like the other big guys are producing more top level performance in a single GT, recently. Quite the other way around – that is, we haven’t see any performance of a comparable level (and I’d name the Vicenza stage, which was also impressive from a physical POV).
          We should also add to all that the high-level technical performances, even when they weren’t as shiny on a physical level, like the Verbania stage or the fact that he had to match a very strong team which constantly played out an extremely aggressive strategy. Something else we don’t see that often in other races.

          All that said, I agree that Contador’s best overall performaces from a physical POV were probably last seen in 2014, not in 2015. The difficulties he went through at the end of the 2015 Giro are already very significant.
          And it’s hard to see him growing better and better with age from last year on…

  4. Do you think there was an arangement between Devenyns and Ettix for De La Cruz victory?
    Would Ettix pay for something like this?
    It didn’t look obvious but I guess it is worth a good deal.

  5. Great preview as always.
    I definitely think Omar Fraile will be looking for the break today – what do reckon his chances are? He looks to be riding incredibly well – big win soon!

  6. Traditional wisdom says that Froome should be looking to make time up on Quintana since he is the one in arrears. Yet it seems to me more and more in this Vuelta that its actually Quintana who needs to make time. We really only have 3 more climbs before the time trial that is being seen as Froome’s “get out of jail free” card (stages 14, 15 and 17). Of those, only one stage is a genuine difference maker, stage 14 that finishes on the Aubisque, and the other two are the “short, sharp shocks” that we’ve become used to in Spain. So Aubisque is really the only place Quintana can hope to make big time now but for that to happen Froome will have to crack. I think this shows the weakness of the Colombian in that, as the Tour showed, he is just not as versatile as Froome. I doubt he could hope to make time on a stage like today’s, for example, even a few morale-boosting seconds such as Froome took on a windy day in southern France. Yet riders like Contador, Froome and Aru have all this year had success by attacking on a downhill, for example. Quintana is much more just an exceptionally good climber and his lack of versatility, I think, hurts him in the end.

    • I agree with the analysis, just a couple of observations;

      Stage 20 as well could be one to make up time. Ideal scenario I suppose is Froome edging ahead with the TT but not by much, so Q attacks on stage 20.

      This would be a risky strategy for Froome as well. Although the Movistar DS states that Q would need up to 3 minutes advantage prior to the TT, we won’t really know the relative form of each rider until they race it.

    • Stage 20 has a summit finish on the Alto de Aitana, which hasn’t featured much before, but looks like 22km of hurt. Quintana could conceivably take time here too, making up some of what he’s lost in the ITT. Also I don’t believe he needs 3 minutes or 2:30. 2 might be enough, given his form.

  7. Movistar has to try something unexpected, in order to sneak away from Froome and get that minute they need. Today is a good day.
    On the other, do you really think Devenyns sold the Naranco stage?

  8. I haven’t seen the stage highlights, but in the photographs that I have seen of Froomedog crossing the line, Nairo looks like he’s been distanced by a couple of seconds. However the results gave him the same time.

    Can anyone confirm if there was a gap, and if so how big was it roughly. In the photo above that looks like a gap of second or two.

    • My own view is that Quintana was at least as far behind Froome as Cobo was in 2011 on the same finish. On the previous occasion Froome was given a 1 second advantage. Here they were given the same time. I guess Froome will have to hope he doesn’t lose the Vuelta by 1 second.

      • Speaks to what Contador was saying the other day out the inconsistencies between commissars with regards to time gaps at the line. Both of single riders and groups.

    • I just saw both videos (guess why? 😉 ) and I’d say that Quintana is just shy of a second back (you can see that the chrono turns to one sec when Nairo’s wheel is already past the line), while Cobo is one and a half second back. I double-checked that with a stopwatch, the youtube timing and the race time as shown on TV and I’m quite sure… more or less 🙂
      Visually, you can notice it with a stopped frame, even if perspective may deceive.
      They were in a very similar position (Quintana even lost a little more time in the first moments of Froome’s sprint) but they had a different attitude in the final few secs which possibly made a difference.
      However, the question of the inconsistencies in timing is a fact.
      If times must be rounded off to the nearest unit, Quintana deserved without doubt the 1″ difference, while if you need the second to “have fully passed”, I’d say that the decision taken was correct.

    • I was also surprised by this, as there is almost always a time gap on mountain finishes to “reward” the first rider, if there is a slight gap between riders. I wonder if the commisaires just decided to give the same time as the gap wasn’t significant and Froome got the time bonus as a reward. Perhaps without time bonuses then they would have awarded Froome a 1 second win?

  9. Checked the highlights, it appears to be 1 sec between the two but they actually sprint for the line so the second could be void due to their actual speed.
    The time gaps are the responsibility of the finishing judge (a commissaire, yes) but more importantly the photo finish. It is my guess the photo finish showed less than 0.5 of a second between the F and Q hence the same time. Thte timing system at this level is quite elaborate and the line moved across the photo finish video is measured in [ms]. But: Placing the red line on the video is still a human task 😉

  10. It’s quite entertaining that you say
    “as of now it’s advantage Froome, he beat Quintana to the win and the time bonus. Quintana has only 54s on Froome which is not enough with the time trial in mind.”

    And yet on the Vuelta’s page it says of that TT stage
    “For the first time, the Vuelta will hold an Individual Time Trial in the second-last stage. 37km between Javea and Calpe, along the Mediterranean Coast that will surely be beautiful for the public to watch. It will be a very technical time trial, which will not make much of a difference to the general classification, keeping in mind that there is still another mountain stage ahead. The route will be favourable for rouleurs and time trial specialists, who will have the chance to obtain a stage victory.”

    Just who wrote that ? I think I prefer your take on it !

    Whoever designed the route of the Vuelta did so with the obvious intent that someone like Froome or even Contador, a better tester than a purer climber like Quintana, could be a minute or two down at this stage yet the tension would go right up to the wire
    – would they be able to recoup that time on the ITT ?
    – would the climber then be able to take it back on that last climbing day ?

    • I think regardless of the Froome va Quintana battle in the ITT (if there is one given that Quintana says he needs 3 minutes and his DS says 2 and a half!) the battle for the podium will be greater. Contador with a good performance could get back solidly onto the podium and get near enough to Quintana to have a good go on the Saturday’s mountain stage.
      My point is let’s not overlook the significance of TT performance in the top 10 generally.
      Obviously I do hope Froome loses a couple of minutes to make it really interesting, but I’m doubtful that will happen.

  11. Froome likes El Vivero, Team Sky is trying to launch riders up the road… Is Quintana going to lose more time today against an Astana-like move? That could hurt even more than the ITT.

  12. Another question – and slightly off topic: Will the Lance case be thrown out? I thought the trial judge was supposed to release some kind of decision this week? It sounds like they’re waiting until Friday afternoon before one of the last summer weekends to release the result so the blow back will be watered down over the weekend – that sounds to me like it’s going to get thrown out…

  13. Slightly off-topic maybe but Diego Vos suggests that a third of Sky’s team here (Kennaugh, Konig and Lopez) are in negotiations with Bahrain-Merida. (Along with an unspecified Henao).

    • Sky have been recruiting several new riders so it’s normal others have to leave. With Lampre-Merida’s Chinese takeover suddenly the Bahraini team is finding it harder to recruit riders, there are fewer on the market. König’s been said to be leaving for some time and Kennaugh’s been linked to BMC Racing before but decided to stay, perhaps he wants a team to take more chances.

      • Yes, I knew that Konig and Lopez were almost certainly gone and that Kennaugh had made past (loud) noises about not getting enough chances. Even so, hadn’t seen them linked with Bahrain. As you say, some riders agents vastly improved their hands with the Chinese Lampre takeover.

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