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La Vuelta Lowdown: The Mountains Are A Coming
nibali_red650 With a mountainous weekend of action ahead of us at the Vuelta and bad weather predicted this weekend could be the make or break time for the GC riders. Time to take a look at the results so far and see what’s ahead in what is proving to be a superb GrandTour of action so far.


From the GC perspective the three stages after the first rest day didn’t change much; other than seal the fate of Sergio Henao (Sky & Colombia) who dropped another four minutes on Vincenzo Nibali (Astana & Italy) in the Stage 11 time test and reveal Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R & Italy) as an unlikely chrono man – he now sits sixth on GC with his high mountain playgrounds still to come.

Oh, and welcome back, Fab.

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The ‘pure’ sprinters lost out again on the next two stages with Philippe Gilbert (BMC & Belgium) finally over coming that rainbow jersey hoodoo to land his first win in that nice white strip on Stage 12

Welcome back Phil.

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And then on Stage 13 the break finally ‘stuck’ with young Frenchman Warren Barguil out smarting some of the slyest foxes in the peloton to slip away and boost those Argos boys palmares even further.

Welcome to the club, Warren.

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The Stage 11 chrono on the face of it didn’t seem to be suited to a man of Cancellara’s robust build but the climb wasn’t steep; more of a long leg sapper and ideal for a man like Cancellara with watts to burn. The fast second half of the course was made for him however – his combination of raw power and skilled bike handling proving irresistible.

From being the ‘Tony Martin Show’ in the forthcoming Florence Worlds TT Champs it now looks like much more of a variety gala with Fab definitely back and Wiggins (Sky & GB) no doubt torturing himself on some horrific IT work out even as I write this.

Slowest of the top 10 GC riders was Moreno (Katusha & Spain) now in 10th, dropping an unhelpful 2:35 on Nibali and continuing to pay the price for all of those hill top dramatics. Saxo’s unspectacular but consistent Pole, Rafal Majk is in ninth spot with the high mountains where he revels still to come – keep an eye on him.

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And good to see a Frenchman in the top ten, F des J’s dashing Thibaud Pinot is eighth after a decent chrono where he dropped just over a minute on Nibali. Ivan Basso (Cannondale & Italy) continues to quietly go about business, now up to seventh overall and no doubt looking forward to the mountains.

As I said above, Pozzovivo was the surprise of the day, beating Nibali by one second and third on the day – he sits sixth on GC and if he can still climb the way he did in the 2012 Giro then he could go even higher.

But if he’s been training specifically for time trials then he can expect to have lost some of that climbing edge. Moreno’s amigo, Joaquim Rodriguez dropped one minute less than his compatriot and team mate on the versatile ‘Shark of the Straights,’ who seems to perform well on all types of dry land – even when it’s snowing.

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It’s not a disaster for Rodriguez who’s now fifth, but it again proves that no matter how much he talks down the Tour still being in his legs – it is.

He laboured on the climb, seemingly over-geared on the very part of the parcours which should have suited him most. And he’s not helped by the UCI rules which forbid undersize front wheels; a factor which would help him as a small man get more aero on the TT bike – he never looks comfortable.

In fourth spot on GC is the man who started the stage in the red leader’s jersey, Chris Horner (Radio Shack & USA) it wasn’t a great chrono for the man with the skinny legs but not a disaster either. If he continues to climb as he did on Stage 10 then that 90 seconds he lost to Nibali can be recovered; but the ‘Bigs’ won’t sit looking at each other the next time he heads off up the road.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar & Spain) didn’t have a good day; unhappy with an ill-fitting skinsuit he also had to change a wheel – factors which make his surrendering just 27 seconds to Nibali look highly respectable. He currently fills the last spot on the podium; but the question is one of whether he can continue his aggression atop the climbs – the next three days will give us the answer.

But you have to admire the man’s determination – in the last kilometre of the race he was on the ragged edge in search of every second.

The Emerald Isle’s Nico Roche again impressed, losing just 23 seconds to Nibali during a highly committed ride in the time trial; and with Majka giving the Danish/Russian squad two aces to play in the top ten. If you count his time as a stagiaire with Cofidis in 2004 this will be his tenth pro season – nine of those with French teams – so it’s taken him a long time to reach this level.

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Nico Roche back at the start of his pro career as a stagaire with Cofidis

If you’re a dinosaur like me you’ll remember his dad, Stephen bursting on to the scene with four stage race wins in his first year as a pro with Peugeot in 1981 – the Tour d’Indre-et-Loire, the Tour de Corse, the Etoile de Espoirs and Paris-Nice. That’s a lot to live up to – currently in second spot a Vuelta podium would be a nice line on his palmares to go with his stage win.

But it’s the Pyrenees which will decide that . . .

Nibali continues to do the job; he’s good against the watch, that nice position doing him no harm at all; and despite a bee sting which caused him a lot of discomfort he gained time on all of his rivals, except Pozzovivo who beat him by a solitary second. But whilst it’s hard to see the little Italian being on the podium in Madrid it’s much easier to envisage the Sicilian hanging on to red into the Spanish capital.

Stage 12 and finally Phil gets the flowers. The break went, got brought back and just as it looked like one for the pure fast twitch guys would get to kiss the pretty girls, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky & Norway) showed us he’s nearly back to the form which can win him Classics and Tour de France stages with an early jump taking him clear of the peloton.

But Gilbert saw the danger and realised that this was one of his very last chances to lift the ‘curse’ and win in the rainbow jersey, he locked on to the blond strong man, timed it well – and win he did.

Stage 13 always looked too tough for the sprinters – and so it proved with a quality group going clear. Former Giro winner (or not, depending on which website you look at) Michele Scarponi (Lampre & Italy) was there as was former Tour de France yellow jersey holder, Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R & Italy) and big strong early Tour contender, Bauke Mollema (Belkin & The Netherlands).

But the man who out-foxed the foxes was 21 year-old Frenchman Warren Barguil riding for Argos – a squad which you under estimate at your peril. He slipped away in the last 1,000 metres to leave nothing tastier than second spot on the table for Nocentini.

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But the men in the break should have been aware that Barguil is a class act; fifth with a stage win in the 2011 Tour de l’Avenir he came back last year, took another stage and won the race overall. And podiums in big U23 races like Paris-Tours and GP Cristal Energie in France mark his potential.

The GC was unaffected by these two stages; but it was unlucky 13 for Movistar as they lost Road Captain Pablo Lastras to a crash with Capo Alejandro Valverde having to change a wheel and then enduring a painful blow on the arm from a spectator. But Fabian, Phil and Warren will all be in the gruppetto for the next three days as the race heads into the Pyrenees.

Andorra is the destination on Saturday for Stage 14 – but not to check out the cheap electrical goods and cameras the tiny country is famous for – to sample the delights of a hors category climb, a first, a second then finish atop a first cat. This will be the watershed of the Vuelta; survive today and you can think about the podium.

Sunday’s Stage 15 is another horror, leaving Andorra and crossing into France via four first cat climbs to a mountain top finish. On paper Monday’s Stage 15 doesn’t look too savage – with ‘just’ a third and second cat climb before the final first cat ascent to the line – but that goes on for 30 K.

Not a stage to have a late crisis on.

By Monday night the winner may not be decided – but the losers certainly will.

nibali_red
Nibali’s looking over his shoulder but who’s coming up? Rodriguez? Roche? Valverde?

General Classification After Stage 13
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 49:29:02
2 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:31
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:46
4 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard
5 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:02:33
6 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:44
7 Ivan Basso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:02:52
8 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr 0:03:35
9 Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:03:46
10 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha 0:03:56
11 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:04:08
12 Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team 0:05:05
13 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:05:46
14 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:06:38
15 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Movistar Team 0:06:47

 

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