The Vuelta a España has started with a team time trial for the last couple of years and usually, for several days afterwards, the overall classification is block-booked by team leaders and their teammates. This year, however should see a shake-up from Stage 2 as it’s the first of 11 mountain top finishes and is bound to throw up some unpredictable performances.
Last year’s Spanish Tour coming as it did after a rather mechanical and lackluster Tour de France was a revelation. Grand Tour specialists who had missed the top step in Paris were pitted against arguably the strongest rider from Sky who was now released and allowed to ride all-out for the victory. This year, neither Froome (Sky) nor Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) are riding, both for very different reasons but the sparks should fly nonetheless. Ed’s already given you his prediction of Nibali (Astana) as the likely winner but I’m going to go with ‘Purito’ Rodríguez (Katusha) as my favorite as I think this has to be his year. He’s learned from the mistakes of last year and was careful not to peak too quickly in France. It’ll be a close-run thing because on the strength of yesterday’s TTT the Astana squad were easily the best-disciplined team on the course.
Today’s stage starts in Pontevedra and runs south then south west before hitting the port city of Vigo and turning inland in order to tackle the 3rd category climb of Alto de San Cosme after 63 km. This shouldn’t prove much of a problem though as the big hitters will be keeping their powder dry for the finish to Alto do Monte da Groba after 177 km of racing. It’s not a particularly difficult ascent with the lower ramps being the steepest but at only 11km long it shouldn’t be dangerous enough to cause any major problems other than shaking out the GC.
The Stage flyover from Global Cycling Network
And We’re Off
With Astana sitting in control after Day 1 it was inevitable that with a pancake-flat start to today’s parcours there would be the usual breakaway. While the race will head towards the baking Levante heat of Andalucía in a few days time, today’s weather is a pleasant 22 degrees Celsius with a favorable 20 kph wind and this encouraged Greg Henderson (Lotto Belisol) to be the first rider to make a move. He was quickly joined by Alex Rasmussen (Garmin Sharp) and Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) and with Astana content to let the break go they began to increase their lead. By the time they reached the foot of this year’s first climb after 52 km they had an advantage of 9:12. With Rasmussen forcing on the climb by the time they rolled over the summit led by the Spaniard the lead had stretched out to just over 11 minutes. This puts Aramendia into the blue polkadot jersey for the time being with Henderson the virtual leader on the road, but with 113 km still to go that was bound to change.
Garmin Sharp has had a difficult start to the Vuelta with two of the team crashing heavily in the TTT yesterday and Ireland’s Dan Martin only narrowly avoided being brought down himself. With Koldo Fernandez breaking a rib and banging his knee, although he travelled to today’s start he opted not to ride so the squad is already down to eight riders. However, Rasmussen led the breakaway trio through the first intermediate sprint at Ponteareas so perhaps Garmin’s luck is turning. The old ratio that used to dictate whether or not a break would stay away was that they had to have one minute for every ten kilometers remaining and with 88km to go, and a lead of 12:37, the break began to think that they could survive to the end. That ratio, though, usually doesn’t hold with an uphill finish but with Astana content to ride tempo at the front of the peloton anything could happen. This was to be the pattern of the day and with 60km to go, and after 3 hours of racing, the break was still at 12 and a half minutes.
The Chase is On
The first team to react to the advantage of the leading trio was Lampre-Merida who now came to the front and began to work with Astana no doubt thinking of their man Michele Scarponi who was at 56” in the GC behind Red Jersey wearer Janez Brajkovic (Astana). As the race headed back towards the coast and the second intermediate sprint at A Guarda there was a definite change in the attitude of the bunch. Team leaders such as Basso (Cannondale) and Valverde (Movistar) began to move through the peloton flanked by their respective teammates and in the space of 10km the lead was cut by over a minute. The Sky double-header of Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran were also seen near the front but the work continued to be done by Astana and Lampre-Merida and pretty soon another minute had been claimed back.
As the leaders rolled through the second sprint at A Guarda Henderson was unchallenged as thoughts of staying away were uppermost. However, with Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) now helping drive the peloton the gap was steadily dropping as they hit the Atlantic coast and turned northwards again. The headwind began to play its part and with 30km to the finish the gap was down to 7 minutes and continued to drop at an accelerated pace.
As the three leaders made the right-hand turn and came onto the lower slopes of the Alto do Monte da Groba the combined effect of the headwind, the undulating roads and the increased speed of the peloton had taken its toll and the trio only had an advantage of 90 seconds and it wasn’t going to be enough. All of the GC contenders had made their way to the front of the bunch in preparation for the narrower road and they were all being very attentive, jockeying for position.
The original attacker Henderson was the first to give in. Aramendia and Rasmussen continued but with the peloton lining out on the steeper lower parts of the climb their days were numbered and they were quickly caught. This was the springboard for an attack by Txurruka (Caja Rural) and he opened up a gap of 50 meters but it wasn’t enough and he was soon back in the bunch. Riders were beginning to be dropped and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), still short of racing days since he broke his collarbone, was obviously feeling the pace. Another rider to feel the hard pace was Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel Euskadi) as Movistar was pushing the pace at the front. Race leader Brajkovic was also near the back with 5km to go.
The race was never going to be won on a stage like this but it could certainly be lost and Sky’s main contender Henao lost contact as Sánchez had his teammates around him in an attempt to get back on but Movistar was not going to give anyone any favors and were stomping at the front.
The Final Kick
The Red Jersey group was now down to 20 riders with Brajkovic hanging in there but Movistar had five riders at the head of affairs as they hit the harder slopes 2 km from the finish. Bang! Konig (NetApp-Endura) shot off the front and nobody wanted to be the first to chase and he quickly got a gap only for Moreno (Katusha), Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Pozzovivo (AG2r) to push clear of the group and get on his wheel. Pozzovivo attacked but this was countered by Nicolas Roche and nobody was going to hold back the Irishman. The others no longer had the legs and he took a fine win.
The fast improving team of NetApp-Endura came so close with the attack of Leopold Konig but the biggest losers of the day, and maybe the whole tour, were Sánchez of Euskaltel and Henao of Sky. The Basque team is desperate to put on a final show before disappearing from professional cycling and Team Sky are now in a difficult position as the role of leader will fall to Uran who will move to Omega Pharma Quick Step next year. The race leader’s jersey passes to the shoulders of the bookmaker’s favorite Nibali (Astana) with Roche holding second place overall followed by RadioShack Leopard’s Haimar Zubeldia.
As expected, the top ten now contains riders from five different teams and with two more stages in Galicia, finishing at the End of the World, before the race transfers south to Extremadura where we can expect more fireworks in a Vuelta that’s already shaping up to be another fantastic Grand Tour.
Keep it Pez for all the action.
Stage 2 Results:
1 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 4:37:09
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha 0:00:02
3 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:06
4 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:00:11
5 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:12
6 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida
7 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
8 Ivan Basso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:00:14
9 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
10 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling
General Classification After Stage 2:
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 5:07:22
2 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:08
3 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:10
4 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard
5 Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) RadioShack Leopard
6 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:00:22
7 Ben Hermans (Bel) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:27
8 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
9 Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:32
10 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Team Saxo-Tinkoff