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Vuelta a España

La Vuelta Lowdown St.2: Heartbreaker Or Hot Lover?
vuelta13st02-rochetongue650 An opening weekend unlike anything we’ve seen at a Grand Tour – but then a Team Time Trial followed by a mountain top finish are bound to shake the race a bit … Ed Hood’s analysis will either clear things up or muddy the waters… perhaps you should decide.


Sky’s New Leader?
It’s not often I get it right and Sky’s Capo Sir David Brailsford gets it wrong, but I did say in my preview that I’d have made Rigoberto Uran the team leader not his Columbian compatriot Sergio Henao.

vuelta13st02-rochetongue
Nicolas Roche let his legs do the talking in stage 2.

And the Alto Do Monte Da Groba at the end of Stage Two of the 2013 Vuelta Espana duly endorsed my suggestion penalising Henao 2:41 on stage winner Nico Roche (Saxo & Ireland). One of the pre-race favourites for the podium, Henao now sits in 49thspot @ 2:49 behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana & Italy).

Team mate Uran sits in a much healthier sixth spot at just 22 seconds.

At least the Colombian’s punishment came after 178 kilometres at the top of a 1st category climb – Stage One was over just 27 kilometres with not a categorised climb on the agenda but it also dished out some severe chastisements.


The TTT: Punishment or Pleasure?
The team time trial is like that woman who broke your heart; on her day, beautiful, svelte and poetry in motion – but on a bad day, dour and soul searing, filling your heart with mental and physical pain.

The cool start on the mussel cultivating batea pontoon over a glass ramp with pretty girls as ‘holders’ provided a novel and glamorous atmosphere. That soon degenerated into a nightmare as team after team feel to pieces on the technical but tail wind driven parcours.

Many riders explained that because the tail wind was so strong when they tucked back on the wheel there was little impression of drafting and recovery was very difficult.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha & Catalonia) and his boys failed to live up to the team’s name – the Katyusha was a multiple rocket launcher used by the Russian forces with devastating effect against the Germans in World War Two – and delivered a damp squib of a TTT, costing the little chap 59 seconds on winners Nibali & Co – also known as Astana.

vuelta13st01-basso

Things were even worse for Nibali’s compatriot, Ivan Basso (Cannondale & Italy) dropping a whopping 1:26 to the Kazakh Blue Train.

Despite Nibali’s protestations that it’s been a long year and he’s tired, Astana didn’t send a team of such obvious quality to see him defeated.

And my tip for the podium, Carlos Betancur (AG2R & Colombia) conceded a disastrous 1:59 on the Giro winner.


Astana rode a well judged race and showed their strength in depth – there were still seven riders in the string ‘til late in the day and they finished with six whilst many squads were down to the bare minimum five.

A shortcoming exposed in many of the teams was that management hadn’t worked out a system to signal to their squad if the lost a rider. A simple pre-arranged number of horn blasts would have sufficed – the problem is that the riders coming back down the line don’t know if a man has been shed and they’re counting the riders back down the line.

But if a man is missing and you don’t know then you’ll move across to tuck in on a wheel which isn’t there and at speeds of 60 kph – which is what the teams are travelling at on the straights – it can be fatal, one length becomes two, three and it’s over.


Stage 2: Things Are Different In Spain
Stage Two illustrated a number of things – the first one being that the Vuelta isn’t the Tour as the break of Alex Rasmussen (Garmin Sharp), Greg Henderson (Lotto Belisol) and Francisco Aramandia (Caja Rural) was allowed to soar away to 12 minutes lead – that just doesn’t happen in the Tour anymore, everyone is far too nervous.

The trio eventually succumbed on the final climb to the finish with Rasmussen and Aramendia last to be swallowed whole by the Movistar driven peloton. And you have to hand it to those Caja Rural boys – point a TV camera in their general direction and their off up that road like ferrets. Cofidis please take note.

vuelta13st02-nibali
Astana’s Nibali steps into the Red jersey, but knows this race is only just starting.

The final 11 K to the line answered a lot of questions about who can and can’t win this race. But it has to be mentioned that there are few scenarios which hurt more than churning a big gear along flattish roads for four hours then hitting a hard climb – some legs simply can’t handle the change in tempo and cadence.

It was by no means the toughest hill the peloton will encounter in this Vuelta but with its variable grades it was a swine to find a rhythm on. Movistar made it clear today that they’re serious about Alejandro Valverde winning this race; setting a ferocious tempo which quickly exposed that Samuel Sanchez has perhaps been spending too much time on the cel phone and computer trying to confirm his employment for 2014 rather than doing the kind of training it takes to grapple with Valverde, Nibali and the other big beasts.

Much more surprising was the sight of Henao’s black clad figure sliding backwards and out of the back door – the podium now looks a remote possibility for him and for Sanchez it’s over.

And it’s hard to imagine that Sanchez’s team mate and compatriot Igor Anton looked set to win the Vuelta only a year or two ago, crashing out whilst in red. Today he dropped five minutes.

And on the subject of disastrous days, what has my podium third spot tip been doing since the Giro? Initially I couldn’t find Carlos Betancur on the stage result – then I looked further down, 142nd @ 9:53, oh dear. Mentally, the horrific AG2R TTT is probably what finished him – I just hope you didn’t put any money on him?

My other two tips for first and second are well there, though.

vuelta13st02-valverde

Nibali wears red without going too deep today; whilst Valverde was fifth on the stage and is now in the top ten, despite a little below par TTT from the ‘Telephone Squad.’

Fifth at 29 seconds is a little less quick than we expected – but today it was his boys who detonated the race and he looks very frisky.

And of course, I have to mention Nico Roche’s great ride, it’s too early to brand him as a podium contender because the ‘Bigs’ weren’t going too deep today but nonetheless the man is on form and if Kreuziger falters after his hard work in le Tour it looks as if the Danish team could do a lot worse than put their chips on Roche’s number.

Respect too must go to the NetApp-Endura, seventh in the TTT and Leo Koenig fourth today – trying for a repeat of his California stage win. On this form the German team look like they’ll nab a stage before Madrid.

And maybe it is too early to write Ivan Basso’s (Cannondale & Italy) obituary – right there today and that grim last week is right up his street.

Sprinter stage on Monday – maybe . . .

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