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Villanova de Arousa to Sanxenxo, TTT - 27km
The Vuelta organisers have certainly found a novel way to start the 2013 race, with a Team Trial Time starting off from a 'Balea' or  a floating wooden pontoon traditionally used for shellfish farming in the Galicia region.

The stage doesn't start until 7pm and heads south close to the coast for 27km on mostly flat roads, which should see some very fast speeds. It will be very important for those with GC ambitions to post good times to put themselves on the front foot heading in to the mountainous second stage. The riders should have a tail/slight cross wind for most of their journey south, so it will be the stronger teams who will fare best in possible blustery conditions.

Orica Green-Edge threw up a 20/1 surprise at the Tour in taking the Team Time Trial from OPQS but I can't see the same result this time around with many of the power houses they had for the Tour not taking to the starting ramp on Saturday afternoon. They are as big as 17/1 again for this one but I can't see it happening for a second time!

Omega Pharma Quick Step are the very short 5/4 favourites to win the stage and that is almost entirely down to the power of Tony Martin! Even in an almost crippled state he very nearly pulled the team to a stage win only to be pipped by OGE by less than a second. With Meersman, Stybar, Fenn and De Weert in the team they should be good enough to justify the favouritism and short odds.

Astana are second favourites at 11/4 - Nibali has the assistance of Grivko, Tiralongo, Brajkovic, Fuglsang and co in what looks like a very strong team. Its whether they can pull it together as well as OPQS is the question. Also - do Astana really want to be holding the leader's jersey so early in the race?

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Vuelta a Espana Preview

24 Aug 13 00:50
This year's Vuelta looks like being one of the most open stage races of the year, if not many years, with no clear favourite currently dominating at the top of the betting like Froome did at the Tour and Wiggins was at the Giro.

It is a particularly hard race this year with no fewer than 11 stages that can be classed as 'Mountaineous' and very little chances for the sprinters to shine along the way. The race starts with a rather unusual opening stage, a Team Time Trial, which will see the GC ordered mostly by team (except for those dropped from their squads on the way to the line) heading in to stage 2. Will Movistar go all guns blazing in the TTT to make it two wins in two years in the TTT, or will they let someone else have the honour (and stress/workload) of controlling the race so early in to the three weeks?

With only one other time trial to come later on in stage 11 (and that's a relatively short 38kms), the race is made for climbers and puncheurs and it is little surprise to see the likes of Nibali, Valverde and Rodriguez vying for favouritism. Just below the surface of these three key GC men are a whole stack of riders who could take advantage of any weaknesses by the big three to sneak in to a podium spot. Riders like Betancur, Henao, Majka, Mollema, Kreuziger, Martin and Samu Sanchez will be right in the mix come the steeper slopes and should make it an excellent, open, attacking race.

The course is examined in more detail here but it could all kick in to life as early as the second stage with the summit finish up to Alto de Monte da Grabo. This could well see the likes of Betancur and Henao squaring up and attacking the bigger GC favourites trying to put them under pressure early. It's also the kind of finish for the likes of Dan Martin and Rodriguez too though, the first road stage should really whet the appetite for the three weeks to come.

The course is lumpy from then on with very few chances for the sprinters, and once again the riders hit mountains with three hard summit finishes in Andalusia, including the brute that is Valdepeñas de Jaen on stage 9 which hits an incredible 30% maximum gradient. Stage 10 is also another leg breaker, ending on the race's first Especial climb (Vuelta's equivalent of a HC climb) the Alto Hazallanas.

A rest day is followed by a 38km TT, then three hard stages in the Pyrenees, including a trip over the border in to France to tackle the Peyragudes, a continuation of the often used Tour climb the Col de Peyresourde. As if the riders haven't had enough of mountains at this stage, they still have to hit some of the hardest stages on the race, with the summit finish of the Peña Cabarga on stage 18 and the horrible Algliru on stage 20 still to come. In case you don't know of the Angliru, this brute is 12.2km long with an average gradient of 10.3%, hitting 23.5% maximum and hits 21% inside the final kilometer. When Juan Jose Cobo rode to victory here in 2011 he pedalled away from a cracking Bradley Wiggins using a 34 front chain ring and a 32 at the back!

The final stage in to Madrid should be only a procession along the lines of the ride in to the Champs Elysees in Paris, much to the relief of what's left of the Peloton you should imagine.

Read more on the favourites and betting recomendations at
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