Saturday, August 31, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 9 Preview & Favorites

As suggested in the preview yesterday, we got the second Czech stage win in a row when Leopold König won stage 8. NetApp Endura had been working in front of the peloton for most of the day and this was truly an impressive victory for the wild card team.

Stage 9 is one I’ve personally been looking forward too. On paper, this is not a very demanding stage but the final 45 km are very tough. There aren’t any big climbs on the menu but with just 22 km to, the peloton faces Alto de la Frailes. The 6.2 km towards the top have an average gradient of 5.8 % and we can expect Katusha and Movistar to set a furious pace. Coming down from the top, the first 7 km are flat before the final kilometer rises towards the line. In 2010 and 2011 we had a single rider in front at this point (Uran in 2010 & Moncoutie in 2011) but you need almost a minute before the final kilometer if you want to make it all the way.

The final 1000 meters up to the finishing line is extremely steep. There are gradients of nearly 30 % and not surprisingly, Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez is the big favorite. In 2010, he attacked too early and ran out of gas as Igor Antón went away on the final 300 meters. In 2011, Purito took no chances. His teammate Dani Moreno hit the front as soon as the steep gradients started and only Purito, Vincenzo Nibali and Wout Poels managed to follow. Nibali couldn’t keep up the pace and like Antón the year before, Purito put in his final attack with 300 meters to go.

I expect the same scenario this year. The way I see it, nobody can beat Purito & Moreno on the finish like this one. Dani Moreno seems to be in the shape of his life right now and knowing that Purito is the team leader, I think they will try to repeat the performance from 2011. Vincenzo Nibali was the first to respond to Katusha’s attacks in 2010 and 2011 but it seems like he’s still missing a little bit at this point.

It starts to show that Alejandro Valverde wants to win the World Champions more than the Vuelta. However, few have Valverde’s killer instinct when he sees the line. The steep gradients are definitely better suited for Purito than for Valverde but compared to Nibali and Basso, Valverde should be able to gain a little time.

Nicolas Roche is new rider in the Red Jersey and as I pointed out in the overall preview, the Irishman seems to be extremely motivated to finally crack top5 overall in a Grand Tour. Roche finished 8th in Valdepeñas de Jaén in both 2010 and 2011. I think the Saxo-Tinkoff leader will probably lose 7-10 seconds to Purito on this stage and therefor Roche shouldn’t have problems keeping the Red Jersey. The only way - as I see it - that Roche can lose the jersey is if Moreno wins the stage - gets the 10 bonus seconds - and distances Roche with 7 seconds.

Another important factor at this point in the race is the fatigue. This is the 9th stage in a row without a rest day and many riders will be on the limits. Add to that the extreme temperatures the last couple of days. Samuel Sanchez, Roman Kreuziger & Bauke Mollema are already almost out of the GC and we could see a few more lose ground this Sunday. The time differences won’t be very big but if you have a bad day, you can easily lose 45 seconds on the final kilometer. It may not sound of much but it’s of huge psychological value.

It’s difficult to point at a joker for this stage. Purito and Moreno are in a league of their own on this kind of finishes and without Carlos Betancur in good shape, no one really has what it takes to beat them. Sergio Henao and Domenico Pozzovivo are both strong on the steep gradients but they need to attack right from the bottom if they want to win this stage. Pozzovivo’s teammate Rinaldo Nocentini is usually good on a finish like this but against the GC riders, I doubt he win. Igor Antón came close on stage 8 but I don’t think he has the same kick he had in 2010 when he won. Wout Poels too is far from his Vuelta shape from 2011 when he finished 2ndA super joker could be Ivan Santaromita. The Italian champion is in great shape right now and with only 58 kg to carry, he has what it takes to stay in front on the steep gradients.

Last but not least, we can’t forget about the World Champion Philippe Gilbert. Like last year, he seems to be getting better and better as the Vuelta progresses. Had this been 2011, we all know who would win the stage. However, Gilbert doesn’t have the same kick he had two years ago and with parts of 30 %, I can’t see him beat Purito and Moreno. He may take 3rd place on the stage but to me, it would be a little surprising to see him take his first win in the rainbow jersey here.

Eurosport is covering this year’s Vuelta a España intensively. Before and after each stage you will get inside information from the many interviews with the riders. The interviewer is Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer. She knows what’s going on inside the peloton and each day she will get you her own personal winner picks for the stage.

For Stage 9, Laura picks Joaquim 'Purito' Rodriguez to win. 

For live coverage of the stage go to

Friday, August 30, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 8 Preview & Favorites

Another sprint stage turned into a crazy cat and mouse game. Zdenek Stybar showed his class once again when he out-sprinted Philippe Gilbert. The World Champion is therefore still winless in the rainbow jersey.
The sprinters have had their chances the last three days in a row and now it’s time for the GC riders to take charge. Stage 8 is only 166.6 km long and that makes for a fast day under the hot Andalusian sun. The first 125 km of the stage will take place in head- and crosswind. The break has a good chance of making it all the way and we can expect a furious fight to get into that final break.

With about 40 km to go the riders turn left and continue alongside the coast. There is an intermediate sprint in Estepona and four kilometers later, the final climb begins. Peñas Blancas is a category 1 climb and the 14.5 km towards the top have an average gradient of 6.6 %. The first couple of kilometers are very steep with parts over 12 %. The next part is not very steep but it’s constantly up and down and it will be very difficult to keep a steady rhythm. The last 8 km, however, have a steady gradient of 7-8 % and contrary to the beginning of the stage, the riders now have a tailwind all the way to the line. The change of wind favors the opportunistic riders but in the end, it’s all about having the best legs.

Many riders are not familiar with this climb but one rider knows it like the back of his hand. I talked about Luis Angel Maté in the preview for stage 7. He didn’t make the break but it would surprise me not to see him try this Saturday. Maté rides Peñas Blancas a couple of times a week and he knows every meter towards the finishing line. You may not think of Maté as a climber but he’s been getting better and better uphill the recent years. In the Tour de France this summer he was the last rider to help teammate Dani Navarro finish in Top10 overall. On the final mountain stage to Annecy, Maté finished 27th in front of strong climbers like Antón, Ten Dam and Rolland.

In case the GC riders end up gunning for the stage win, Alejandro Valverde must be the favorite. Valverde has been eager to point out that for him the World Champions is more important than the Vuelta. However, the Movistar leader is in great shape and the steady finish suits him very well. Furthermore, Valverde is very fast on the line and should the top favorites arrive together, I can’t see anybody outsprinting him. The only thing talking against Valverde is that he doesn't know the climb. Valverde’s teammates Javi Moreno, Eros Capecchi and José Herrada could also be jokers for the stage win. Especially Herrada has been extremely strong, leading the peloton whenever the road kicks up.

Peñas Blancas. 14.5 km / avg. 6.6 % - Click for lager view.
Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez is already 53 seconds after Vincenzo Nibali in the overall classification. The Spanish climber knows he has to gain time whenever he can but this isn’t really a great climb for Purito. He will ‘enjoy’ the first couple of kilometers with steep gradients and constantly change of rhythm. However, the final 8 km with steady gradients won’t make it easy for Purito to drop his rivals. Instead, teammate Dani Moreno may put in another attack and take advantage of his great shape. Riders like Ivan Basso and Samuel Sanchez are normally very good on these kind of climbs and I expect to see both of them in the front as well.

The leading rider, Vincenzo Nibali, won’t have any problems on Peñas Blancas. Paolo Tiralongo, Janez Brajkovic and Jakob Fuglsang will be supporting their team leader on the climb and especially Fuglsang looks very strong right now. Nibali knows he can take time on his rivals in the individual time trial in a couple of days and he doesn’t need to attack already. Before the Vuelta started, Nibali said he was starting out on 75 % of his maximum level. So far, the Italian shark has been showing great shape but on a tough climb like this one, it may be best to ride a little cautious. Of course, if Nibali sees a chance to attack in the final and get the 10 bonus seconds, he won’t think twice.

One of my personal outsiders for the stage win is Leopold König. His countryman Stybar won stage 7 and it won’t be a big surprise if we get another Czech win on Saturday. König arrived to the Vuelta in great shape and he put in a strong attack on stage 2. Nicolas Roche ended up winning the stage but the NetApp Endura captain showed his great climbing legs. Peñas Blancas suits Leo König very well and if the favorites start looking at each other, I’m sure König will take his chance.

Other good candidates for the stage win are Domenico Pozzovivo, who’s in outstanding shape right now, Chris Horner, who is aiming to take back the Red Jersey, Bauke Mollema, who looks very strong and Sergio Henao, who is eager to take back the time he lost on stage 2.

Eurosport is covering this year’s Vuelta a España intensively. Before and after each stage you will get inside information from the many interviews with the riders. The interviewer is Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer. She knows what’s going on inside the peloton and each day she will get you her own personal winner picks for the stage.

For Stage 8, Laura picks Alejandro Valverde to win. 

For live coverage of the stage go to

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 7 Preview & Favorites

What an effort from Tony Martin on stage 6. Alone in front from the start to the end, well almost to the end. Fabian Cancellara got a jump on the Argos-Shimano train and performed a perfect leadout for Michael Mørkøv who won the stage. This is only the second professional win in Mørkøv’s career. The first one came in June earlier this year when he won the Danish Championship. Impressive.

Stage 7 is another flat stage and after missing out on Thursday, I’m sure the sprinters’ teams won’t take any chances. The peloton continues south into Andalucía and without a single categorized climb, this won’t be a difficult day in the saddle. The GC riders will have their mind fixed on tomorrow’s mountain stage and they will hope for a quiet day in the peloton.

Everybody managed to stay upright despite the technical finish on stage 6 and hopefully the same will happen Friday afternoon. Once again the race organizers have put in numerous obstacles on the final kilometers. Six roundabouts within the last three kilometers are what the riders have to overcome. The last one, turning right, is placed just 700 meters from the line. The road slightly bends to the left on the last 300 meters and first rider out of this bend most likely wins the stage.

It’s another technical finish but luckily the riders will have a chance to get to know it before it counts. There is an intermediate sprint on the finishing line with 31.4 km to go and knowing the route will hopefully keep everybody upright in the final.

Argos-Shimano almost managed to set up Ramon Sinkeldam perfectly on stage 6. Tony Martin’s strong effort made them take the lead a little too early and they paid for their work in the end. Sinkeldam was extra motivated to win on his wife’s birthday but despite great legs, he couldn’t do better than 15th place. As I mentioned yesterday, this isn’t Argos-Shimano’s top leadout team. It’s a young team but they still show a lot of power taking the lead. I think it will be a “normal” bunch sprint on stage 7 and if they manage to set up Ramon Sinkeldam again, he could take the peloton by surprise.

The final 5 kilometers of stage 7. Click for larger view.
Like Argos-Shimano, also GreenEdge have a couple of strong guys for the sprints. Michael Matthews is obviously the fastest one right now but a flat sprint like this one is probably better for Leigh Howard. Matthews said that everything now is just a bonus but I’m sure the Australians are very eager to take another win. Matthews is now riding in the green points jersey and the despite the many mountains, this could be a goal for him. It won’t be easy but if GreenEdge decides to go for him in all the sprints, I can’t see why he shouldn’t win a handful more stages.

Max Richeze has been second the last two days in a row and he’s definitely one of the favorites for this stage. The Argentinian sprinter is getting better and better as the race goes on. He doesn’t have that final leadout rider to deliver him in the sprints but he’s very fast on the final meters. Richeze needs to get on the right wheel and he if manages so, he could very well end up winning this stage.

Tyler Farrar couldn’t to better than fourth place on stage 6 but to be fair, Farrar was very fast in the end. The American’s big problem is his positioning. Personally, I don’t understand why Garmin doesn’t wait until the end before taking the lead. Alex Rasmussen is a brilliant leadout rider and if Farrar enters the last bend on the wheel of Rasmussen, he will be extremely difficult to beat.

Omega Pharma Quickstep will most likely try to set up Gianni Meersman again on stage 7. The Belgian sprinter doesn’t seem to be as fast as Matthews and Richeze right now but with a little bit of luck, Omega Pharma Quickstep may finally take a stage win.

I also have to mention Michael Mørkøv among the candidates after his impressive win on stage 6. The Danish Champion said he was sure he would win when he saw the finish line on the wheel of Cancellara. Obviously he’s in great shape right now. Usually, Mørkøv works hard for his teammates but after his win in Cáceres, I’m sure he will be eager to try again in Mairena Del Aljarafe.

The way I see it, there is 95 % chance of this stage ending in a bunch sprint. A break will definitely get away in the beginning but they know it’s almost doomed. It’s usually local riders and riders from the smaller teams who get into these kind of breakaways and as one of the semi-locals, look out for Luis Angel Maté. El Lince Andaluz is not afraid of attacking despite poor chances of succeeding and I’m sure we will see the Cofidis rider in a break soon. If not this Friday then definitely in the weekend.

Eurosport is covering this year’s Vuelta a España intensively. Before and after each stage you will get inside information from the many interviews with the riders. The interviewer is Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer. She knows what’s going on inside the peloton and each day she will get you her own personal winner picks for the stage.

For Stage 7, Laura picks Michael Matthews to win. 

For live coverage of the stage go to

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 6 Preview & Favorites

After missing out on stage 4, Michael Matthews did a perfect sprint to win stage 5. GreenEdge worked all day in front of the peloton all day long and in the sprint, nobody came close to the young Australian. Garmin tried to set up Tyler Farrar but they will soon have to realize that Farrar’s day as a top sprinter seems to be over.

Stage 6 is the second of three days in a row made for the fast guys and we can expect another bunch sprint. The stage starts out in Guijuelo and the riders will be able to enjoy a slight tailwind all the 174 km south towards Cáceres. There isn’t a single categorized climb on the menu and even though it’s not flat either, it’s definitely not as hard as the last two days.

With 7 km to go, the road starts to kick up a little but only 2.5 %. It won’t make for a selection in the peloton but the technical final four kilometer may do. Are no less than six difficult turns within the last four kilometers and of course a handful of roundabouts to overcome as well. This being the Vuelta and everything, of course the final turn comes just 400 meters from the line. Heading into a roundabout the peloton goes the long around instead of just turning left. This will really stretch out the peloton. If you enter this roundabout in second or third position, you have a very good chance of winning the stage.

Michael Matthews has been the fastest of the sprinters the last two days and he’s morale is now sky high. Originally GreenEdge had Leigh Howard down for this stage but it doesn't really make sense not to go for Matthews again. He’s obviously the fastest right now. Then again, the team spirit on GreenEdge is amazing and thinking about it, it wouldn’t actually surprise me to see Matthews leading out Howard to win.

Gianni Meersman tried to pass Matthews in the final of stage 5 but he didn’t even come close. I think it will be very difficult for Meersman to win this stage and it wouldn’t surprise me if Omega Pharma Quickstep gave youngster Andy Fenn a chance.

The final four kilometers. Click for larger view.
Argos-Shimano is right now the best sprint team in the world. They have finally perfected their leadouts and again on stage 5 they tried to make a surprise. They have a young team for this Vuelta and you don’t see any of the regular Tour de France riders among the nine starters. However, they still managed to hit the front with 5 riders on the final kilometers. Nikias Arndt was the man for stage 5 but it’s not necessarily him they will be going for every day. Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Ramon Sinkeldam are also very fast on the line.

Lampre’s Maximiliano Ariel Richeze is another fast rider in great shape right now. He wasn’t on top of his game in Eneco Tour but he still managed to finish 2nd and 4th in the sprints. This Vuelta is Richeze’s first Grand Tour since he did the Giro d’Italia in 2007 and he’s super motivated to do well. The Argentinian had to fight hard to get on Matthews wheel in the final of stage 5 and with a little bit more luck he might have been able to get closer. It won’t be easy for Richeze to win stage 6 but I think we will see the him in top3 again.

Edvald Boasson Hagen has finished 6th the last two days in a row. The Norwegian rider was a bit disappointed with his sprint on stage 5 and he will be very motivated to do better this time. Boasson Hagen seems to be getting stronger every day and without any top sprinters in the peloton, he may give Team Sky their first win in this Vuelta Thursday afternoon.

Last of the outsiders for the win in Cáceres is also the rider finishing last on stage 5. Barry Markus is only 22 years old but he  hasalready been close to beating some of the big sprinters. In Tour of Qatar he finished 2nd after Mark Cavendish twice and after coming back from his injury, Markus took 2nd place on stage 1 of Arctic Race of Norway earlier this month. Vacansoleil-DCM has been setting up Grega Bole the last two days but with a more flat stage, it’s now time for the fast Dutchman.

As of Wednesday evening the weather forecast shows 50 % chance of rain for the final. Hopefully the roads will stay dry. If not, it seems unlikely nobody will crash on the last four kilometers.

Eurosport is covering this year’s Vuelta a España intensively. Before and after each stage you will get inside information from the many interviews with the riders. The interviewer is Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer. She knows what’s going on inside the peloton and each day she will get you her own personal winner picks for the stage.

For Stage 6, Laura picks Gianni Meersman to win. 

For live coverage of the stage go to

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 5 Preview & Favorites

On stage 2, Dani Moreno waited too long when Nicolas Roche attacked. That mistake cost him the stage win. Tuesday afternoon, Moreno took no chances when he attacked from afar and managed to keep Fabian Cancellara and the rest of the peloton behind him. Cancellara’s strong effort probably made the gap among the favorites, which made Chris Horner lose the Red Jersey to Vincenzo Nibali. However, the American doesn’t seem too upset over losing the jersey. “It’s ok for now. I will use my good legs to get it back”, he says.

Astana shouldn’t have problems keeping the jersey on Stage 5 even though it won’t be an easy day in the saddle. There are only two categorized climb on profile but the 174.3 km from Sober to Lago de Sanabria include numerous hills. Officially, the first climb Alto do Covelo doesn’t start until after 68.6 km. However, at this point the road has already been going uphill for the past 11 km.

With 42.3 km to go, the final categorized climb of the day begins. Alto de Padornelo is 11 km long but with an average of just 2.6 % it won’t make for a huge selection in peloton. It gets steeper towards the top but strong sprinters like Gianni Meersman, Michael Matthews and Edvald Boasson Hagen won’t have problems staying in front.

Coming down from Alto de Padornelo the final 20 km may look flat but don’t be fooled. We are in Spain and that means you shouldn’t trust the road book when it comes to “flat” parts. The last 10 km are constantly up and down and there is a part of 1.5 km with an average gradient of 4.3 % as the peloton enters Cubelo with 6 km to go. A tailwind will help the riders keep a high pace the final 5 km and without any sharp corners; it will be a fast finish. However, this is the Vuelta and it can’t surprise anybody that the race organizers have put in a 90° corner with just 600 meters to go. This will stretch out the peloton significantly and it’s important to be near the front at this point. Preferably with two teammates in front of you.

Dani Moreno took the peloton by surprise on stage 4 but with a flat finish, guys like Meersman, Matthews and Boasson Hagen should be able to fight for the win. It’s a tough day and I’m not quite sure the pure sprinters will manage to stay in the peloton. The joker picks for a sprint are the same as those for stage 4. Meaning riders like Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Grega Bole and Anthony Roux.

There is a good chance of this stage finishing in a bunch sprint but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a breakaway making it all the way. It could be the morning breakaway and it could be a late breakaway on Alto de Padornelo. Vincenzo Nibali is not interested in losing the Red Jersey again so we have to look to riders already out of the GC for possible breakaway candidates.

Amets Txurruka is 4:33 min behind in the overall classification and the Basque rider is a true breakaway specialist. Txurruka is in great shape right now and has already tried to breakaway twice within the last couple of days. Another strong rider down the GC who is in good shape is Juan Antonio Flecha. He has attacked on the last kilometers the last two days in a row but without success. Flecha is obviously going strong right now but maybe he’ll have more luck with an attack from afar.

The TV-viewers have been spoiled with images of the beautiful scenery in Galicia and with the finish line next to Lago de Sanabria, this will be another spectacular stage to watch. 

Eurosport is covering this year’s Vuelta a España intensively. Before and after each stage you will get inside information from the many interviews with the riders. The interviewer is Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer. She knows what’s going on inside the peloton and each day she will get you her own personal winner picks for the stage.

For Stage 5, Laura thinks a breakaway will make it and picks Thomas de Gendt to win. 

For live coverage of the stage go to

Monday, August 26, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 4 Preview & Favorites

Movistar and Alejandro Valverde missed out once again on stage 3. They didn’t have enough fresh riders to close the gap on stage 2 and somehow they managed to make the same mistake Monday. Valverde even said he had the legs to win. Instead Chris Horner attacked and took an impressive stage win, only surpassed by his Spanish interview afterwards.

In my overall preview I wrote that Chris Horner was targeting the Red Jersey within the first couple of stages. One of the key points for that to happen was a strong team time trial and thanks to Fabian Cancellara, Horner had a chance to take the jersey. The 41 years old American climber is now the oldest rider ever to win a stage in a Grand Tour and he should have no problems keeping the leader’s jersey on stage 4.

Tuesday’s 189 km long stage takes the riders west from Lalín/A Estrada towards the finishing line in Fisterra. The riders will be battling the crosswind for most of the stage and we could see the peloton getting split up again. After 152.8 km the riders reach the feared ascent up to Mirador de Ézaro. This is only a category 3 climb but the 1.8 km towards the top have an average gradient of 13 %! There are only 34.4 km to go from top of Mirador de Ézaro and a strong team could really blow the race apart. Last year, stage 12 of the Vuelta finished on Mirador de Ézaro and in case you need a re-view click here.

"The stage to the end of the world".
Photo via @lavuelta on Twitter
This stage is called “the stage to end of the world” and it’s easy to see why. With 5 km to go, the peloton turns left and from hereon they simply continue straight out until the road ends. It’s a spectacular finish with a slightly uphill run-in towards the line. The final 2 km kick up with about 3.5 % and this time, Gianni Meersman shouldn’t have problems fighting for the win. Of course, he has to survive Mirador de Ézaro first. There is a soft left-hand corner with 200 meters to go and with a tailwind towards the line, first rider of out this corner most likely wins the stage.

Meersman finished 38th on stage 3, just 22 seconds behind the favorites. The final kilometer was too hard for the Belgian rider, but the finish in Fisterra is perfect for him. Gianni Meersman arrived to the Vuelta with his eyes on this stage and I think he will be very difficult to beat.

Another strong candidate is Michael Matthews. The former U23 World Champion is a real specialist on these kind of finishes and he comes to the race with two fresh stage wins from Utah in the bag.  GreenEdge didn’t manage to set up Simon Gerrans for stage 3 but I think they have a good chance to set up Matthews for stage 4.

Argos-Shimano have two interesting riders for this stage in Nikias Arndt and Reinardt Janse van Rensburg. Both are very fast on the line in a sprint like this and it will be interesting to see if the two Grand Tour debutants can get over Mirador de Ézaro with the peloton. also have a strong duo for these kind of finishes. Geoffrey Soupe and Anthony Roux are both in great shape right now. Especially Roux who won stage 4 of Tour of Burgos and finished in top4 on the first three stages of the race.

The following three stages are for the pure sprinters so this is the last chance in a while for the strong puncheurs.

Eurosport is covering this year’s Vuelta a España intensively. Before and after each stage you will get inside information from the many interviews with the riders. The interviewer is Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer. She knows what’s going on inside the peloton and each day she will get you her own personal winner picks for the stage.

For Stage 4, Laura picks Gianni Meersman to win. 

For live coverage of the stage go to

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 3 Preview & Favorites

Stage 2 gave us a lot of answers. Euskaltel had high hopes for Samuel Sanchez in their last Vuelta but the former Olympic Champion got dropped early on the final climb. Sergio Henao came to the race as one of the outsiders for the podium but the Colombian climber didn’t have a great day and ended up getting dropped with 4 km to go. Both Henao and Sanchez lost 2:41 min to Nicolas Roche who took a brilliant stage win.

Vincenzo Nibali is new rider in the Red Jersey and unless Astana decides to give it away, Nibali could very well end up having this jersey all the way to Madrid. Roche is second overall, eight seconds down, while Zubeldia, Horner and Kiserlovski all finished with the favorites on stage 2 and sit 10 seconds behind Nibali.
Monday’s stage 3 looks a little bit like stage 2. It’s another flat one alongside the Galician coast but this time a headwind will make it hard for a breakaway to get a big gap. The TV-viewers will be spoiled by images of the amazing scenery and like on stage 2, there will be time to enjoy it. Unless the wind splits up the peloton, the stage probably won’t get interesting until the final 20 km.

The final 5 km of stage 3 up to Mirador de Lobeira-
The riders will be struggling with the headwind for most of the day but with four kilometers to go, the peloton turns right and the final four kilometers uphill will take place in a strong tailwind. The ascent up to Mirador de Lobeira only has an average gradient of 4.8 % but it has some steep parts. 

Also, it’s extremely important to be near the front. With about 1.5 km to go the riders turns right on the very narrow Camiño Novo. There are parts of 8% on this little road and you need to be among the first five riders if you want to win this stage. If not, you simply can’t move up in the peloton before it’s too late. There are 10 bonus seconds on the line and should Nicolas Roche be able to make two out of two, he will take the Red Jersey. It’s not very likely but if Saxo-Tinkoff delivers him in front, it could happen.

Even though the final climb isn’t very long nor very steep, I highly doubt the few pure sprinters will have a chance. Guys likes Gianni Meersman and Michael Matthews however, may have a chance. Both riders are in great shape, cope well with the hills and are very fast on the line. On paper, Phillipe Gilbert should have a chance but I don’t think he’s ready after his crash in Eneco Tour. Edvald Boasson Hagen is another rider who could do well on this finish but he’s not 100 % either. 

UPDATE: It's now been confirmed that the race organizers have widened the road the last 1.5 km towards the finishing line. You can see a photo of the new road here. The road is now twice as wide as before and this clearly favors guys like Meersman and Matthews.

The view from Mirador de Lobeira is spectacular. This is one of the last turns on the narrow road towards the line.
Photo via Google Maps.

Movistar cranked up the pace on the final climb on stage 2 but they didn’t have anyone ready to follow when Dani Moreno attacked. Alejandro Valverde easily won the sprint among the favorites and should Movistar decide to go hard on the part of 8 %, Valverde will be the man to beat. The strong Spaniard has been eager to point out that for him, the World Championship is more important than the Vuelta. Still, few in the professional peloton has a killer instinct like Valverde when he sees the finishing line. If sprinters like Meersman and Matthews aren’t in the peloton, I can’t see who should beat Valverde.

Simon Gerrans is here to prepare for the World Championship and on paper, this is a very good stage for him. However, I’m not quite sure if Gerrans is up for it already. Matthews is definitely GreenEdge’s best card to play and he comes to the Vuelta with two fresh stage wins from Utah in the bag.

In case Gianni Meersman doesn’t have a good day, Omega Pharma Quickstep has two other very interesting riders in Pieter Serry and Zdenek Stybar. Both are very good on these kind of climbs and both are  packing a solid sprint as well. I doubt they can outsprint Alejandro Valverde but with a late attack they may take the peloton by surprise. 

For other outsiders look to the two Italians Rinaldo Nocentini and Diego Ulissi. Nocentini did very well in Burgos lately and finished 5th in Tre Valli Varesine just a week before the Vuelta started. Rinaldo Nocentini is fighting for a spot on the Italian team for the World Championship and this stage is almost tailor-made for the Ag2r veteran. Domenico Pozzovivo came close on stage 2 and it won’t be a big surprise if Nocentini comes close on stage 3.

Diego Ulissi used Tour of Poland as preparation for the Vuelta and he started out by outsprinting the whole peloton to take the leader’s jersey. He later faded but then finished in a strong way. Lampre tried to set up Ulissi for the stage win on stage 2 but he waited too long and had to settle with 6th place after Valverde. 
Ulissi is still young and he’s not a rider for a three weeks Grand Tour just yet. He knows how to target one-day-races and specific stages and I’m sure he has his eyes on this one. It won’t be easy to win but if the strong climbers can get rid of guys like Meersman & Matthews, Diego Ulissi definitely has a chance to win on Mirador de Lobeira.

Eurosport is covering this year’s Vuelta a España intensively. Before and after each stage you will get inside information from the many interviews with the riders. The interviewer is Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer. She knows what’s going on inside the peloton and each day she will get you her own personal winner picks for the stage.

For Stage 3, Laura picks Alejandro Valverde Gianni Meersman to win. 

For live coverage of the stage go to

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 2 Preview & Favorites

Saturday's opening team time trial ended like we expected. OPQS set best time but in the end, Radioshack and Astana turned out to be a bit stronger. Of course it didn’t help OPQS that they had to wait a couple of times when Tony Martin made a gap to the rider behind him. Janez Brajkovic is first rider in the Red Jersey and that’s a perfect way to start out this race for the Slovenian rider. Brajkovic is without a contract for next year and he’s now using the Vuelta to show how great of a rider he is. Naturally, Vincenzo Nibali is the team leader, but Brajkovic hopes to make a good result overall while supporting this captain.

Usually it’s not an advantage for the big favorites to get the leader’s jersey already after the first stage. Therefore we often see a breakaway making it all the way early in the race. On paper, this second stage looks good for a break but since Brajkovic wants to get maximum attention in this race, I doubt he will give up the jersey.

The 177.7 km from Pontevedra to Baiona takes the riders south alongside the Galician coast. The TV-viewers are in for a spectacular view but the riders won’t have time to enjoy it. There aren’t many flat meters in this area and even though the profile doesn’t look very tough, it won’t be an easy day in the saddle.

The first categorized climb of this year’s Vuelta comes after 62.9 km and we should see a breakaway in front at this time. For teams like Euskaltel, Caja Rural, NetApp & Vancansoleil-DCM it will be important to get the KOM jersey and I think all four teams will be represented in the morning break.

Alto do Monte da Groba. 11 km - 5.6 % avg.
The stage finish with an 11 km long ascent up to Alto do Monte da Groba. The climb is steep in the beginning with parts of 10 % but then it evens out for about 4 km with gradients of 2-4 %. The final two kilometers have an average gradient of 7.5 % and especially the last corner is very steep. If you manage to get a little gap in this right hand corner, you should end up winning the stage with only 300 meters to go.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez (Katusha) didn’t have a great start to the race. Movistar lost Beñat Inxtausti early due a mechanical problem and Katusha had to wait for Dani Moreno as he was the 5th and last rider in the end. Movistar lost 29 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali and Astana while Purito already is 59 seconds behind Nibali in the GC. There is still a long way to Madrid but Purito needs to win seconds every time he can. This means that Katusha most likely will try to control the stage in order to set up Purito for the win and the 10 bonus seconds on the line. Movistar should be able to help out as well since Valverde is very fast too.  The two Spaniards are definitely the big favorites this Sunday.

The final right hand corner towards the finishing line.
Had this been the Giro, I would have put Carlos Betancur down as one of the favorites. But, as I wrote in my overall preview, Betancur didn’t have an ideal preparation to the Vuelta. He’s been sick and he doesn’t look too good right now. I’m sure Betancur will be flying by the end of the race but I doubt we will see him in the very front already. 

His countryman, Sergio Henao, however is one of the outsiders who can win this stage. Henao has a strong kick and if he times it perfectly, he may be able to get a jump on Purito and Valverde if the two favorites start looking at each other. It’s also worth mentioning that Team Sky won’t be taking their usual role in a Grand Tour. Astana, Movistar and Katusha have the three big favorites for the overall win and therefore Team Sky don’t have to work as much as usually. They can save energy and wait for the right time to attack. Personally I think Dario Cataldo will have a great Vuelta and I won’t be surprised if he attacks and makes something big on Alto do Monte da Groba.  

In my overall preview I named Tomasz Marczynski as one of my jokers for the GC. The polish rider is very aggressive on the climbs and if he sees a moment to attack in the final, he won’t think twice. His teammate Wout Poels is in great shape right now and in those two, Vacansoleil-DCM have a couple of very strong outsiders for the win. Luisle Sanchez is back on the big scene again and he must be eager to show himself in his home country. The final kilometer may be too steep for Sanchez but on a good day he could give Belkin something to cheer for after the team lost Theo Bos before the race even started.

Eurosport is covering this year’s Vuelta a España intensively. Before and after each stage you will get inside information from the many interviews with the riders. The interviewer is Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer. She knows what’s going on inside the peloton and each day she will get you her own personal winner picks for the stage.

For Stage 2, Laura picks Sergio Henao to win.

For live coverage of the stage go to

Friday, August 23, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 1 (TTT) Preview & Favorites

As usually, the Vuelta starts out with a team time trial. This year, the distance is longer than the previous three years and that means we will see much bigger differences in the classification early on.

The teams get to the starting ramp in Vilanova De Arousa by boat and from here the route takes them south towards Sanxenxo. The profile is rather flat - very different from last year - and we can expect the teams with big engines like Omega Pharma Quickstep (Tony Martin) and Radioshack (Fabian Cancellara) to do well. The riders will be enjoying a tailwind for the majority of the route and that too favors the two mentioned teams.

The only technical part of the course is the final two kilometers with a couple of tricky turns but overall, this is not a difficult team time trial.

The map of Stage 1
Click for larger view.
Omega Pharma Quickstep are the defending world champions in this discipline and they have been training hard to defend their title in less than a month in Florence. It’s true they don’t bring all their best time trialists for this Vuelta but with riders like Tony Martin, Kristof Vandewalle, Gianni Meersman and in-shape Zdenek Stybar, they will be very difficult to beat.

The way I see it, only Radioshack and Astana have a chance of beating OPQS. Despite a strong team, Radioshack never really manage to win these stages. However, with Fabian Cancellara, Ben Hermans, Chris Horner and Markel Irizar they definitely bring a solid team. Horner aims at taking the Red Jersey after the uphill finish on Stage 2 and if that is to happen, Radioshack need to put in a strong performance in this time trial.

Astana hope to give Vincenzo Nibali the best start possible with a win on the first day. To achieve that, they bring strong time trialists like Janez Brajkovic, Jakob Fuglsang, Andriy Grivko, Tanel Kangert and Nibali himself. Astana always do well in the team time trials and even though OPQS is the big favorite, I won’t be surprised if Astana wins this stage.

Movistar won the opening stage last year but on a much hillier course. They did well in the Giro d’Italia too but this time they don’t have riders like Alex Dowsett or Jonathan Castroviejo to crank up the speed in the flat parts. They bring a strong team, no doubts about that, but I don’t think it’s strong enough to repeat the impressive win from last year.

Team Saxo-Tinkoff aim at spot close to Top3 but that won’t be easy. They have a couple of solid riders like Roman Kreuziger and Michael Mørkøv but climbers like Rafal Majka, Chris Anker Sørensen and Oliver Zaugg don’t like this discipline. The Danish team may do Top5 but I will be surprised to see them in Top3.

Team Sky won the team time trial in the Giro d’Italia and finished third in the Tour de France this year. However, they don’t have riders like Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome or Richie Porte to keep the speed high this time. It’s true that many of the riders are the same who won the TTT in the Giro but without a real specialist I think Top5 is the best they can do.

Starting Order:
NetApp 18:48
GreenEdge 18:52
Argos-Shimano 18:56
BMC 19:00
Caja Rural 19:04
Cofidis 19:08
Vacansoleil-DCM 19:12
Omega Pharma Quickstep 19:16
Lampre 19:20
AG2R 19:24
Team Saxo-Tinkoff 19:28
Lotto-Belisol 19:32
FDJ 19:36
Team Sky 19:40
Cannondale 19:44
Garmin 19:48
Euskaltel 19:52
Belkin 19:56
Radioshack 20:00
Katusha 20:04
Movistar 20:08
Astana 20:12

Eurosport are covering this year’s Vuelta a España intensively. Before and after each stage you will get inside information from the many interviews with the riders. The interviewer is Spanish journalist Laura Meseguer. She knows what’s going on inside the peloton and each day she will get you her own personal winner picks for the stage.

For the opening Stage 1, Laura picks Movistar to win.

For live coverage of the stage go to

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vuelta a España 2013 - Preview and Favorites

It’s time for the third and final Grand Tour of the season. This year’s Vuelta a España is a real climbers delight with no less than 12 stages finishing uphill. The favorites are many and there are no doubts that this is the most open of the three Grand Tours this year.

Once again, the race starts out with a team time trial but compared to the last couple of years, the time differences will be much bigger this time. We have an uphill finish already on the second day and this means you can’t afford to start out too far off your game. The first sprint stage isn’t due until Stage 5 and we can expect relatively big time differences in the overall classification already at this point. However, it’s nothing compared to the last week. Six out of the last eight stages finish on the top of a climb and with Angliru on the penultimate day, nothing is certain before the final stage to Madrid.

For this year’s Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, it was pretty easy picking out the few big favorites. Without Bradley Wiggins, Vincenzo Nibali had no real competition in the Giro and since Alberto Contador wasn’t as strong as usually in the Tour, Chris Froome wasn’t really threatened at any point in the Tour. This Vuelta, however, is wide open. Vincenzo Nibali is my personal favorite for the overall win but it won’t be easy to repeat his 2010-performance. I expect Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez, Ivan Basso, Sergio Henao and Samuel Sanchez to fight for the Red Jersey and I’m sure a we will see a couple of outsiders in the mix as well.

I don’t remember a Grand Tour with so many strong riders fighting for Top10. Just by a quick glans of the start list, I see at least 25 riders with an actual chance of finishing within the ten first. Veterans like Chris Horner and Michele Scarponi both start out the Vuelta with podium ambitions and even though I doubt it will happen, I won’t rule them out as possible Top5 in Madrid.

These are the 21 stages of this year's Vuelta a España. 
Another very interesting ‘veteran’ is Ivan Basso. This season has been a nightmare for former Giro d’Italia winner and he’s now hoping to make it all right with a good performance in the Vuelta. Usually you never see Ivan Basso until it really counts. This year Chris Froome won everything leading up the Tour. Basso's preparation is completely different. He knows how to prepare in his own way and he always manages to deliver when it’s time. Still, in Tour of Poland Basso finished fifth on the first mountain stage and without doing much more in the race, he took 8th place overall. In Vuelta a Burgos he decided to test himself on the final mountain stage and he looked very strong when he dropped Vincenzo Nibali to finish third on Lagunas de Neila. Ivan Basso is not great on the short steep finishes but this Vuelta is lot more than that, and I’m sure Basso will make a great race and finish in the top.

Originally, I had Carlos Betancur down for a podium place but the Colombian climber has been sick recently and therefore hasn’t been able to prepare the way he wanted. Also, he hasn’t raced since the Giro. For Betancur, the World Champions in Italy is the big goal for this second part of the season. He may not start out this Vuelta in great shape but I’m sure he will be flying by the end of the race. It could easily be enough to make Top10 overall but I doubt he’ll be a player for the podium. Another strong GC rider from Ag2r is Domenico Pozzovivo. The Italian climber finished 7th overall in Tour of Poland and I expect him do very well in this Vuelta.

A Colombian rider has finished 2nd overall in the first two Grand Tours of 2013 and in case Carlos Betancur isn’t ready, it’s up to Sergio Henao to keep up the tradition. Henao started out this year in a very strong way by winning the mountain stage in Volta ao Algarve. He then went on to win a stage in Vuelta Pais Vasco, where he finished 3rd overall, before taking second place in Flèche Wallone. As expected, he faded in the end of the Giro but recently he looked strong in Tour of Poland with a 5th place overall. Last year, Sergio Henao finished 14th in the Vuelta after helping out team leader Chris Froome. This year, Henao is the leader and he has a very strong team to support him. Dario Cataldo - who I think will do very well in this race - and Rigoberto Uran will be at his service in the mountains. Team Sky have finished 2nd (Uran, Giro) and 1st (Froome, Tour) in the last two Grand Tours and they are eager to continue that streak. Both Purito and Valverde had to dig deep in the Tour de France and in case they end up paying for that in the final week of the Vuelta, Henao and others will be ready to take advantage of the situation.

This year’s Vuelta will be the last one with Euskaltel-Euskadi on the start list. The orange color of the Basque team will be dearly missed in the mountains but not just yet. With Samuel Sanchez, Mikel Nieve, Igor Antón and Mikel Landa among the nine starters, Euskaltel show they are ready to fight. The goal is to put Samuel Sanchez on the final podium in Madrid and it won’t be a surprise if they succeed. Sanchez is experienced and already knows what it takes to make Top3 in the Vuelta. He should be able to gain some time on his rivals in the individual time trial and if he hits his top level, he won’t be easy to drop in the mountains either.

Before I end, I’ll quickly mention Team Saxo-Tinkoff. The Danish team has a strong line up with Roman Kreuziger, Rafal Majka and Nicolas Roche. When announcing the team, DS Tristan Hoffman said he saw Kreuziger as the natural leader. However, the Czech rider himself says he won’t be targeting the overall classification. Kreuziger has already had a long and very successful season and he’s now focusing on the World Champions. Instead of going for the GC, Kreuziger will aim at a stage win and to help out Rafal Majka and Nicolas Roche. Especially Roche is eager to perform well. The Irishman has been aiming at the Vuelta the whole season and after dropping a few kilos, he’s now not afraid of talking about Top5 overall. It will be interesting to see if he can live up to his own expectations.  

The map of this year's Vuelta a España starting in Galicia and finishing in Madrid after 21 stages.
As always, I have a few jokers for you as well. First up is David Arroyo. After more than 10 years on Movistar (and its former names), Arroyo moved to the little Spanish team, Caja Rural for this season. He didn’t do much to show his name in the first part of the year but lately he’s been getting better and better. He came close to winning Vuelta a Burgos overall a few weeks ago and he looked very strong in the mountains. Only super climber Nairo Quintana could distance Arroyo uphill on the final day and now the Spaniard hopes to shine in the Vuelta. David Arroyo surprised everyone when he finished second overall in the Giro d’Italia three years ago. I doubt he can repeat that performance this time but I definitely see him as a strong Top10 candidate. Maybe even more if everything goes his way again.

My second joker for the overall classification is Tomasz Marczynski. It’s a been a great year for Polish cycling and I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues in the Vuelta. Last year, Marczynski made a few mistakes in the last week of the race but still managed to finish 13th overall. There are a lot more candidates this year but I still think Marczynski has what it takes to make Top10. Vacansoleil-DCM are desperately searching for a new sponsor for next year and they bring their strongest team possible to the Vuelta. Riders like Wout Poels, Thomas De Gendt and Lieuwe Westra could all lead the team but according to my information, the Dutch team is putting their faith in Tomasz Marczynski.

Other good jokers for the overall classification are Movistar’s three super domestiques; Javi Moreno, Eros Capecchi & Beñat Intxausti. Sames goes for Lampre’s [future super] climber Winner Anacona and Team NetApp’s Leopold König.

There are about six stages for the sprinters is this year’s Vuelta a España. Still, we don’t have any super sprinters starting the race. Tyler Farrar will have a unique opportunity to regain status as a “top sprinter” without the competition of Cavendish, Kittel, Greipel, Sagan etc. etc. Farrar’s rivals will be Edvald Boasson Hagen, Gianni Meersman, Theo Bos, Leigh Howard and the youngsters Barry Markus, Michael Matthews and Adrien Petit. Personally, I expect a lot from Barry Markus. He has recently signed a deal with Team Belkin for 2014 saying he wants to learn from Theo Bos. However, in my opinion, he will already show that he is a level above Bos in this Vuelta.

In the beginning, I wrote I saw at least 25 riders with a chance of making Top10 in this race. I’ll leave you with the list of those riders. The order is irrelevant.

Nibali Majka
Valverde Arroyo
Purito Mollema
Basso Cataldo
Henao Capecchi
Sanchez Intxausti
Betancur Moreno x2
Horner Zubeldia
Pozzovivo Marczynski
Roche Ten Dam
Scarponi Uran
Pinot Dan Martin
Landa De Clercq
De Gendt

I will be publishing daily Stage Previews during the race. Each preview will be online the evening before the stage starts. For live coverage of Vuelta a España 2013 go to

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Get ready for La Vuelta

Vuelta a España 2013 kicks off in about two weeks and it’s time to start getting ready for the third and last Grand Tours this year.

The riders have been fine-tuning their shape the last couple of weeks and if you want to see who’s already doing great, be sure to follow Vuelta a Burgos and Eneco Tour this and next week. There are free online live streams for all the stages in Vuelta a Burgos while Eurosport is broadcasting Eneco Tour starting on Monday (12th of August).

If you want to try out this Vuelta España for yourself, why not pick one of the 22 teams and give it a go in the new Pro Cycling Manager game? Click on the banner below to download the game and see if you have what it takes to win the Red Jersey in Madrid.

I will publish my Overall Preview of La Vuelta in a week or so and of course, there will be daily stage previews throughout the race. Stay tuned for more!