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

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