Friday, September 27, 2013

World Championship - Road Race Preview & Favorites

It’s finally time. This Sunday, the elite men’s road race is on and we are in for quite a show. It’ the most open World Championship in a while and with a rainy weather forecast; anything can happen!

In total, the race is 272.2 km long. The day starts in Lucca and from here; the riders have 100 km to overcome before they reach Florence. There are two climbs on this first part; Montecarlo (3.75 km / 3.5 %) and San Baronto (3.9 / 7.1 %). These two climbs won’t make for a selection but especially San Baronto will serve as an appetizer of what waits the riders later on.

When reaching Florence the riders starts on 10 laps of 16.57 km. The first two kilometers are flat but then the road kicks up. The Fiesole climb is 4.37 km long and has an average gradient of 5.2 %. The gradients barely drop below 7 % the last 1500 meters and this is where we find the steep parts of over 10 %. There are 10 km to the line from the top of Fiesole. The descent starts out very technical but then gets easier with nice and soft turns. However, there is a very steep part and then a difficult 90° left turn with about 8.7 km to go. If the rains, riders chasing to get back have to pay close attention to this corner in order not to see their chances disappear in a crash.

The following 2 km are fast very fast and after a sharp right hand turn, it’s time to climb again. The 600 meters on Via Salviati have an average gradient of 10 % and include a part of 200 meters with over 16 % towards the top. There are only 5 km to go from the top of Via Salviati and as the final part is very fast, it won’t be easy to catch a small group of riders if they get a gap over the top. With a less than 3 km to the line, the riders turn left and the following 150-200 meters are uphill with parts of 10 %. This may be the last place to attack if you want to solo away. The road kicks up a little again as the rider cross the railroad and after a 180° corner, the final 1500 meters are flat and straight out towards the line.

Everybody seems to have a different opinion on the best way to prepare for this World Championship and which riders it favors. It’s hard to keep track but here is some of the statements:
  •           You need to ride Vuelta España.
  •           This is a route for the climbers.
  •           You need to be fast.
  •           You need to be explosive on the climbs.
  •           Don’t count on the Vuelta riders, the last week was too hard.
  •           You need to be able to win on this kind of distance.

Confused? I understand. It may not look like there is a rider who can tick off every single criteria. However, there is one. More about him a little later.

First, let’s look at the teams with the most responsibility this Sunday. Spain has the strongest team (9 riders) with Contador, Purito and Valverde but home favorites Italy (9) isn’t far behind with the likes of Scarponi, Ulissi and Nibali. The Netherlands (Gesink, Mollema, Slagter), Switzerland (Cancellara, Albasini) and Colombia (Quintana, Uran, Henao, Betancur) also have nine riders at the start. So does France but I would be surprised to see them start working in the peloton. The French riders have to be aggressive in the attacks and with Pinot, Barguil and Voeckler they have enough firepower to put in a couple of strong attacks on the final laps.

Peter Sagan (Slovakia) has five teammates to help him, among these are the Velits brothers, Peter and Martin, plus Sagan’s own brother Juraj. Sagan would like this race to be as easy as possible and hope for a big group together on the final lap. Therefore I doubt Slovakia will put much effort into chasing the breaks early on. Last year’s winner, Philippe Gilbert and Belgium have seven riders at the start this time and compared to last year, they will be more aggressive. Gilbert needs a hard race with a big selection and if so, he will probably have to attack on Via Salviati on the last lap and get away with a couple of riders. This is his best chance of winning in Florence.

Profile of the circuit in Florence. 10 laps of 16.57 km.

According to the bookmakers, Fabian Cancellara is the number one favorite. The Swiss Time Machine pays 3 to 1. It’s nothing new that Cancellara has a red circle around the World Championship but usually it’s focused around the time trial. This year, Fabian Cancellara has put everything into becoming World Champion in the road race instead. He has lost some kilos and in the Vuelta España, he showed to be in great shape on the climbs. As a warm-up for the road race, Cancellara has done both the team time trial (last Sunday) and the individual time trial (last Wednesday). Radioshack finished 4th in the TTT while Cancellara took the bronze medal in the ITT, only two seconds form second place. There is no doubt that Fabian Cancellara is in great shape right now but is he strong enough to keep stay with the punchy climbers on Via Salviati? Remember, in total this race has more than 60 km of climbing. It’s not “just” a usually tough one day race, it’s a regular mountain stage. If Cancellara has to fight his way back after both Fiesole and Via Salviati, how much energy will he has left for the expected late attack in the final On the other hand, the U23 winner Matej Mohoric said he didn’t think the course was that hard and makes Cancellara one of the two big favorites.

The other top favorite is Peter Sagan. Sagan usually don’t have any problems on these kind of climbs and to make sure he doesn’t get dropped, he went to train hard in the mountains earlier this season. It quickly paid off and in Tour de Suisse, he actually won the mountain stage with the steepest climb in the race. Peter Sagan does well in the short time trials, he can sprint and he can solo away to win as well. It’s difficult to find any flaws but if there is one, it may be the distance. Sagan is yet to win a race over 250 km and even though he has come close a couple of times, it’s still one thing missing on his impressive palmares.

The Spanish duo Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez makes it hard to imagine a final podium without a Spanish rider. Valverde is a true specialist in these kind of one-day races and Purito too knows how prepare for a single day and then deliver. Both have been on the podium in the past but neither has ever won. This year both Valverde and Purito aimed at the Tour de France this summer. Afterwards they started out the Vuelta with the intention of getting ready for this Sunday. They finished 3rd and 4th overall in the Vuelta and seem very strong at the moment. Especially, Purito finished the Vuelta strong and I think he’s Spain’s best card to play. Few - if any - can match Purito’s kick on the steep gradients and I would imagine he would try to split the group on Via Salviati the last time. We saw in the U23 race that Via Salviati creates a lot more damage than Fiesole and the steep gradients really suits Purito who’s also good on the descent. Furthermore, Purito showed in Giro di Lombardia last year, that he can win in the rain as well. Of course, if it ends in a sprint of 10+ riders, Alejandro Valverde is the best option for Spain and if Peter Sagan isn’t in the group, Valverde shouldn’t have problems outsprinting the rest.

The last one of the top favorites is Vincenzo Nibali. He’s riding on home soil in Italy and naturally the expectations are high. Italy hasn’t be able to deliver since 2008 when the finished 1st, 2nd and 4th in Varese. Now the World Championship is back in Italy and after Nibali won the Giro d’Italia and finished second overall in the Vuelta, everybody expect another top performance from the shark. To help Nibali take the rainbow jersey, Italy sends strong riders like Michele Scarponi, Rinaldo Nocentini, Filippo Pozzato, Giovanni Visconti and Diego Ulissi. Italy’s big problem in the past has been too many captains, this time it’s different. Pozzato and Scarponi are both in great shape but they have to leave their big egos at home. Ulissi is double junior world champion and I have no doubts he’ll win the elite’s race one day as well. Diego Ulissi is strong on the climbs and fast on the line. However, he’s not very good on the descents especially not if the roads are wet. Vincenzo Nibali needs to attack on Fiesole and make an early selection, then he probably has to dig deep again on Via Salviati and then attack on the descent as he has done in the past. Nibali knows his only chance is to solo away and I’m sure he won’t think twice if he sees an opening in the final.

As I wrote earlier, there actually is one rider fitting all the listed statement. This rider is Dan Martin. He started the Vuelta, he didn’t ride the last week of the race, he’s a climber, he’s explosive, he’s fast on the line and he has proven to be able to win on the long distance (LBL this year). After crashing out of the Vuelta, Dan Martin took part in Tour of Britain as his last preparation for the World Championship. He raced very aggressively and showed on the climbs that he is still going very strong. So far, 2013 has already been a great season for Dan Martin after winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege and stage 9 of the Tour de France. He has been targeting the Rainbow Jersey for a while and he has shown he isn’t afraid of attacking from afar if necessary. I think the most likely scenario for this race, is a small group of about five riders arriving at the finishing together. If Dan Martin is in this group, he will be very difficult to beat.

Earlier this year, Colombia seemed to have one of the most powerful teams for this race. However, both Sergio Henao and Carlos Betancur didn’t really deliver in the Vuelta and it’s doubtful they will be able to perform - as previously expected - this Sunday. Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran are still two very strong outsiders but it won’t be easy for the Colombians to continue their dominance this season. Nairo Quintana’s father is hoping to visit the Pope when the race is over and naturally, it would be amazing for the humble climber to join his parents with the Pope carrying the Rainbow Jersey. I don’t think it will be happen though.

Map of the circuit in Florence.
Before this preview gets too long to read, let’s have a look at some of the jokers for the win. My personal joker is Rui Costa. Like Dan Martin, Rui Costa has already had a great season with the overall win in Tour de Suisse and two impressive stage wins in Tour de France. The World Championship has been a big goal for Rui Costa all season and the course really suits him. Portugal only has three riders in the race but both Andre Cardoso and Tiago Machado are dedicated to help Rui Costa win the Rainbow Jersey.

Another strong outsider is Chris Froome. Not since Greg Lemond in 1989 has a Tour de France winner went on to become World Champion. This year Froome has a unique chance of doing so but he knows he requires a hard race with a big selection. In the beginning of August, Chris Froome went to check out the course and train on the roads. He did the Via Salviati climb 10 times and he knows what to expect. After finishing the Tour, Froome immediately started talking about the World Championship and after training hard in North America the last weeks, he now seems ready. Like Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome most likely has to solo away in order to win this race but don’t forget he actually outsprinted both Contador and Purito in Tour of Oman earlier this year.

For other jokers look to in-shape Robert Gesink and Thomas Voeckler, one-day specialist Alexandr Kolobnev and strong all-rounder Edvald Boasson Hagen. For the super-super jokers I’ll like to mention season revelation Tanel Kangert, World Champion specialist Matti Breschel and youngster Tom-Jelte Slagter who has a good kick on the hills and is fast on the line.

For live coverage of the race go to

Monday, September 23, 2013

World Championship - Time Trial Preview & Favorites

Tony Martin got the best possible start to this year’s World Championship when he and Omega Pharma Quickstep won the opening team time trial last Sunday. Now it’s time for the individual time trial and just like the last two years, the strong German is the top favorite.

Except for a slightly different finish, the course is the same as for the team time trial. It’s a power course for the big engines and basically it’s all about speed. The small hill in the beginning won’t matter much as the following 50 km are flat. Only the final few kilometers inside of Florence are technical but the riders doing the team time trial already know how to take the corners without losing time.

Half a year ago, I had no doubts Tony Martin would win this race and take his third consecutive World Champion title. However, I must admit Bradley Wiggins has been extremely strong recently. Both Martin and Wiggins are best on a course like this one and I think it will be a close fight. Still, I’ll stick with Tony Martin as my number one favorite. He’s been training on the course, he did the team time trial and he knows how to take the tricky corners in Florence. According to the German, he’s in better shape than last year and he feels more prepared. He got a massive motivation boost when OPQS won the team time trial and he’s now very confident.

While Tony Martin has had the same approach towards the time trials within the last handful of years, Bradley Wiggins' focus has changed completely. He went from being a time trial specialist to winning the Tour de France. In this process, Wiggins lost a lot of weight and he had to comprise his time trial training. After his failed attempt to win the Giro d’Italia this year, Wiggins now seems to have given up on winning another Grand Tour. He’s now 7-8 kg heavier than when he won the Tour and since June, he’s only been focusing on his time trial. In his comeback race after the Giro, Bradley Wiggins won the 37 km time trial in Tour of Poland when he distanced Fabian Cancellara and Taylor Phinney with a minute.  Last week he won the short time trial in Tour of Britain without any problems and according to Wiggins, he too feels a lot better than last year. In 2012, Wiggins won the Olympic time trial just 10 days after winning the Tour de France. This time the World Champion time trial comes just three days after Tour of Britain. It will be very interesting to see if it’s enough time for Wiggins to switch focus and beat Tony Martin. Personally, I doubt it.

According to the bookmakers, Fabian Cancellara will take the bronze medal this Wednesday. The way I see it, Cancellara is a strong candidate but riders like Taylor Phinney and Adrian Malori have a solid chance of making podium as well. As stated in my preview for the team time trial, Fabian Cancellara’s main focus in on the road race on Sunday. No other top favorites are doing all three races and if Cancellara wants to win on Sunday, it may not be the best idea to test his limits on a course like this and take risks in the tricky corners. Cancellara has worked hard to get better on the climbs, we saw that in Vuelta España, and it means he has lost some speed on the long flat parts. He’s still among the very best in the world but against Tony Martin and Bradley Wiggins, I honestly can’t see him win.

Last year Taylor Phinney did the time trial of his life when he finished second to Tony Martin. Phinney was only six seconds from beating Tony Martin and becoming World Champion and now he’s out for revenge. He lives near the course and knows it like the back of his hand. Every time Phinney is out training on his time trial bike, he’s riding on part of the course and I doubt any of the riders starting tomorrow knows it better than he does. BMC had big ambitions for the team time trial but failed to live up their own expectations. They finished fourth and Taylor Phinney didn’t hide his disappointment. Wednesday the young American has another chance to show his potential and personally, I have Phinney down for a spot on the final podium.

The Italians haven’t had much to cheer for in the time trials for a while. Marco Pinotti was on his way to medal last year but then crashed in the final. Right now Adriano Malori is the Italians best hope and on a good day, he could surprise and make podium. Malori is getting better and better every year and this season, he has been very close to Tony Martin a couple of times. In Tirreno-Adriatico, Malori finished second in the final time trial, just six seconds after Martin. In time trial in Tour de Romandie, Malori finished second again this time 16 seconds after Tony Martin. It’s worth noticing that in this time trial Malori put in 18 seconds on the overall winner Chris Froome. The time trial in Florence is obviously a big goal for Adriano Malori and he’s been working hard in order to deliver a top performance this Wednesday. He knows the competition is fierce but if some of the other candidates strike out, Malori will be ready to take advantage of the situation.

The five mentioned riders are also the five riders starting last. For the complete starting order click here.

Among the super jokers for a medal we'll find riders like the Vacansoleil-DCM duo Thomas De Gendt and Lieuwe Westra. In the Tour de France this year, De Gendt started right before Tony Martin. The strong Belgian had never been overtaken in a time trial before and he was eager to not to change that fact. Fighting to keep Tony Martin behind him, Thomas De Gendt put in such a strong performance that he finished third on the stage. This time, his teammate Lieuwe Westra is starting right after De Gendt. Westra isn't on the same level as Tony Martin, but I still expect him to do Top10 this Wednesday. In fact, Lieuwe Westra says that being the first to catch Thomas De Gendt in a time trial is an extra motivation for him. It will be interesting to see how the two - soon to be - former teammates will perform against each other.

For live coverage of the team time trial go to

Saturday, September 21, 2013

World Championship - Team Time Trial Preview & Favorites

World Championship Team Time Trial in Florence.
The World Championship week in Florence starts out with a team time trial this Sunday. Last year Omega Pharma Quickstep won in front of BMC and GreenEdge and this time I expect the same three teams to make the podium. However, Team Sky has the manpower to change a repetition of the 2012-podium.

Unlike last year’s edition, this course is - except for a short climb of 4:30 min in the beginning - completely flat. This combined with a distance of 57.2 km means it’s all about the speed.

Therefore, we can expect the teams with big powerhouses to fight for the win. There are long and flat sections without any turns and guys like Tony Martin, Taylor Phinney, Fabian Cancellara and Luke Durbridge can really make a difference here. The last 10 km are a very technical. There are at least 10 sharp corners in this part and you can lose and gain a lot of time in these corners. It's very important not to panic in the corners. The last time check is right before the technical part so it's not certain the ranking here will be the same as at finish.

Looking at the teams this year, it’s clear that Omega Pharma Quickstep is the big favorite. The Belgian team sends five (Martin, Velits, Chavanel, Terpstra & Vandewalle) of the six winning riders from last year. Only change is Tom Boonen who is being replaced by season sensation Michal Kwiatkowski. The Pole has been in Top8 in all of the six individual time trials he’s been doing this year! While other teams may not look as strong as last year, OPQS is actually even better this time. I clearly expect the team to repeat their winning performance from 2012.

BMC came very close to winning last year but this time, I think they will have to fight hard just to get the silver medals. Time trial specialist Marco Pinotti is missing and so are Alessandro Ballan and Philippe Gilbert. Instead, Steve Cummings, Daniel Oss and Michael Schar are joining Taylor Phinney, Tejay Van Garderen and Manuel Quinziato. Both Phinney, Cummings and Schar were part of the BMC team winning the team time trial in Qatar earlier this year. However, BMC hasn’t performed well in the important team time trials the rest of the year and without a key rider like Pinotti, I think a silver medal - if even so - is the best they can get in Florence.

The biggest threat to BMC’s second place is GreenEdge. The Australian team did very well last year, even on a course not suited for their riders’ characteristics. With big engines like Luke Durbridge, Svein Tuft, Jens Mouris and Daryl Impey, GreenEdge will be able to extremely fast on the long flat parts. Add to that Brett Lancaster and Michael Hepburn and you really have a strong team for a fast course. All six riders live in Girona and they have been training together for this discipline the last two weeks. A team time trial is all about working together as one and looking at the riders and their training, I think GreenEdge is the best pick to win this race if something happens to OPQS.

The way I see it, it will be difficult for the rest of the teams to medal against OPQS, GreenEdge and BMC. However, teams like Radioshack, Garmin, Saxo-Tinkoff, Astana and especially Team Sky will all be gunning for the podium as well. Garmin used to be among the best in this discipline but it’s been a while since they have produced a great team time trial. Astana did very well in the Giro (third) and in the Vuelta (first) but without Vincenzo Nibali to lead them, I doubt they will be able to make Top3 this time.

On the last day of the Vuelta, Nicolas Roche said that Saxo-Tinkoff was very eager to do well in Florence. Bjarne Riis has always been very fond of the team time trial and according to Roche, the Danish team aims for a spot on the podium. Christensen, Boaro, Roche, Mørkøv, Sørensen and Tosatto are the six riders for Sunday’s race and it will be interesting to see if they can live up to their own expectations. Personally, I don’t think they will do better than top5 but it wouldn’t be the first time the Danish team surprises in a TTT.

Radioshack is another solid Top5 candidate and on a good day may even Top3. Fabian Cancellara is in excellent shape right now and together with Jesse Sergent, Hayden Roulston, Yaroslav Popovych, Markel Iriza and youngster Bob Jungels, the team should be able to keep a high pace. However, Cancellara’s big goal this year is the road race. He’s the bookmakers’ top favorite for the title and the question is; “how deep will Cancellara dig in the time trials?” None of the other favorites are doing all three races (TTT, ITT & RR) and if Cancellara isn’t pushing it to his limits, he won’t be able to carry the team like he did in the team time trial in the Vuelta last month.

Map of the 57.2 km from Montecatini Terme to Florence. Pay attention to the technical last part of the route.

In recent years, it would be a mistake not to mention Movistar among the candidates. Once again, they have a strong team for this time trial but I doubt they will be able to better than 7th-10th place. Rui Costa, Jonathan Castroviejo, Andrey Amador, Jesus Herrada, Ruben Plaza and Eloy Teruel are all good time trialists but as stated in the beginning, this race is all about speed. Had this been a hilly team time trial like the ones we’ve seen in the Giro and the Vuelta in the past, Movistar would have been one of the favorites. However, on a 57.2 km flat course, there are simply other teams with bigger engines.

As of Saturday afternoon Garmin still hasn’t released their final teams yet. Both have the firepower to do very well this Sunday but as mentioned earlier, Garmin hasn’t really been able to deliver a good team time trial on the big scene for a while. Still, judging from the eight pre-selected riders, this may be their strongest team in a long time. No matter which six riders they end up picking, they are all strong on a flat course like this one. The team time trial used to be their specialty and I’m sure Garmin will be eager to show the world they still have what it takes fight for the win against the best teams.  

On paper, Team Sky also has a very strong team. All of their six selected riders (Froome, Porte, Boasson Hagen, Kiryienka, Siutsou & Thomas) did the Tour de France this year and individually they are all great time trialists. Chris Froome is leading the team but just like Fabian Cancellara, Froome's main focus is on the road race next Sunday. Of course, both Froome and Cancellara will be a huge help for their teams but thinking of the road race, they may hold back a little or decide not to take any risks in many sharp corner in the last part of the course.

For live coverage of the team time trial go to - and click here to see the starting order.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Thank you

This year’s Vuelta a España is now over and I want to say thanks to all of you visiting the site during the race. I really appreciate your feedback and kind words!

Next previews will be for the World Championships in Florence, starting already this weekend.

Stay tuned and thank you!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 21 Preview & Favorites

Chris Horner and Vincenzo Nibali gave us an amazing finish to this year’s Vuelta. Nibali attacked several times within the last 6 km but in the end, Horner went away and Nibali couldn’t respond. Valverde had problems in the beginning but he too recovered and secured his third place overall. Kenny Elissonde took a beautiful stage win after a long break and gave France their fourth stage win this race. That’s three more than they won in the Tour. Anyway, let’s take a look at the final stage.

The sprinters haven’t had many chances in this year’s edition. Latest, Bauke Mollema took them by surprise when he attacked on the final kilometer of stage 17. However, I think it’s safe to say that this stage will end in a bunch sprint.

Despite a very tough course, we still have most of the starting sprinters left in the race. One of the most consistent ones is Max Richeze. The Argentinian has four Top3 places so far but he is still missing a stage win - so is his team Lampre and they will be very eager to finish this race in style. A tough final week has often seen an outsider winning in Madrid and that could very well be case again this time. The way I see it, Richeze and Edvald Bosson Hagen are the two big favorites. The Norwegian was clearly the strongest in the sprint when Mollema won but the finish in Madrid is not a typical Boasson Hagen sprint. A short and flat stage with a criterium finish is better suited for some of the track riders like Leigh Howard and Michael Mørkøv. However, I think it will be very difficult to beat Edvald Boasson Hagen in Madrid.

Map of the final laps in Madrid. Click for larger view.
GreenEdge has only four riders left but two of those, Howard and Michael Matthews, are very good candidates for the win. Matthews started out this race and the fastest man in the sprints and if he has been able to keep his speed during the last hard week, his chances are as good as Richeze's and Boasson Hagen's.

Team Argos-Shimano came to the Vuelta with a young team ready to fight in the bunch sprints. Their Vuelta has already been a success but not because of the sprints. This is not their usually sprint team and that shows. However, they are still eight riders left and in Nikias Arndt and Reinardt Janse van Rensburg they have two strong outsiders. Arndt is the youngest rider in the race. Barguil and Kenny Elissonde are the second and third youngest and they have both won a stage. It won’t be easy for Nikias Arndt to win as well but on a good day, he may be able to pull it off.

Tyler Farrar won the final stage of the Vuelta in 2010 when he outsprinted Mark Cavendish. A lot of things have happened since then and now Farrar is not even close to beat the best sprinters in the world. He is very consistent but it almost never gets better than 3rd or 4th place. Farrar is fast on the final meters and if only he could position himself better, he should be able to win. I doubt the American will take another win in Madrid but in this company - no offense to Richeze and EBH - Farrar simply has to be able to win. If not, he may as well just kiss his days as “top sprinter” goodbye.

Before the Vuelta started, Gianni Meerman seemed to be good for at least a couple of stage wins. However, the strong Belgian hasn’t won a single stage yet. This kind of sprint doesn’t really suit Meersman but this has been a tough Vuelta and it’s all about who has something extra left in the tank. Meersman has been doing well in the mountains but I was surprised not to see him in front group on stage 17. I wouldn’t count off Gianni Meersman but personally I doubt he will win this stage.

If you are looking for other good jokers for the stage win in Madrid look to riders like; Francesco Lasca, Robert Wagner, Adrien Petit, Tosh Van der Sande and Zakkari Dempster.

It’s difficult to pick a winner for this stage but if I had to pick one it would be Edvald Boasson Hagen.

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 the last stage of this year's Vuelta, Laura picks Max Richeze to win.

For live coverage of the stage go to

Friday, September 13, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 20 Preview & Favorites

Joaquim ’Purito’ Rodriguez finally took his first stage win of this year’s Vuelta on stage 19. Katusha worked in front of the peloton all day long and with one kilometer to go, Purito dropped the rest of the favorites. Vincenzo Nibali couldn’t keep up with Horner on the final meters and Chris Horner is now leading the race with three seconds.

Before the Vuelta started, we could only hope for a fight this close and Angliru will now determine who’s going to win this bike race. Chris Horner has been the best climber so far and usually the best climber wins on Angliru. In the past, the big favorites have won here and I doubt that will change this time. The bonus seconds on the line can prove to be very important and the prestige alone of winning on Angliru should mean we won’t see the peloton let the early break get too far away.

It’s a short stage of only 142.2 km but it won’t be an easy day in the saddle. Even though the chances of a breakaway making it aren’t great, half the peloton will try to make it into that break anyway. It’s the last chance before Madrid to win a stage and strong teams like Movistar, Lampre and Euskaltel are still winless in this Vuelta. Except for the opening team time trial Astana hasn’t won anything either yet and without having to control the race, we may see them send a good climber up the road. If not to win the stage, then at least to help Nibali on the final climb.              

There are three categorized climbs on the menu before taking on Alto de l’Angliru and all three of them are very steep. The first one, Alto de la Cabruñana, is the easiest one. It comes after 40 km and has an average gradient of 6.6 %. From the top, there are only 30 km to Alto de Tenebredo starts. This climb is only 3.4 km long but it has an average gradient of over 10 %! The GC favorites won’t be dropped here but the steep gradients will hurt their legs before the final two climbs of the day.

Alto de l'Angliru. 12.2 km / avg. 10.2 %
With 26.6 km to go, it’s time to climb Alto del Cordal. This is a category 1 climb and the 5.3 km towards the top has an average gradient of 9.6 %. If Alejandro Valverde or Joaquim Purito are feeling exceptional well, we may see Movistar and Katusha set a high pace on Cordal in order to tire out their rivals. There won’t be many riders left in the peloton when reaching the top and those who are dropped won’t see the front of the peloton again today. After the fast decent, the riders start on Angliru right away. This climb is said to be the hardest one ever done in a bike race and its 12.2 km with an average of 10.2 % confirm that.

This is only the 6th time a stage finishes on Angliru and looking at some of the past winners, it’s clear this is one for the pure climbers. Jimenez, Simoni, Heras and Contador were all best in the world when they won here. Juanjo Cobo was the last winner on Angliru (in 2011). That year the Vuelta also had a stage finish on Peña Cabarga. Last Thursday Chris Horner sat a new record on the climb. He was more than 40 seconds faster than Cobo was in 2011.

Naturally, Chris Horner is the big favorite to win this stage. However, Vincenzo Nibali has a point when he says the climb suits the Italian better than Horner. Angliru is all about keeping a steady rhythm, sitting on the bike. Horner is always standing in the pedals and should it rain, it won’t be easy for him to distance the others. It’s true that Horner is better than the rest on the steep gradients right now but Angliru is constantly steep and therefore it’s more important to keep a steady rhythm. Also, Horner has never climbed Angliru before. Nibali has.

Like in the Tour, Purito seems to be very strong after the last rest day. However, after his win on Alto de Naranco he also said that “this was his last chance”. He knows it will be extremely difficult to win on Angliru and he’s probably more focused on gaining time on Valverde than going for the stage win. However, this climb suits Alejandro Valverde very well. The Movistar leader knows how to keep a high speed and honestly, I don’t think Purito will be able to distance Valverde enough to make podium. Actually, I doubt he will distance Valverde at all. The only chance for Purito to take 3rd place is if Nibali has a - very - bad day. In 2011, Liquigas sat a strong pace for Vincenzo Nibali in the bottom of Angliru but halfway to the top, Nibali couldn’t follow anymore and he ended up losing 2:37 min to Juanjo Cobo. I doubt it will happen again this time but if Radioshack, Movistar and Katusha work together and put pressure on Nibali already on Cordal, he may crack again on Angliru.

As mentioned, Movistar, Lampre and Euskaltel haven’t won a single stage in this year’s race and they will all be eager to change that fact today. Eros Capecchi and José Herrada are probably the two best cards Movistar can play in a breakaway. Capecchi was very good on Angliru in 2011 and it’s important to know this climb. I had Diego Ulissi down as my joker for stage 19 and he finished 2nd after Purito. Ulissi seems to have timed his shape perfectly for the World Championships and if he gets into the break, he will be very difficult to beat.

A steep climb like Angliru is always good for the pure climbers and Euskaltel has a lot of them. Mikel Nieve and Igor Antón are both out of the GC and will have freedom to attack. In 2011, Antón put in a strong attack with 7 km to go and for a time, he seemed to be the winner. However, he couldn’t follow when Cobo made his move. Back then, Antón attacked from the peloton. He ended up losing 1:21 min but imagine what he can do with a gap of 3 minutes in the bottom of the climb. Igor Antón has won on Monte Zoncolan in the past (2011) - the Italian pendant to Angliru - and he’s always been best on the steepest gradients.

It would be a smart move by Astana to send a rider or two in the early breakaway. They don’t have to control the race anymore and they would be happy to see the bonus seconds taken out of the equation if Nibali can't follow Horner. Tanel Kangert and Paolo Tiralongo will most likely stay with Nibali. Kangert sits 11th overall and Tiralongo never leaves Nibali’s side. Not even when the doctors advised him to do so when he was sick during the Giro. I think Janez Brajkovic and Jakob Fuglsang may fancy their chances. Brajkovic was the first rider in the Red Jersey and he’s been looking strong, working for Nibali, ever since. Before the Vuelta started, Fuglsang said he came to support Nibali and prepare for the World Championships. So far, he’s been riding very well without going over his limits. In the beginning, Fuglsang was aiming for a stage win but he became locked after Nibali took the jersey early in the race. Now he has a chance, his last chance, and it would be a shame to waste it. At least to get a strong day of racing before Florence.

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 this final day in the mountains, Laura picks Alejandro Valverde to win.

For live coverage of the stage go to

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 19 Preview & Favorites

I’ve pumping up Vasil Kiryienka’s chances of making it all the way from a breakaway the last couple of days and Thursday afternoon, he finally did. Kiryienka went solo with 45 km to go and managed to keep everybody behind him. Chris Horner showed he is still the strongest uphill when he climbed Peña Cabarga about 40 seconds faster than Juanjo Cobo did in 2011. Cobo won the Vuelta that year and right now, it seems like Horner will win this year’s edition.

Stage 19 is another one for a breakaway. The GC riders are focusing on Angliru and I doubt they want to use up their teams already. That being said, if Valverde or Purito wants to win a stage in this year’s Vuelta, this is probably their last chance. Astana and Vincenzo Nibali will be happy to see a breakaway take all the bonus seconds again this time. Nibali can’t follow Chris Horner on the steep gradients and even though the final climb isn’t very steep this time, I can’t see Nibali gain time on Horner in Oviedo.

The first 100 km of stage 19 take place next to the sea. The wind is coming from north-northeast and if it’s strong again, we might see a team like Saxo-Tinkoff trying to split up the peloton again. However, they are still about 80 km to go - and six climbs - so I doubt it will happen. However, DS Fabrizio Guidi says the team is looking to climb the GC and that means taking time on Purito and Valverde.

Usually the big favorites want to go for the stage win on the mythical Angliru climb and that means this is the last day for a breakaway to make it. Therefore, we can expect another very fast with half of peloton trying to get away. For once Movistar missed the breakaway on stage 18 and I’m sure they will be eager to get at least one rider up front this time. It’s true the final climb suits Alejandro Valverde very well but I doubt Movistar can control the race all by themselves. They tried on stage 18 and look what happened.

The final 5 km of stage 19 on Alto de Naranco.
The final 40 km of stage 19 are the hardest. There are three categorized climbs on the menu but actually, the intermediate sprint is also placed on top of a hill with an average of nearly 5 %. Typical for the Vuelta. The penultimate climb of the day, Alto de la Manzaneda, is the steepest one. It’s only 3.6 km long but has an average gradient of 6.2 %.

After entering Oviedo the final 5.7 km are uphill towards the finishing line. Alto del Naranco has average gradient of just 4.2 % but there are a steep kilometer of nearly 10 % with 3 km to go. The final two kilometers have an average gradient of 6.5 % and take place in headwind. The last 300 meters are straight out with a tailwind and should a couple of riders arrive together, it may be an idea to try an early sprint out of the final corner.

If the peloton catches the breakaway, Alejando Valverde is the big favorite but the chances of that aren’t very good. I think the GC riders will be saving a little energy for Angliru and that means we - once again - should look to riders down out of the general classification.

First rider on my list is Bauke Mollema. He didn’t have the legs to go for the GC after the Tour but he stayed in the race aiming for a stage win. That win came on stage 17 when he took the peloton by surprise with a late attack. Mollema is targeting the World Championships in Florence later this month and he’s coming out of this Vuelta in great shape. The final climb suits Mollema perfectly and unlike many other, the Belkin captain doesn’t need to solo away in order to win. Bauke Mollema is very fast on the line and it’s probably only Valverde and Dani Moreno could can outsprint him on a finish like this one.

Another strong rider right now is Diego Ulissi. I’ve been naming him a couple of times already as a good candidate for an early breakaway but so far, Ulissi hasn’t been able to make it. However, the young Italian is climbing very well these days and this stage really suits him. He tried a late attack the other day but never really got away. This is Diego Ulissi’s last chance for a stage win and I’m sure he will do whatever he can to make that final breakaway. Lampre also has Michele Scarponi for a stage like this one together; Ulissi and Scarponi are a very dangerous duo for stage 19.

Team NetApp Endura has been doing extremely well so far in this Vuelta. Leo König is still sitting 8th in the overall classification and Bartosz Huzarski was close to take the team’s second stage win the last time Warren Barguil won. König’s focus will be on Angliru but I think Huzarski has this stage marked in his road book. The strong Pole knows how to get into the right breakaways and he seems to be climbing very well right now. Furthermore, Huzarski is actually fast in an uphill sprint too. Don’t forget he took second place after Purito on stage 10 in the Giro last year.

For other good candidates looks to riders like; Warren Barguil, Rigoberto Uran, José Herrada, Ivan Santaromita, Rafa Valls, Andre Cardoso, Oliver Zaugg and the strong Euskaltel trio Igor Antón, Mikel Nieve and Mikel Landa. Euskaltel is aiming big at the team classification and we expect at least one orange rider in the breakaway.

For live coverage of the stage go to

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 18 Preview & Favorites

Team Saxo-Tinkoff did it again. They took the peloton by surprise in the crosswind and managed to distance Domenico Pozzovivo by 1:30 min. Nicolas Roche is therefore now back in Top5 - his big goal - and it will be interesting to see what Pozzovivo can do to take back the time he lost.

Stage 18 provides the first opportunity to change the overall classification. The 186.5 km include no less than five categorized climbs and the last one, Peña Cabarga, is one of the toughest in this year’s Vuelta a España. The day starts in Burgos where the riders head north. A light headwind will accompany the peloton for most of the day and we can expect another hard day in the saddle.

The breakaway has a good chance of making it all the way again and it will be a furious fight to get into that final break. There are no real climbs the first 75 km it won’t be a surprise if the break doesn’t get away for good until they hit the first climb. Alto de Bocos is only 3 km long but its average gradient of 6.6 % will show who has the legs to be in front today.

The following three climbs come right after each other and the penultimate one, Alto del Caracol, has its top just 40 km from the finishing line. The run-in towards the final climb is up and down at all the time and nobody will arrive at the bottom of Peña Cabarga with fresh legs. There is an intermediate sprint in Solares with just 10 km to go and in case the break is caught, we may see the GC riders sprint for the three bonus seconds.

Peña Cabarga. 5.9 km / avg. 9.2 %
As the riders gets close to the final ascent, the roads turns 180° which means the peloton will start the last climb with a light tailwind. Peña Cabarga is 5.9 km long and has an average gradient of 9.2 %. There are even parts of over 20 % on the last kilometer. In 2011, Chris Froome took his first GrandTour stage win, when he outsprinted Juanjo Cobo on the final meters. Back then, Cobo attack with 1 km to go and at this point, they were still 10 riders left in front group. This time we may see attacks a bit earlier. Valverde and Purito can’t wait to the last kilometer and the TV-viewers can enjoy a great fight this Thursday afternoon. As Chris Horner says:  “Grab your beer and get ready for the show!

Chris Horner still seems to be the strongest rider uphill in this race and it’s difficult to imagine why it would change now. Astana will be happy if a breakaway makes it and thereby takes the bonus seconds on the line. Vincenzo Nibali didn’t look too good the other day, however I’m sure the Italian is only getting better. It won’t be easy to drop him on the steep percentages. Tanel Kangert, Janez Brajkovic and Jakob Fuglsang will all be there to support Nibali in the final and probably Paolo Tiralongo as well. Chris Horner only has Robert Kiserlovski left to help but then again, the Croatian champion is probably among the best climbers in the race right now. Kiserlovski can’t afford to have a bad day though - in that case, Horner will be completely isolated.

It will be very interesting to see how Movistar will ride this stage. They haven’t won a single stage yet and they must be eager to finally cross the line first. Before the stage to Formigal, Alejandro Valverde seemed happy just to take 3rd place overall but not anymore. Valverde now eyes the Red Jersey and he says he won’t be afraid of attacking from a far - and to risk losing everything - if he sees an opening. However, it’s important to remember that Valverde doesn’t know the Peña Cabarga ascent. He decided to rest after the Tour instead of going to check out the climb.

Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez is probably on the same page in the tactic book as Valverde. He showed he is now strong enough to drop the other GC riders uphill and on the steep percentages on Peña Cabarga, Purito has to try again. I would imagine Dani Moreno to set a high pace in the beginning of the climb in order for Purito to attack when gradients get over 10 %. Purito already knows what it takes to win on Peña Cabarga. He won here in 2010 when he distanced Nibali with 20 seconds after a late attack with just 800 meters to go. 

Domenico Pozzovivo lost his 5th place overall in the crosswind on stage 17 and he will be eager to take it back from Nicolas Roche. The steep climbs suits Pozzovivo perfectly and with only 53 kg to carry, he should be able to distance Roche in the final. He probably won’t take back all the time he lost in the wind but he will get closer.

As stated, the breakaway has a good chance of making it again. It would suit Astana perfectly if the bonus seconds weren’t up for grabs and Movistar and Katusha may be too focused on the battle for the GC to control the peloton. However, if Valverde and Purito wants a stage win from this year’s Vuelta this is an opportunity they can’t afford to miss. Anyway, in case a break makes it all the way, let’s take a look at some of the best candidates.

First up is Michele Scarponi. The Italian is very strong right now and has been good at hitting the right breaks. Scarponi can’t drop the best riders uphill anymore but he showed the other day, that he is in great shape. He finished second after Alexandre Geniez and was one of the few riders able to take back time on the Frenchman on the last climb. Why he let him get away in first place is a mystery. One thing talking against Scarponi is that he’s only 12:08 min after Vincenzo Nibali. At this point in the race, the team start to protect their Top10 places and they may not let Scarponi get too much of a gap.

Euskaltel are trying hard to get a stage win in their last Vuelta and I’m sure they will do whatever they can in order to put a strong climber in the early breakaway. Igor Antón and Mikel Nieve are not big threats in the GC and especially Antón seems to be doing pretty well right now. Another Spanish climber who’s getting better and better is David Arroyo. He came to race in great shape but crashed in one of the first stages. Slowly Arroyo is getting back at a high level and he’s now less than a minute from breaking into Top10 overall. The final climb suits Arroyo just fine but he won’t be able to drop the other GC riders. If he wants to give Caja Rural a stage win, he needs to attack from a far. Like Scarponi, it won’t be easy to get a big gap but you never know this late in the race.

For other good candidates look to riders like Amets Txurruka, Nicolas Edet, Georg Preidler, Ivan Santaromita, Diego Ulissi, Rafal Majka, Dario Cataldo and Yoann Bagot. Bagot is right now 22nd in the overall classification but he needs four minutes to make into Top20. So far, the French riders have been very good in this Vuelta and I can’t see why Warren Barguil shouldn’t be able to make a hat-trick. He’s obviously in outstanding shape right now and despite his inexperience Barguil really knows how to hit the right breakaway!

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 18, Laura picks Joaquim 'Purito' Rodriguez to win.

For live coverage of the stage go to

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 17 Preview & Favorites

After a well-deserved rest day, the Vuelta continues with a stage for the sprinters - or so it seems. In fact, the final 10 km are very demanding with a steep hill and a tricky descent. More on the later.

The day starts in Calahorra and finish in Burgos after 189 km in the saddle. Without being completely flat, this isn’t a very hilly stage either. The sprinters haven’t had many chances in this year’s Vuelta and their teams will be eager to control the race. The first 100 km take place in head- and crosswind and we shouldn’t see a breakaway get too much of a gap.  After 109.8 km it’s time for the first categorized climb of the day, Alto de Pradilla. It’s a category 3 climb and the 6 km towards the top have an average gradient of 5.4 %.

The next climb, Alto de Valmala, starts after 133.5 km and from its top there are 50 km to the finishing line. The last intermediate sprint comes with 36 km to go and from here, the riders will be able to enjoy a strong tailwind towards Burgos. On paper, the final 10 km don’t look very tough but if you haven’t done your homework, you will be in for a big surprise!

With about 10 km to go, the riders turn right - away from the big road - up the little Calle Eras de San Francisco. The following 1.2 km are uphill and especially the first part is steep. While the riders won’t be able to admire it, the TV-viewers will have a beautiful view over Burgos on the way towards the top of the hill. From here, it’s downhill for about 450 meter before the road kicks up again for 200 meters. The following 800 meters downhill are very technical and on narrow roads. The peloton will be stretch out significantly on this part, and it’s doubtful all the sprinters will make it back to the front in time.

The final 5 km are straight out with a few up and down parts. There is now cross- and headwind towards the line and it won’t be easy for a lonely rider to keep the peloton behind him. However, if the sprinters aren’t back in the peloton, it may be very difficult organizing the chase.

The final 14 km of stage 17. Many things to pay attention to!
Click for larger view.
We haven’t seen a regular mass sprint since Michael Matthews won Stage 5 and the chances are good that we won’t get one this time either. Usually Philippe Gilbert, Luis León Sanchez and Simon Gerrans would be excellent winner candidates for a finish like this one. However, they are all out of the race and instead we should probably look to opportunistic riders like Juan Antonio Flecha, Fabian Cancellara, Luca Paolini and Rinaldo Nocentini for a late attack on the hill.

Especially Fabian Cancellara is extremely strong right now and if he gets away on the descent, I doubt the peloton will see him again until after they cross the finishing line. The same goes for a rider like Samuel Sanchez. He’s getting better and better but he still isn’t able to beat the best climbers uphill. Sanchez knows how to attack on the final kilometers and keep the peloton behind him and he’s very eager to give Euskaltel their first stage win in the their last Vuelta a España.

In case it all gets back together in time for the final sprint, it should come down to a battle between Gianni Meersman and Michael Matthews. In theory, any of them should have problems on the 1.2 km climb but it all depends on how fast the peloton is going. Edvald Boasson Hagen is another very good candidate for the stage win. He came close when Gilbert won and he’s been trying very hard to hit the right breakaway the last couple of days. The strong Norwegian is obviously in great shape and I would be surprised not to see him fight for the win in Burgos.

If you are looking for a super joker, look to Anthony Roux. He’s very fast on the line, especially in a reduced peloton, and he’s been doing very well the last two days in the Pyrenees. He may not be able to beat the big sprinters in a regular bunch sprint but with a finish like this one, he should be in the mix.

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 17, Laura picks Fabian Cancellara to win.

For live coverage of the stage go to

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 16 Preview & Favorites

As expected, a break made it all the way on stage 15. Alexandre Geniez made sure the French spectators could celebrate the Vuelta visiting when he soloed away with 25 km to go. No changes in the overall classification as the first five riders stayed together all the time. Only Purito seemed to have energy to keep on trying to attack.

Monday’s stage is another hard day in the Pyrenees but not nearly as hard the last two days. The stage is only 146 km long and this time and it seems like the rain is now gone and the sun is back. Everybody is tired and it won’t be a surprise if an early breakaway manages to stay away again.

The first 20 km takes place in tailwind and this means we are in for another very fast start. Most likely, we will see a break getting away on Puerto de la Foradada. It’s only a category 3 climb but the 5.9 km towards the top still have an average gradient of 5.9 %. There are a lot of tired legs in the peloton after the last two days and it will be interesting who has something left in the tank.From the top of Puerto de la Foradada, the riders will have 60 km to cover in a light crosswind before the they start on the next climb. Puerto de Cotéfablo is 12.5 km long and has an average gradient of 4 %. It’s not a very steep climb but after the last two days, it won’t be a walk in the park either.

At this point on the stage, the wind has now changed and what started out as a tailwind is now a headwind. This means the final 30 km will be extremely hard for a breakaway and it's important to have saved something for the final climb. The ascent up to Aramón Formigal is 15.8 km long and has an average gradient of only 4 %. However, most of the first 6 km are either flat or downhill. The road start to kick up with 10 km to go and the following 3.5 km are steep with parts of nearly 10 %. The climbs then evens out for about 4 km before it gets steep again. The final 3.5 km have an average gradient of 7 % and this is where you can make the difference.

Aramón Formigal. 15.8 km / avg. 4 %. Last 3 km avg. 7 %.
In my preview for stage 15 I mentioned riders like Vasil Kiryienka, Mikel Landa and Diego Ulissi as good breakaway candidates. Landa made it into the break but didn’t have the strength to stay with Geniez. Kiryienka and Ulissi stayed in the peloton and once again, I’d like to point to those two as candidates for a break. I will add to that list riders like Egoi Martinez, Bauke MollemaMarcos Garcia, Georg Preidler and Chris Anker Sørensen.

The last two names for the (long) list of good candidates are Amets Txurruka and Rigoberto UranTxurruka was very active in the beginning of stage 15 and he started several breakaways. However, Txurruka couldn’t cover every move and in the end the big break went away without him (but with two other Caja Rural riders). Rigoberto Uran too was very active on stage 15. He stayed with the favorites for most of the time and he even tried to get away a couple of times. Uran is obviously feeling better and being nearly 25 minutes after Vincenzo Nibali, he won’t be the first rider the peloton start chasing down.

Among the favorites, there are no doubts that Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Horner are the two strongest riders uphill right now. Actually, it’s probably Horner’s teammate Robert Kiserlovski who’s best climber at the moment. The Croatian champion is a very important help for Horner these days! The last two days have been tough on the riders and once again, it will be interesting to see how 41 years old Chris Horner will recover. Naturally, he can’t recover as fast as the younger riders but so far he doesn’t seem to have any problems at all.

Alejandro Valverde and especially Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez tried to attack on stage 15 but Nibali and Horner never let them get more than a few meters. The final climb is not very steep this time and it will be very difficult for the two Spaniards to get away. Valverde seems to be satisfied with third place overall and he’s probably paying more attention to Purito in 4th place than to Horner in 2nd place. Valverde knows he can outsprint Purito in the end Purito knows it too. The final three kilometers on Formigal are the steepest and I expect Purito to put in a couple of strong attacks in the hairpin corners trying to drop Valverde. It won’t be easy but it seems like Purito is very eager to make up for the lost time.

The final 3 km of stage 16. Avg. of 7 %.
Domenico Pozzovivo is only six seconds in front of Nicolas Roche in 5th place but I don’t think he will have problems keeping the Irishman behind him. Pozzovivo has been very focused on not wasting any energy too early in the race. The Italian climber came to the race aiming for Top5 overall and he’s been saving energy for the last week. Roche has already put in numerous attacks and hadn’t he had a one minute gap to the favorites on the last climb on stage 15, he probably would have lost time again.

Samuel Sanchez is right now the best Euskaltel rider in the mountains and he too seems to be getting better and better every day. Sanchez can’t follow the top favorites when it gets steep but he’s clever and knows how to keep a good pace. The final climb on stage 16 has a couple of flat parts and I won’t surprise me to see Sanchez attack on the flat parts to get a good gap before the road kicks up again. He may even be able to win this stage like that if the peloton keeps the breakaway within striking distance.

The Vuelta pays homage to Fernando Escartín with this stage. The former Kelme captain never managed to win Vuelta a España but he was among the best climbers the country has ever produced.

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 16, Laura thinks a breakaway will make it and she picks Amets Txurruka to win.

For live coverage of the stage go to

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 15 Preview & Favorites

Daniele Ratto took a beautiful stage win in the rain when he soloed away to win on Collada de la Gallina. Belkin deserves to be mentioned as well though. The Dutch team put in play a brilliant plan but unfortunately, Luis León Sanchez crashed on the long descent and had to quit the race. So did Ivan Basso and since Purito and Valverde are not on top of their game, this Vuelta is down to the battle between Vincenzo Nibali and Chris Horner.

Stage 14 was a horrible day in the saddle for the riders and it won’t get any better this Sunday. In fact, it only gets worse as the stage is almost 100 km longer. The weather stays the same and there aren’t any less climbs on the menu. On paper, this is another good stage for a breakaway. The favorites will focus on each other and since Nibali and Horner are the strongest uphill, we probably won’t see Katusha and Movistar go hard for the stage win. At least not from the very beginning.

The riders start climbing after just 7 km of the stage when Puerto del Cantó starts. The 24.4 km towards the top have an average gradient of 4.2 %. It’s steepest in the beginning and we can expect a lot of attacks right from the start. From the top of Puerto del Cantó, there are still 50 km until the next climb starts and in tailwind, the breakaway has time to get a good gap.

The final 16.7 km of stage 15 up to Peyragudes.
After 81 km it’s time for Puerto de la Bonaigua. It’s another long climb - 20 km - and with an average gradient of 5,5 %, there won’t be many riders left in the peloton at the top. The descent is almost 65 km long and it’s extremely important to be wearing enough clothes. It will be a very cold day and if you forget to eat and stay warm, you probably won’t be able to cope with the tough final in France.

The last 50 km are the same as when Alejandro Valverde won on Peyragudes in the Tour de France last year. First Col du Port de Balés, then Col de Peyresourde and after a short descent it’s time for the final 4 uphill kilometers towards the finishing line. I think a breakaway will make it all the way again, especially with the tough start of the stage in the mind. There are still many hard climbs left in this Vuelta and the GC riders have to save as much energy as possible in this horrible weather.

I had big expectations for Euskaltel’s Mikel Landa heading into to this Vuelta. Landa did very well in Burgos and seemed to be in great shape. However, he hasn’t shown much of his qualities, until this Saturday. On the hardest stage of the race so far, Mikel Landa stayed with the favorites almost all the time and finished in 9th place. Euskaltel tried a big play with three riders (Urtasun, Martinez & Antón) attacking but they didn’t manage to get away. It really seems like the team has woken up after the good news of Fernando Alonso saving the team. Mikel Landa is more than one hour after Nibali in the GC and he’s not a rider they will give many thoughts should he attack. It shows a lot of strength to do as well as Landa did on Stage 14 and if he can recover well enough, I think he will try to give Euskaltel their first stage win in their last Vuelta España - as we have known them for 20 years.

Another rider who did very well on Saturday’s tough stage is Vasil Kiryienka. With both of his captains out of the GC, Kiryienka can now take his own chance and he tried a couple of times on stage 14. He didn’t manage to get away but when they were only 10 riders left in front, Vasil Kiryienka was still there. He faded at bit in the end and finished 26th but I’m sure his sensations were good. The strong Belarusian knows how to get into the winning breakaways and finish it off in the big mountains.

Weather forecast for stage 15. Click for larger view.
I also think Diego Ulissi has a good chance on this stage. The young Italian won the first mountain stage in Tour of Poland last month, also in rainy conditions. Ulissi is very strong on the climbs, not afraid of attacking and he packs a very good sprint as well. The final kilometer of stage 15 is flat and should it happen a few riders arrive together, it will be difficult to beat Diego Ulissi.

In the Giro this year, Vincenzo Nibali already showed he doesn’t mind the harsh weather. He is right now the strongest rider in the race and I doubt he will let go of the Red Jersey anymore. Of course, everybody can have an off day and it’s important to recover well after Saturday’s struggle. Therefore, it will be very interesting to see how soon-to-be 42 years old Chris Horner will cope with this long and difficult stage. So far he hasn’t shown any weaknesses uphill and with Robert Kiserlovski in outstanding shape, I guess the other GC riders just can’t drop him.

Alejandro Valverde said he had the worst day of his life on bike in Andorra. He was cold on the descents and it wasn’t until they started climbing he was able to get warm and find his rhythm. However, when he started to climb he was fast. Very fast! He overtook one rider after the other to finish 6th on the stage. Valverde knows the final on this stage climbs very well and if he can cope with the bad weather and stay in front, he has a very good chance of repeating his stage win from last year.

Katusha wanted to set up Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez near his home in Andorra but Purito simply couldn’t follow the attacks from Horner and Nibali. He decided to keep his own pace and minimize his losses and now the Spanish climber is 2:57 min after Nibali in the overall classification. He has 1:05 min up to Valverde in third place and I think it will be very difficult for Purito to make the overall podium this year. Of course, anything can still happen on these stages but Purito needs to find stronger legs if he wants to distance his rivals uphill.

If you are looking for other interesting riders to make the early breakaway, look to guys like; Chris Anker Sørensen, Andre Cardoso, Amets Txurruka, Javi Moreno, Rafa Valls and Ivan Santaromita

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 15, Laura picks Mikel Nieve to win.

For live coverage of the stage go to