Thursday, September 5, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 13 Preview & Favorites

Philippe Gilbert finally got his first win in his Rainbow Jersey when he won stage 12 of the Vuelta. Just like last year when he arrived winless at the Vuelta. Back then, Gilbert went on to win another stage in the race and I think he may just make it two in a row. More on that later.

Stage 13 comes on a Friday and like in the Tour earlier this year, this unlucky combination may cause carnage. In July, Belkin and Saxo-Tinkoff split up the peloton in the crosswind and due to a bike problem; Alejandro Valverde ended losing his race that day. Despite riding alongside the coastline the last 15 km, the wind shouldn’t be a problem on this stage However, the steep Alto del Rat Penat will make sure, nobody arrives to final with fresh legs.

Alto del Rat Penat comes after 114.8 km and even though this category 1 climb is only 4.3 km long, its average (!) gradient of 10.6 % will definitely stretch out and split up the peloton. The following descent is very technical and on small roads, it won’t be easy to get to the front if you’re already dropped on the climb. However, it won’t be easy to keep the peloton behind you either, should you attack on the climb. The final 15 km next to beach are flat and we can expect the peloton to set a high pace at this point. It’s a short stage of only 169 km and that means it will be fast stage as well. Many of the usual sprinters will be dropped and even those remaining won’t have it easy.

Alto del Rat Penat. 4.3 km / avg. 10.6 %
With 3 km to go, the riders turn left, away from the beach. From here, they continue straight out for about two kilometers. The final kilometer includes a couple of turns and with 500 meters to go, the peloton have to overcome a rather large roundabout. Coming out of the roundabout, he final 400 meters are uphill and especially the final 150 meters are steep. It’s very important to have something left in the legs for this final part. It’s not as steep as Alto del Rat Penat but it’s enough to make a significant selection.  

Philippe Gilbert timed his sprint perfectly on stage 12 and knew he was the best in the uphill sprint. He didn’t panic when Edvald Boasson Hagen got a bug gap early and that shows that Gilbert mentally is very strong too. He hasn’t won a single bike race since he won the World Championship last year and it takes a lot to cope with that pressure. This final is perfect for Gilbert and I’m convinced BMC will do whatever they can to control the race in the final.

The biggest threat to Gilbert is, the way I see it, Dani Moreno. The strong Spaniard has already won two stages in this year’s Vuelta and a win here, will also extend his lead in the points classification. It may not be his primary target in the race but if Katusha can’t put a rider on the final podium, at least they can take the Green Jersey. Dani Moreno forgot to eat the other day, when Horner won the stage, but he still seems to be in outstanding shape. Thursday, Moreno turned 32 and a win in Castelldefels would be a great birthday present for the strong Katusha rider.

Another Katusha rider who will be extra motivated is Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez. Stage 13 starts in Valls, the hometown of the late Xavi Tondo. The Spanish rider tragically died on May 23, 2011 while getting ready for training ride. Purito was a good friend of Tondo and last year, he won stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia on the day marking Tondo’s death. It won’t be easy for Purito to win the stage and dedicate it to his late friend but together with Dani Moreno, it’s not impossible.

Michael Matthews punctured with 5 km to go on stage 12 and didn’t get a chance to take part in the sprint. The uphill finish on stage 12 probably suited Matthews more than the one on stage 13 will do but the former U23 World Champion seems to be in great shape. Matthews has been killing the competition on the steep finish in Stirling, in Tour Down Under, two years in a row (2011 & 2012) and on a good day, he’s up there fighting with Gilbert and Moreno for the stage win.

Other strong candidates for the stage win are riders like Alejandro ValverdeGianni Meersman, Zdenek StybarLuis León Sanchez, Rinaldo Nocentini and Edvald Boasson Hagen. On paper, this finish is also perfect for Simon Gerrans. However, the Australian doesn’t seem to be 100 % after his crash earlier in this race. Of course, if Gerrans is ready to fight, he is one of the favorites for this stage.

Juan Antonio Flecha is another good outsider. Vacansoleil-DCM is without sprinters at the moment since Barry Markus is out of the race and Grega Bole is fighting a respiratory infection. Flecha is in great shape right now and he’s constantly near the front in the final. In addition, with 22 km to go, the peloton passes through Sitges where Flecha moved to from Argentina at the age of 11. Flecha is now living in today's finish town Castelldefels. It won’t be easy for the Spaniard to outsprint the fast guys but if he can get a little gap, he may be able to take a big win on home soil. One thing is for sure; Flecha will be extremely motivated!

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 13, Laura thinks a breakaway will make it and she picks Juan Antonio Flecha to win.

For live coverage of the stage go to steephill.tv

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