Friday, September 6, 2013

Vuelta a España: Stage 14 Preview & Favorites

The breakaway made it all the way Friday on stage 13. Unfortunately, this unlucky combination took out Beñat Intxausti. The Basque Movistar rider managed to get into the winning break on the day the race started in the hometown of his late his teammate Xavi Tondo. It would have been a beautiful story had Intxausti won the stage but he never got the chance. Instead, Warren Barguil took the biggest win of his young career after an impressive late attack. Vincenzo Nibali still leads the race overall and it will be interesting to see if he can keep the Red Jersey after stage 14.

The Vuelta enters Andorra this Saturday and that means it’s time to start climbing. However, the first 40 km are downhill and we can expect another fast start. On paper, a breakaway could make it again but this is a short and extremely hard stage and the favorites will be eager to test each other.

Port de Envalira is the highest point of this year’s race, the so-called Cima Alberto Fernández. The 26.7 km towards the top have an average gradient of 5.2 % and start after 60 km. There are steep parts of 15 % near the top and we can expect a very reduced peloton already at this early point of the stage. If you have a bad day today, you will end up losing a of time and with many strong teams, I doubt the pace won’t be high on Port de Envalira.

The following two climbs, Coll de Ordino and Alto de la Comella, both have an average gradient of about 5 % with steep parts near the top. They will tire out the peloton but they won’t be decisive. After 148.5 km in the saddle, the riders arrive to the bottom of the final struggle of the day. Collada de la Gallina is 7.2 km long and has an average gradient of 8 %. It was on this climb that Alberto Contador was caught on the final meters last year. In case you don’t remember the stage you can watch it below:

In 2010, Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez did everything he could to wear the Red Jersey when the Vuelta entered Catalunya. He wanted to show off the jersey on home soil and he managed to do it. Now we are in Andorra and once again, Purito is home. Confused? Don’t be. Purito is now living in Andorra and he knows this climb better than anyone does. He wanted to win here last year but after closing the gap to Contador, Valverde came around him on the final meters. This year, Purito is out for revenge. On Sunday the 8th, it’s the national holiday in Andorra and according to Purito; “it would be the bomb to win here the day before the national holiday. Especially after what happened last year”. A breakaway has good chances of making it all the way but I think Katusha will be eager to control the race. Purito is 2:33 min after Nibali in the overall classification and he knows he has to attack. He can’t just wait to the final kilometer and take the bonus seconds.

Purito’s teammate Dani Moreno had a brilliant day on Collada de la Gallina last year where he constantly stayed next to Purito. Moreno is now 3:56 behind in the GC and there is no doubt that he will be acting as super domestique for Purito again this Saturday. On stage 12, Moreno went down the same place where Intxausti crashed but luckily he didn’t hurt himself too much.

Chris Horner has been the best rider on the climbs so far in the race. The American veteran easily dropped the other GC riders on the last mountain top finish and if he shows the same strength, he will be difficult to beat. Personally, I doubt Horner will be able to keep his high level for the rest of the race but then again, it wouldn’t be first time he surprised everybody in this Vuelta…

It will be interesting to see how Astana will ride this stage. Vincenzo Nibali seems to be in control and with his late attack the other day; he showed he’s very strong right now. Jakob Fuglsang will be an important help for Nibali when they are only 10 riders left in front. It’s very difficult to attack and keep a gap when the Danish climber sets the pace. Just ask Pozzovivo.

Collada de la Gallina. 7.2 km / avg. 8 %
Collada de la Gallina is a very tough climb but I doubt we will see huge times differences between the big favorites. They all seem to be very equal. Last year Alejandro Valverde attacked from the peloton with three kilometers to go but later on, he had problems following the strong accelerations of Contador and Froome. Valverde is only 46 seconds after Nibali and knowing there are still many climbs left in this Vuelta, he may be fine just sticking to the strong Italian and then beat him on the line.

Nicolas Roche is the big joker. He’s in the shape of his life but he got dropped several times on Alto de Hazallanas. Every time he managed to fight his way back but how long can he continue to do that? On stage 13, he looked very strong when he followed Katusha’s move on Rat Penat but it’s uncertain how he will cope with the hard climbs in Andorra. Saxo-Tinkoff also has Rafal Majka in Top10 overall and the Polish climber will be a very important helper for Roche.

A third Saxo-Tinkoff rider I think we need to keep an eye on for this stage is Roman Kreuziger. He finished 5th overall in the Tour de France this summer but didn’t want to aim at the GC in the Vuelta. Instead, Kreuziger is focusing on the World Championship in three weeks’ time. Originally, the plan was to aim for a stage win but with Roche near the Red Jersey, Kreuziger may have to stay in the peloton and help his Irish teammate. The Czech Amstel Gold Race winner did a great time trial the other day and I think Kreuziger will be up there near the front to help Roche on Collada de la Gallina.

The weather forecast shows clouds and possible thunderstorms for tomorrow’s stage. The complete opposite of what we have seen the first part of the Vuelta. In the Giro this year, Vincenzo Nibali showed that not even a snowstorm could hold him back on the climbs and he won’t be suffering in the bad weather. One that may do is Domenico Pozzovivo. He surprised many with his third place in the time trial and so far, he’s been looking very strong uphill. However, Pozzovivo doesn’t like the cold weather and we may see the tiny Italian fade a bit in the cold temperatures.

Thibaut Pinot has been among the best riders uphill the last week but he’s not feeling 100 % at the moment. The French climber is not comfortable on the descents and with three of them before the final climb; he may lose ground. Especially if weather is bad. Ivan Basso is no champion on the descents either but when he’s first in the front group, he doesn’t let go. The many climbs are good for a diesel motor like Basso and even though he can’t follow the strong attacks of Horner or Purito he knows how to keep his pace and come back to the front. Time after time.

In case a breakaway ends up making it all the way, look out for riders like:

Chris Anker Sørensen - Feeling better and better every day and is looking to win a stage from a break.
Sergio Henao - Out of the GC and hopes to save his Vuelta with a stage win.
Diego Ulissi - Strong and very eager to attack.
Igor Antón - 7th Collada de la Gallina last year and already out of the GC.

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

For live coverage of the stage go to

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