Friday, 6 September 2013

Vuelta a Espana 2013 : Stage 14 Preview

THOSE people who watched the Tour de France this year will remember stage 8 and the first entry into the Pyrenees.

It saw Chris Froome and Team Sky destroy their opposition and ultimately set up his overall victory in Paris two weeks later.

Tomorrow sees the Vuelta a Espana enter the big mountain chain. And all expectations are it could be equally as explosive.

Stage 14 takes the riders from Baga and into Andorra, finishing 155.7km later on top of the Collada de la Gallina.

Along the route there are three climbs to overcome before the final dash up the category 1 Gallina.

First up is the familiar Port de Envalira. The hors categorie (HC) climb has figured many times in both Le Tour and the Vuelta. It was last used in 2009 at the beginning of a stage and fittingly it was Sandy Casar who crested it first, the Frenchman having just announced his retirement from the sport yesterday.

The last time it was used in the Vuelta was in 2003 as a stage finish and it was Alejandro Valverde had his hands raised in triumph that time, as he headed towards an overall third position.

The climb is a whopping 26.7km long with an average gradient of 5.2%. Now that might not seem a lot but if hits ramps of 9-10% in the opening 3km and maxes out at 15% towards the top.

It's summit here is 68.4km from the finish and so won't decide the stage outcome but it will begin the big thinning out of the peloton.

The descent off the Envalira takes us to within 47km off the line but there are still two category 2 climbs to come.

The first is the Coll de Ordino which is 8.8km and has an average gradient of 4.9%. The second is the Alto de la Comella, shorter at 4km but slightly more difficult at 5%.

Neither will split the field asunder but if the pace is kept high it will not only discourage attacks but also shell a few more out the back.

Once off the Comella there is only a short run through the valley before starting the final ascent.

The Gallina is 7.2km long but has an average gradient of 8%. It has a section in the middle which hits 15% while the final two kilometres hit 9% rising to 10%.

It will mean a tough run to the line and throws up many alternative winners.

Chris Horner has looked very strong on the climbs so far and I'm sure he will want to win the jersey back. Expect an attack at some point.

Vincenzo Nibali currently has that jersey and will want to defend it. He left his run a little too late to close down Horner on stage 10 and won't want to make that mistake again.

The two other big Spaniards may fancy their chances also. Valverde will like this finish although he may also have an eye on Sunday's stage.

Joaquin Rodriguez has the comfort of a 2.33 deficit to Nibali and this mean the top four riders may not respond as quickly if he attacked. If can get a gap he could be gone for the win. However he hasn't looked in the best of form recently but on his day, he would be the favourite.

Nico Roche has been exceptional so far and is definitely having his best ever grand tour. He should be able to hold the others to a fairly reasonable gap but I can't see him challenging for the stage win.

Of the others, well look no further than Euskatel. This is their territory but following the takeover by F1 world champion Fernando Alonso they will be losing their Basque persona.

I'm sure the Basque fans will continue to support them as vociferously as before but I'm also sure the team will want to put on a show. Expect at least one in the break and if one of (if not all) of Igor Anton, Mikel Nieve and Sammy Sanchez don't appear at the head of affairs I will be most surprised!

Before the tour started I would have said David Arroyo would have been on the offensive in the mountains but he hasn't looked at his best so far. Don't count him out though.

Domenico Pozzovivo was amazing in the time trial and is more than suited to these type of steep climbs.  Has a chance.

Ivan Basso has looked really good as well in recent mountainous days. Can this be the day he makes an attack stick? He certainly will attack so why not.

Finally Carlos Alberto Betancur would have been a favourite for the Tour and this stage. But illness and a lack of competition put paid to that before it started. He will be getting better so expect at least one showing in the last week. The question is when. And why not today?

Lots of opportunities for a lot of riders. Whatever happens it will be exciting. You want me to pick one? I was afraid of that!

Joaquin Rodriguez then.

That's the mockers put on him!

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