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Tag: La Vuelta a España 2012
Degenkolb made it five; it was no surprise - we all knew the break was doomed. But it was good for the estimated 100,000 spectators around the course - and for the TV. It's never a chore to watch the best riders in the world hammer round the streets of a beautiful city. There were photo ops aplenty on the finish circuit; beautiful buildings, street cafes, fountains - not just 'boys on bikes.' And we won a watch with the finale; ambling onto a grandstand with 100 metres to go as the last lap desperation reached fever pitch.
The rain stings past the entrance to the ski lift at 45 degrees and tries its damnedest to puncture the metal sheets on the roof; thunder roars in and echoes around the concrete walls, lightning sparks across the dark sky, the air temperature has dropped from a pleasant Spanish summer's afternoon to January on Porty Prom. Welcome to the Bola del Mundo; they say it's the toughest climb in European cycling - we believe it. We've been up to Covadonga a time or two and the Angliru, plus most of the Giro and Tour 'biggies', but this is evil.
Hola ! It's a bit like being in a Vuelta sprinters' stage, this morning. Dry tundra, deserted low rise blocks to the left and right and all under a cloudless high plains sky. It just needs us to catch sight of David Moncoutie sitting at the back of the peloton. Yes, VeloVeritas is in Spain, headed for the Bola del Mundo.
Daniele Bennati saved his season and Radio Shack’s Vuelta with a perfectly timed sprint into Valladolid on Thursday afternoon. The perma-tanned fast man with the religious bent was just too quick for Sky’s Ben Swift who looked under-geared in the charge for the line. Sky got Swift’s lead out just right but ‘Benna’ was the smartest, freewheeling a few times in the finale to keep the heart rate down and then timing his bike through perfectly to pip Swift on the line.
There were no ‘pistolero’ gestures – it wasn’t a moment for playing to the photo opportunity. Just sheer joy of a man being back where he belongs – if you’ve taken the knocks and clawed back, then you’ll know that feeling. Alberto Contador Velasco has taken the knocks; he was close to death in 2004 when he suffered a cerebral cavernoma during the Vuelta a Asturias; in 2009 he had to fight not only the other 21 teams in the race but also half of his own Astana team as Lance made his ill-starred return; and he had to watch as his name was crossed off last year’s Giro result as a result of a controversial ‘positive.’ A slight, wiry man, simpatico and approachable, he’s not a seeker of the limelight off the bike – but on that Specialized he’s a ruthless, killer.
Dario Cataldo (QuickStep & Italy) took the biggest win of his life; Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM & Belgium) had his heart broken; Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha & Spain) took a huge step towards winning his first Grand Tour; Chris Froome (Sky & GB) realised you really can’t race the Tour and Vuelta to win in the same season and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff & Spain) reminded us how champions race. Many are saying an ‘epic’ day – I’m not so sure; perhaps I’ve spent too much time with Viktor but the rush to find ever more dizzy climbs leaves me a little cold.
We’ve all had them, those days when the pedals just turn and the sensations are good – Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural & Spain) had one, today. The 26 year-old from Seville was part of a break which went away early; originally 19 strong it split on a climb, with 10 making it all the way to the 13 kilometre slopes which lead 1135 metres up to the glacial lakes of Covadonga.
It's been a while in the Vuelta since anybody won (at least) three stages whilst in the leader's jersey - in fact we reckon the last time was in 1995 when Team ONCE rider Laurent Jalabert won a total of five stages, four of them whilst in the race lead, on his way to dominating the event by winning overall, leading his squad to the Team Competition, as well as taking the Mountains and Points Classifications too. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) may well be intent on replicating that feat this year, as today he took his third stage, taking the race to the others and exploiting his amazing uphill sprinting abilities by out-kicking Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) at Puerto de Ancares, the first of three consecutive stage summit finishes.
‘It’s awfully early,’ I thought to myself when I saw Degenkolb’s Argos boys commit with 50 K to go. And so it proved, there was a lot of fire power in the seven man break; Italian fast man Elia Viviani (Liquigas), hard working Linus Gerdemann (Shack), harder than nails Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), Giro podium finisher Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), GreenEDGE flyers Cameron Meyer and Simon Clarke – the latter already a stage winner in this race. And a certain Mr Steve Cummings from the BMC Racing team.
A four minute lead for a breakaway with 20 K to go would normally be a pretty safe bet – but not when Katusha and Movistar go on the rampage. Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Cameron Meyer (GreenEdge), Amael Moinard (BMC) and Kevin De Weert (QuickStep) weren’t pottering along, they were spelling hard and all of them were committed to the move.
How could we overlook Fred? He won the TT in the Tour of Switzerland - beating Cancellara in the process - then pushed TV hard for the polka dot jersey in le Tour. He says he's no 'pure tester,' but if there's a big climb and a technical descent then Fred's your man.
Degenkolb! He thrust four fingers into the air and that was that. Bouhanni was closer than he has been before, Bennati and The Shack didn’t do much wrong, but the Argos man has the head and the legs. And on this stage up in the far north west of Spain billed as, ‘the easiest of the race’ there wasn’t much doubt about who was going to win once it became apparent that it was going to finish in a bunch sprint.
Joaquim Rodriguez is building on the foundation of respect he laid at the Giro. The little Catalan isn’t sitting around waiting on Froome bludgeoning him in the ‘contra reloj’ on Wednesday; he’s riding like a champion, ‘la course en tete’ – at the head of the race. The TV camera doesn’t do the Montjuich climb justice, it’s seriously savage.
Chris Froome lost more time to race leader Joaquim Rodriguez today, all in the final 500 metres, as Alejandro Valverde and JR jumped clear of him and chased after Alberto Contador, who had got a gap of 100 metres over the three, with just a kilometre to go. Valverde and JR caught Contador in the last few metres, crossing the line in that order, but Contador in third place only wanted to know where Froome was, waited and looked back to see the Sky rider arrive 15 seconds later - not good for the Brit but he's still in second place, so no disaster either.
Not for the first time, Vik took the words right out of my mouth; "You can’t have a bike race finishing on a motor racing circuit, it just doesn’t work!" And he’s right; too wide, too bleak, no atmosphere and almost no spectators. Degenkold was mightily impressive, again. For all the talk of watts and tactics, sprinting is a mental game – if a sprinter’s head is right, then everything else drops into place. It’s why Cav is so hard to beat – his self belief is total.
You have to be impressed by Sky’s riding. There was no show boating or ‘riding into the climb’ – they only went to the front when it really counted. Henao is strong, as I said in the PEZ Vuelta preview; ‘Ninth in the Giro, third in Poland and second in Burgos; those are solid results.
Argos’s John Degenkolb was ‘speechless’ about his second stage win; but did manage to say that the last K was crazy fast and his team did a great job for him – that sounds about right. I think his last lead out man was Koen De Kort - who delivered his German team mate perfectly.
Echelons formed, Froome turned killer, Valverde was ambushed, the podium shook itself into shape early and a nice guy won. If that sounds exciting – it was. The Vuelta may only be four stages old, but it’s shaping up to be one cracker of a race. A break of five cleared off early and whilst it slowly decomposed on the last climb, world time trial champion Tony Martin (QuickStep) and Simon Clarke (GreenEDGE) held on doggedly to contest the finish.
Sprinters? As my old work buddy, Sam Johnston used to reply, when asked what had become of his ‘hot tip’ for the 3:45 at Kempton Park; ‘they’re still out looking for it – with lanterns!’ Stage three was no day for the sprinters; what VeloVeritas had failed to appreciate was that ‘Arrate’ was as in ‘Subida a Arrate’ mountain race – as won by Luis Ocana, Marino Lejarreta, Francisco Galdos, Johan de Muunck and Raymond Poulidor. No big, bulging thighs among those names.
We’re so lucky with televised cycling in 2012. I returned from my 500 metre run back from the Dalriada Bar on Joppa sea front on the ‘fixie’ – having easily distanced Marlene on her Giant shopper – and there was the Vuelta TTT repeat on Eurosport. Perfect; I didn’t catch it live on Saturday night – that’s ‘pictures night,’ TTT or not. In case you’re wondering, we saw Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Notorious’ with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman at the Filmhouse.
The Rabobank boys sat on their "hotseats' for over 30 minutes, as team after team came close to their time of 19 minutes and 1 second for the opening stage of the 2012 Vuelta, but failed to surpass it. When Team Sky arrived and just missed the target time by a couple of seconds and then Bert's Saxo-Tinkoff boys were four seconds too slow, the relief on the faces of Dutchmen Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam was there for all to see.