Am I on track?

Am I on track?

Monday, 20 August 2012

Vuelta a Espana 2012 - preview & predictions

The final Grand Tour for 2012 has just begun - the Tour of Spain, better known as the Vuelta a Espana.

The Vuelta often (and unfairly) lacks some of the following that the Giro and the Tour de France attract.  Perhaps people are 'cycling-weary', especially after a big year on the ProTour that included an Olympics as well.

Nonetheless, this year's Vueta is worth following!  It is very different to this year's Tour de France, in that the Vuelta route is much more for pure climbers.  There will be some interesting battles, and a number of questions will likely be answered...

Who will win?

Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Tinkoff)

The big story of this year's race is the return of El Pistolero - Alberto Contador - after his suspension for use of clenbuterol.  He is almost an unbackable favourite with the bookmakers.  I believe he will win, but not by the crushing margin many are predicting.

In his favour is the fact he hasn't raced the Giro, Tour, or the Olympics, and will have fresh legs.  I believe this is the key factor that will see him prevail over the likes of Froome and Van den Broek.  Against him is his lack of racing - anyone who has raced before knows there is no substitute for 'race fitness'... 

Expect to see Alberto Contador wearing the red leader's jersey at the conclusion of the Vuelta...

Who will come 2nd & 3rd?

Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Second at least year's Vuelta, after losing valuable time early on trying to sheperd Bradley Wiggins to teh win (sound familiar?).  Second at this year's Tour de France, and arguably could have won himself if given the leeway to do so.  There is no doubt the Kenyan-born Brit has the ability to win a grand tour one day.

I believe he will come second again in this race though, mainly because of his tough Tour de France and Olympics campaigns.  The fresh legs of Contador will be too much for the talented Froome to overcome...

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha)

Another rider with fresh legs, and a grand tour pedigree, is Joaquim 'Purito' Rodriguez. This punchy Spanish climber has podiumed at grand tours before, but has never broken through for the win.

He is not in the same class as Contador, but will challenge Froome hard for 2nd place.  Apart from having fresh legs, Rodriguez's big advantage is his ability to win stages and take advantage of the generous time bonuses on offer at the Vuelta.  This will put him at a huge advantage over Froome...

Close, but not quite...

Jurgen Van den Broek (Lotto-Belisol)

For me, VdB was the big surprise in this year's Tour de France. He showed genuine improvement, and made the big step up in class to show he is capable of winning a grand tour some time soon.  Like Froome though, I don't think he'll be able to back-up after a very tough Tour and will finish just off the podium.

The Rabobank Dilemma

Robert Gesink vs Bauke Mollema

This will be an interesting race within a race.  Rabobank has a 'dual leader' strategy for the Vuelta, giving both Gesink and Mollema freedom to do their best for the overall.

On the one hand you have Gesink, who has promised much as a grand tour contender but has never broken through for an overall podium.  Then you have the 'young gun' Mollema, who is desperate to prove himself as worthy of outright team leader status.

By all accounts, both riders get on well and the team dynamic is very good. So it will be fascinating to see which of these riders prevails as the standout for Rabobank.  It will likely decide team leader status for next year's Tour de France...

Viewing in Australia

SBS Television is showing a handful of stages live this year - do yourself a favour and watch this year's race. It should be a great mountains battle between the key contenders...

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