31 August 2013

Vuelta a España Stage 8: Jerez de la Frontera to Estepona. Alto Peñas Blancas

So after stage 6 when the sprinters being led out by a former world time trial champion only caught the world time trial champion in the final second of the stage, it was time for the sprinters stage to try and get it right.

There were three men in the breakaway Christian Knees (SKY), Marco Pinotti (BMC) and Javier Aramendia (CJR), they did cross the finish line first, but that was for the last intermediate sprint of the day before heading out on a 31.5km loop before they returned. They did get eventually caught with 17 km to go. Although Pinotto perhaps inspired by Tony Martin (OPQ) the day before hung on and dug deep to avoid capture for another 2km.

However, the run in to the finish was a technical one and there was a chance that a late breakaway could happen and maybe stay away. At 10km to go the rainbow jersey on the back of Philippe Gilbert (BMC) launched an attack, he was soon joined by Zdenek Stybar (OPQ) in the twists that led to the finish they were able to open up their lead hitting 1lm to go some 7 seconds clear of the peleton. However, with Gilbert on the front not wanting to lead out too soon the peleton was fast approaching, before Stybar launched an attack into the last corner and headed for the line, with a fast approaching Gilbert and faster approaching peleton on his back. In the end the Czech rider held on to deny the World Champion his first win in the jersey and there was still a 1 second gap to the peleton.

On loser was Daniel Martin (GRS) who fell some 13km out and tried to chase back but ended up 1'33" down. It may have put an end to any lingering GC hopes he may have had, but it could allow him to go for a stage win in the mountains without attracting too much attention.

Speaking of the mountains that is were we are heading back to.today. First we head to the Costa del Sol at Estepona about have way between Gibraltar and Marbella, but then it is the turn back inland from the beaches into the Bermeja Mountains that will be the crux of today's stage.

The climb of the Alto Peñas Blancas is the return after three relatively easier days to the tough mountain passes. Meaning that only those with climbing legs will feature in the finish. The climb is 14.5km long with an average gradient of 6.6%. Starting from 20m above sea level it will climb 960 more. But its steepest gradient is on the lower slopes some 12.5% just 2km in. Shortly after that ramp is does level out for a couple of kms before hitting 9% as it gets tough once more and stays over average gradient mostly until the line.

On our last mountain finish Movistar set the pace for Alejandro Valverde and I don't see them doing much different this time. Rigoberto Uran (SKY) may well find himself isolated again unless Sergio Henao can overcome the difficulties he had earlier, and Vincenzo Nibali (AST) has looked comfortable all race long so far, even though he has the red jersey on his shoulders for a long time already.

30 August 2013

Vuelta a España Stage 7: Almendralejo to Mairena del Aljarafe

As I already summed up the events of yesterday in which Tony Martin lead for all but 20 metres of the parcours all on his own I don't have to do that.

So on with todays stage. It is a 205.9km run south, making it the second longest in this year's Vuelta. It is also incredibly flat, especially for the last 70km or so. Although there are a few, minor bumps on the course this should be a sprinters stage.

There is a finishing circuit meaning that the first time they cross the finishing line is actually for the second intermediate sprint of the day before going for a 31km loop around the finishing town to come in once again.

One man who will be wanting to get there first is Orica-GreenEDGE's Michael Matthews, in the sprint for the line yesterday he was the man who finished just in front of the man of the day Tony Martin coming 6th, but that was enough for him, after winning the day before and being third the day before that to wrest the Green Jersey off Daniel Moreno. His team were certainly one of those doing some of the work in trying to get Martin back yesterday in the finalé. Winning in the Green Jersey is always a sprinter's dream scenario. As this will be the sprinters' last chance before the mountains over the weekend expect them to be twitchy and there may even be a crash in the run in as a result.

29 August 2013

Tony Martin and La Vuelta a España Stage 6

When someone like Tony Martin (OPQ) says he is coming into La Vuelta to prepare for the World Champion Individual Time Trial you don't expect them to set out at the start of a 175km road stage to ride away and keep away from the chasing peleton in a solo effort.

But with tomorrow being a rest day and the course though being largely downhill was undulating it obvious was what the two-time world time trial champion had in mind. Today in a supreme effort of solo riding the German went from the dropping of the flag to mark the end of the neutralised zone. Marco Pinotti had tried to grab his wheel but was unsuccessful. He managed to cover 46 km in the first hour of riding, this dropped to a mere 42 km in the second hour, but he covered 44km in the third hour. In three hours of riding solo he had maintained an average of 44km/h and still had a lead of 3 minutes, but it was starting to come down.

The sprinters' teams behind were starting to muster and most cycling fans would have really be hoping they wouldn't be closing the gap just as fast as they started to. His lead was down to just over 2 minutes as he passed 30km to go. The odd addage is that the chasing peleton can bring back one minute for each 10km of riding near the finish, so it wasn't looking good for anything other than the combative prize for the day. But somehow he seemed to defy that.

When the race hit the flame rouge with 1km to go he still had a lead of 11 seconds. It was a downhill drag to the finish from there, could he hang on for a remarkable win. Sadly his own time trailling Nemesis Fabian Cancellara (RLT) launched his own bid for victory which swept up the man who so nearly pulled off a remarkable day in the saddle, but Michael Morkov (TST) had his wheel and surged past Cancellara for the win and Maximiliano Richze (LAM) who just lost out to Michael Matthews yesterday secured third.

Tony Martin came across the line a few metres back in 7th place having led on his own for 3 hours 54 minutes and 14 seconds but not quite for the last one.

So close Martin just behind the first three


Vuelta a España 2013 Stage 6: Guijuelo to Cáceres

Yesterday we finally got some things that this Vuelta had been lacking. Stability in the race leadership and a bunch sprint.

Yeah finally the sprinters got their day and actually apart from Daniel Moreno and Fabian Cancellara spoiling things for him yesterday it was the man who lead the bunch home yesterday who proved the strongest. On the narrow, winding, wooded run in to the finish the World Champion Philippe Gilbert tried to pull away for his first win in the rainbow jersey, but he was pulled back in by the lead out trains.

In the end it was Michael Matthews of Orica-GreenEDGE at just 22 and in his first Grand Tour who sealed the win, ahead of Maximiliano Richze (LAM) and Gianni Meersman (OPQ).

With a breakaway picking up the points in the two category three climbs on the day Nicolas Roche (TST) kept both his jerseys and Vincenzo Nibali (AST) retains the overall lead.

Today from the start in Guijuelo La Vuelta is also going to head in largely the same mainly southerly direction all day another first for this race, as well as losing altitude as the day goes on. There are no categorised climbs until the big ones at the weekend.

The finish town of Cáceres is a world heritage site containing some twenty towers and defensive bastions, 41 palaces and fortified houses that provided refuge to noblemen. It is belnd of the Roman, Moorish, Gothic and Italian renaissance architecture.

But today the historic walled city will be invaded by cycling fans ahead of the arrival of the knights on their bicycles, following their lead out trains. They will storm the bastion of Cáceres to see who will be crowned victorious in the tournament today.

28 August 2013

Vuelta a España 2013 Stage 5: Sober to Lago de Sanabria

So if the team who dreamed up this year's Vuelta wanted to see grown men, climb off and push their bikes uphill they achieved their goal yesterday with the climb of the Mirador de Ézaro some 34km from the finish. It is only 2km long but at one point it is actually a 29% gradient. Nicolas Roche crossed the summit only behind the two break away riders up the road keeping the mountains jersey in his collection for another day.

But one thing it didn't do, unlike last year when it featured as a stage finish, was to really produce a big shake out of the top riders. With 34km still to ride they didn't really attack the Mirador de Ézaro that hard, saving themselves for another 2km climb up to the end of the world.

So it came down to the final uncatecorised climb of the stage up Cape Finsterra (Cape Finisterre) with just over 1km to go Juan Antonio Flecha (VCD) who had featured in an earlier break, But after an initial surge he stalled as tempting bait for the peleton. It was Dani Moreno (KAT) who took a big bite on that hook and hauled in Flecha and zoomed past him with about 600m to go and unlike the Argentine born Spaniard he kept increasing his gap. But the peleton started to try and respond and Fabian Cancellera (RLT) who responded strongest, although he was closing at the finish the gap that Moreno had opened up he'd left too much to do.

Moreno who was nursing Roche's mountain jersey for the day, took his green points one off him by securing the maximum points. While in the peleton a smaller gap than one that was ignored yesterday was deemed to exist after the 21st rider. Giving those from 22nd on a gap of 6 seconds. Shouldn't have mattered much except for the fact that Vincenzo Nibali (AST) who rolled in for 16th was 10 places in front of the red jersey on the shoulders of Chris Horner (RLT) on the other side of that gap. Horner had only taken the jersey from the previous wearer by a mere three seconds. So it was changing wearing once again.

Today La Vuelta bids farewell to Galicia which has certainly provided an entertaining and exciting opening four days and heads to the Province of Zamora.

The stage has two categorised climbs on it among the various bumps that it will traverse. The last of these comes 31.1km from the finish and is only a gradient of 2.6% unlike the climb at a similar stage yesterday, so it shouldn't hamper the men with speed in their legs. For the first time we should be seeing a full throttle sprinters finish.

Lago de Sanabria where the race finishes today measures 368 hectres in area, making it one of the largest lakes in Spain. But it is the largest glacial lake in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula. It is also one of the few areas in western Europe that wild wolves roam.

27 August 2013

Vuelta a España 2013 Stage 4: Lalín to Finisterra

Ernest Hemmingway wrote the novel The Old Man and the Sea and in this edition of La Vuelta the sea air that the riders have been getting over these first few days seems to be fine with the old man of the peleton. Chris Horner is hoping to become the oldest man to finish La Vuelta when the race reaches Madrid. But why should the Radioshack-Leopard settle for just a record that relies on him getting around.

The Italian Champion Santoramita BMC launched an attack with 4km to go on the final climb to Mirador de Lobeira, it looked like the peleton had gone asleep. At 1.5km the counter attack came in the shape of Herada MOV and Stortoni LAM were the first to put in an effort to repond. But in the final km Horner went after Santoramita. He caught him rapidly with 600m to go and managed to stay away from the chasers with a gap of 3 seconds from Alejandro Valverde (MOV) and Joaquin Rodriquez. The American's time bonuses meant that at 41 years and 307 days he pulls on his first leader's jersey in a Grand Tour, the oldest winner of a stage in any of the Grand Tours.

There had been worries that the race would break into echelons when it hit the coast road or the bridge across to Illa de Arousa. But a crash in the peloton even before they hit that stretch of road leading to the bridge meant that there were groups all over the road chasing back before they thought they might have to. Domineco Pozzovivo was one of those caught out having been third yesterday, but with the help of some AG2R team mates he got back on.

Behind Horner on the line once again their big splits in the group. But two Irishmen, both yesterday's winner Nicolas Roche (TST) in 9th and his cousin Dan Martin (GRS) in 5th made the top group. Bauke Mollema (BEL) suffered a puncture in the final 15km and four of his team mates paced him back up and he actually managed to finish 6th. Rigoberto Uran was also in the group at 3 seconds but the first gap saw his Sky team mate Sergio Henao lose another 10 seconds, rolling in 14th.

Finisterre lighthouse: the stage finish is nearby on the cape
After yesterday's stage today we head to the end of the earth, which is the literal translation for Finisterre where La Vuelta is heading. Like Vigo it is somewhere I have actually been and the stage during its 189km will pss through the Galician capital Santiago de Compostela on its way. The city is still reeling from the tragic train crash that happened on the edge of town only a few weeks ago.

The profile is like most of this part of Galicia lumpy but there isn't really a lot to trouble most of the riders until we take a little excursion inland after the second and final intermediate sprint of the day.

After going through the village of O Ezaro there is a very steep ramp up over 2.4km climing from 15m to 270m. Which is a short sharp average of 10.5% for a category three climb. Afterwards there is still 34km to the finish, but it is possible that some sprinters may be dropped here and have to fight to get back on the peleton. Which as we soon head back towards the coast would need to be done before any head winds off the Atlantic may hinder progress.

There is a little kick at the end, but nothing like yesterday's as the peleton will climb out of the town of Finisterre up unto the Cape. But if the wind is up the sprinters will have to time it perfectly to not expend too much energy before launching their bid for victory.

26 August 2013

Vuelta a España 2013 Stage 3: Vigo to Mirador de Lobeira

Yesterday La Vuelta got off to a rather violent start with the climb of taking the last 11 km and proving a real test that found some of the GC contenders lacking. But there was a breakaway that went from the off which started with Greg Henderson (OGE) going about 10m before 0km. He was joined by Alex Rasmussen (GAR) and Francisco Aramendia of Caja Royal (CJR) and the three were to stay away until the final climb.

Movistar took up the pace for the peleton at the start of the climb and set a tempo that nobody looked capable of challenging. That was until Amets Txurruka (CJR) formerly of Euskaltel-Euskadi put in a little bit of a dig, but José Herada (MOV) just kept his pace at the front of the group and brought it all back together.

Sammy Sanchez (EUS) was the first of the big GC contenders to be dropped out of the back. Sky's Sergio Henao was another who suffered with more than 4km to go.

With 1.5km to go Leopold Konig of NetApp-Endura (TNE) went on the attack. With this attack, Janez Brajkovič (AST) who had been holding on to the tail of the peleton finally popped out the back. He eventually ended 51 seconds behind the stage winner, dropping to 16th overall.

Daniel Moreno (KAT) and Nico Roche (TST) launched the counter attack followed by Dominco Pozzavivo (AGM) and caught Konig at the Flame Rouge. Then in the climb towards the finish Roche made a bid for the line and nobody was able to keep up with him. It completes the father-son set of Grand Tour stage wins as his father Stephen never managed to three in the Tour de France and two in the Giro d'Italia, but had only taken part in one Vuelta towards the end of his career. Moreno was second and Pozzavivo third.

Stephen Roche in combination jersey

Alejandro Valverde (MOV) it was who lead the peleton across the line, though there were gaps and only Diego Ulisso (LAM) and Jaoquin Rodriguez (KAT) finished on the same time, 2 seconds ahead of a group of 16 lead by Ivan Basso (CAN), Bauke Mollema (BEL) and Rigoberto Uran (SKY), Giro Champion Vincenzo Nibali (AST) and the stage winner's cousin Dan Martin (GRS) were also in that group. Laurens Ten Dam (BEL) was in a quartet at 21 seconds and Michele Scarponi (LAM) at 27 seconds.

Nibali's performance was good enough to lift him into the red jersey after his team mate Brajkovič, 8 seconds ahead of Roche. Roche possesses the Green Point Jersey, Blue Mountain Jersey (being worn by Daniel Moreno) and like his father had worn in Tour the all around White Jersey (worn today by Alejandro Valverde).

Henao finished 2'41" back, so it looks like Uran sitting 5th overall is now the de facto team leader of Sky. Samuel Sanchez finished in the same time paced by three team mates leaving just Mikel Nieve up with the leaders in the Basque team's farewell to Grand Tours.

Today's stage starts in Vigo which La Vuelta passed through yesterday, but instead of heading straight to Pontevedra (yesterday's start town) after crossing the bridge over the Estreito de Rande takes a detour round most of the headland before returning to yesterday's start town. From where it continues to hug the coast the whole way around the next headland before heading inland, though not going up anything steep this time.

The loop inland comes across the first intermediate sprint at A Escusa (Ribadumia) before circling around the finish town before returning to the coast at the town of Vilagarcia de Arousa, where once again the riders will hug the coast until they take a turn out to sea, and visit the island of Ria de Arosa, where the second intermediate sprint takes place. They take another shorter loop before heading for home and the only real ramp of the day comes at the line.

There is a 3rd category climb over the last 4km kicking up at the end of 184.8km of racing. It should not be enough of a kick to dislodge all the sprinters but some might suffer because of the efforts of today. But it should produce a bunch sprint even if not quite a straight forward as they may expect.

25 August 2013

La Vuelta a España 2013 Stage 2: Pontevedra to Alto do Monte da Groba, Baiona

Astana took the honours in the Team Time Trial yesterday and Janez Brajkovič will be wearing the red jersey as race leader as the first road stage of La Vuelta gets underway. Radioshack came in second ahead of Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Sky. The first team off the ramp (or actually a glass floor on pontoons in the harbour) NetApp-Endura came in 7th only 35 seconds down.

After yesterday's Team Time Trial today's stage starts gently enough almost mugging the coast of Galicia almost until you reach Baiona. Indeed the riders will see the town that is in the name of the finish of today's stage from across the bay near Nigrán before they turn left and head inland.

Indeed when they turn inland at Ramallosa there are still a cruel 130km to go to the finish of today's stage. First thing the peleton has to deal with is the first categorised climb of La Vuelta 2013, it is a mere 3rd category ascent of the Alto de San Cosme.

After this the route returns to a relatively flat profile as it circles around back to Baiona. However, not before taking in two sprints one at Ponteareas the other at A Guarda.

After A Guarda the race heads back toward Baiona in earnest this time from the West along the coast after over 50km of potential cross winds off the Atlantic.

However, the coastal town of Baiona is not the final destination of this stage, as the race once more head inland for the giant that is the Alto Do Monte Da Groba. There are 11km to go and it is all uphill. It may only be 630m in height but when you are starting more or less at sea level with a gradient averaging 5.6% it is a tough first day of road racing for anyone.

There are a number of sharp kicks on this climb, the first is 8.33% in the opening reaches of the climb so expect the favourites to be racing for the front on the way into Baiona so that they are not caught out. The about 3.5km into the climb is the maximum gradient of 10%. There then follow a few kms of relative calm in the scheme of this plod to the finish even a false flat with 3 km to go. But then it ramps up once again and the final 1.5km is at more than 7.5%.

24 August 2013

La Vuelta a España 2013 Stage 1: Vilavona de Arousa to Sanxenxo

Welcome to the final Grand Tour cycling stage race of the year La Vuelta a España. This year's route starts in the north west and except from some Pyrenean excursions to France and Andorra is completely within Spain.

While La Vuelta may be the baby of the Grand Tours, this is only its 68th edition to the Tour de France's 100 and the Giro d'Italia's 96 it more than makes up for it in the brutish climbs and soaring heat as the riders go on their way around Spain.

The 2012 champion Alberto Contador took part in the Tour as his ban ended during the 2012 edition of the race and the 2011 champion Juan José Cobo is also not in the starting line up for La Vuelta. However, there are some big names among the team leaders who will be looking to wear the red jersey when the race enters Madrid. 

  • Alejandro Valverde the 2009 winner leads the Movistar team
  • 2010's winner Vincenzo Nibali is looking to add the 2013 Vuelta to the Giro he won in May for Astana
  • Two time Giro d'Italia winner (2006, 2010) Ivan Basso takes part in only he second Vuelta (from 16 Grand Tour starts) for Cannondale, though he was 4th in 2009.
  • Joaquim Rodriguez Kathusa who finished 3rd last year and 4th in 2010, plus 2nd in last year's Giro is looking to fill that one missing podium step
  • 2011 Giro winner Michele Scarponi for Lampre
  • 2008 Olympic Champion Samuel Sanchez for Euskaltel-Euskadi will be looking to improve on his second in 2009, it is likely to be the veteran's final Grand Tour
Then there are others looking to step out of other's shadows:
  • Sergio Henao finished 2nd in the 2012 Giro in support of Rigoberto Uran and 14th in last year's Vuelta in support of Chris Froome, steps up to lead Sky, with Uran riding in support or to step up if called upon
  • Roman Kreuziger who rode valiantly but in vain for his leader Alberto Contador in this year's Tour de France to finish just behind him in 5th is leading Saxo-Tinkoff
It will be the first time that NetApp-Endura will feature in a Grand Tour, the German based UCI Pro Continental team are marking a return to Grand Tours of German sponsorship since T-Mobile became Highroad at the start of 2008.

For British cycling fans without Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome or Mark Cavendish there is still some domestic interest. Luke Rowe is making his Grand Tour debut for Team Sky, Adam Blythe is a sprinter who has started 3 Giros already and completed in the tough conditions this spring and the other is the Scot Andrew Fenn who is a bit more of an opportunist rouleur with a sprint finish.

Today's first stage is the team time trail (TTT) taking place up in Galicia in the north west of the country. For 27.4km it more of less hugs the coast from Vilvona de Arousa to Sanxenxo. If you notice that island near the start town the Vuelta will be revisiting there for the last sprint on the third stage in a brief excursion out along the bridge and back. 

Today's stage is 2.4km longer than the circuit of Nice that the teams in this year's Tour de France but 10km longer than the TTT in this year's Giro d'Italia. The gap from best to worse were 1'47" in the Tour between Orica-GreenEDGE and Argos-Shimano and 1'13" in the Giro between Team Sky and Argos-Shimano.

The only thing I can predict about this stage is that Argos-Shimano will have a hard time not to be the last team in all three of the Grand Tour TTTs this season. Line honours will go to one of the well drilled teams such as Sky, Astana, Movistar, Orica-GreenEDGE or Kathusha.

15 August 2013

Vladimir Putin your boys took one hell of a beating

We're not Brazil we're Norn Irn
Vladimir Putin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Maria Sharapova, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, t.A.T.u., Ivan the Terrible, Ivan the Terrible, Ra Ra Rasputin ... your boys took one hell of a beating!

Back in 1981 Norwegian commentator Bjørge Lillelien rattled off a list of famous people born in England when Norway managed to beat England at football.

Well yesterday the might of Russia managed by the former England manager Fabio Capello came to Windsor Park in Belfast and lost. It was a world cup qualifier that had been called off in March due to heavy snow, but the Green and White Army, as the Northern Ireland supporters are known, enjoyed the delayed fixture.

Huddersfield Town's Martin Paterson managed to get up over the Russian defender and scored the only goal of the fixture.

14 August 2013

First Irish world gold for 18 years.

The last time Ireland won a medal in the World Athletics Championships it was a silver in 2009, before that it was another silver in 2003. Both those came in the women's 20km walk to Olive Loughnane and Gillian O'Sullivan respectively. The last time Ireland won a gold it was in 1995 by Sonia O'Sullivan in the women's 5000m, who had won silver in the 1500m two years earlier. The last time an Irish man won a medal of any description was in the first World Athletics Championships back in 1983, when Eamon Coghlan took gold in the 5000m.

That was until this morning.

This morning Ireland earned their third World Athletics gold medal, their third medal in the walking events and only the second medal (both gold) by any male athlete. Today in Moscow Rob Heffernan made a little bit of Irish history.

Heffernan, from Cork, had been fourth in the Olympics last year in the 50km walk and at the start today as three men pulled away it looked like he could best hope for the same today. The three had been Mikhail Ryzhov and Ivan Noskov both of Russia and Jared Tallent of Australia. At 15km those three were 12 seconds ahead, but 10km later Rob Heffernan was with them. Then 10km further on with just 15km remaining the Irish man had assumed the lead ahead of the two Russians and Poland's Gregorz Sudal. Tennent was still hanging just behind.With about 10km remaining Heffernan had the sole lead, from Ryzhov, Tallent over took Noskov and Sudal and the order at the line was Heffernan, 62 seconds ahead of Ryzhov five seconds ahead of Tallent.

The Irishman's winning time of 3 hours, 37 minutes and 56 seconds is the fastest in the world this year by more than three minutes on the previous best. But two seconds slower than his Irish national record which he set in London last August.