Thursday, August 13, 2015

Vuelta a Espana: A Look at the First Half

This year's Vuelta includes the world's best stage racers except Contador. It also includes Joe Dombrowski. Here are several stages in the first half of the Vuelta where things could get interesting.

Stage 2
Stage two of this year's Vuelta finishes near Málaga, a city founded 770 BC. The finish, somehow only rated as a category 3 climb, is on this path:
How the path, which has recently been renovated, will be used in the course is unclear. The Caminito del Rey website warns us of many dangers of the bike path. Notably, the path is a "linear not circular path."

Right. In the same way intestines are linear.

The website then provides us with a music video/bike rider montage that assures us that there will be passion and a linear, not circular blond singing to us in the Caminito del Rey vicinity:

I don't speak Spanish, but I'm pretty sure her "EEyoEEyo" is an EPO reference.

With this kind of song, this kind of finish and this kind history the Vuelta has what it takes to be this year's best Grand Tour.

Unfortunately, it isn't until stage 7 that we see a true mountain stage with a finish atop the Category 1 Alto de Capileira. That climb isn't even in the top 200 most difficult climbs in Spain, and although it is long, it is not steep: only a few kilometers average over 7% and none over 10%.

Stage 9
Stage 9 finally gives us a decent mountain stage, with this profile and two ascents of the Cumbre del Sol, with ramps up to 18%.

Stage 11
After a rest day, the second half of the Vuelta--and the most challenging--begins with the kind of stage that has marked the Spanish Grand Tour in recent years, a stage with 17,000+ feet of climbing in 85 miles.

Conclusion
A somewhat bland and flat first part of the Vuelta, with only gradual ascents, will probably keep the GC contest close. The steepness of the climbing of the second half will probably lead to a reshuffling of the contenders.

If Joe survives the sprints, the winds, the open roads, the notoriously rough and sometimes poorly marshalled first ten days, he should have several chances for results.

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