I'll take a stab at handicapping tomorrow's big time trial, possibly the second most important stage of the entire 2007 Vuelta, behind whichever of the three big mountain days turns into the main event. Here goes nuthin...
Vlad Efimkin (current leader)
No appreciable history of time trial success; he's been a stage hunter, mostly in the hills. Does any of this sound like a guy about to stomp a long, flat ITT? Sorry, but it's going to take a lot more than "maillot oro inspiration" to propel him over this course... and let's hope he doesn't resort to that.
Denis Menchov (@ 1.06)
So is he a chronoman or not? Outside of the 2005 Vuelta, scene of his greatest triumph, the answer is inconclusive at best. Feeling generous, I'll say this: since that Vuelta he's been a Tour-only guy, so his only meaningful time trial efforts are a 7th at Rennes, 1.45 back, 17th (@ 4.33) in the final '06 ITT, and 3.33 back at Albi this July. These are inconsistent numbers, but not hopeless. Maybe July in France isn't ideal for him. Maybe the Tour is too long. Right now, his second place overall after a tough week means he's not sick, injured, tired or distracted. And tomorrow's course resembles the Guadalajara ITT, where he clinched his 2005 Vuelta result. If he's a chronoman, he'll kick ass tomorrow. Either way, we should have our answer.
Carlos Sastre (@ 1.06)
His Tour results make everyone want to say he's not a time trialist, but his Vuelta results say otherwise, with remarkable consistency. A caveat: not everyone comes to a time trial aiming to win, and with the Vuelta late in the year, perhaps the list of people actually competing is pretty short. Who knows? Still:
- 8th at Cuenca (2006), @46" (ahead of Karpets)
- 7th at Rivas Vaciamadrid (2006), @44"
- 4th at Lloret (2005), @ 41"
- 3rd at Guadalajara (2005), @ 4"
The first three entries all contained some climbing, but as noted in the Menchov piece, Guadalajara was a power course. He probably won't lose a minute tomorrow, which is peanuts compared to what he could gain in the Pyrenees.
Maxime Monfort (@ 1.06)
Just a 3rd in the 2006 Tour de l'Avenir to judge by, which is next to nothing. Moreover, I think this is his first Vuelta. Which is a delayed way of admitting I have no clue what he'll do tomorrow.
Stijn Devolder (@ 1.06)
Everyone's hot pick, thanks to two time-trial wins this year, in De Panne and the Austrian Tour. But those were short distances; more instructive is the fact that he came in 6th at Cuenca last year (44" down), 18th in Rivas Vaciamadrid (@ 1.48), and 7th in Guadalajara (@30") in 2005 (with a forgettable result at the hilly Lloret ITT). I wouldn't make him out to be the favorite, by any means, but then again he seems to be breaking out this year. Given his unproven results in the mountains, he's gonna need to at least meet these expectations if he wants to give Johan one last grand tour.
Leonardo Piepoli (@ 1.06)
One minor ITT placing (2nd in 2005 Catalunya) in a long, successful career tells us what he is: a mountain goat stage hunter. He'll be there to limit losses, assuming he even tries. A better strategy might be to take it easy and forget the GC, so he can attack the next two days.
Cadel Evans (@ 1.28)
A clear chronoman pedigree, the only question about Evans is whether he's fresh enough after his epic Tour battle. If so, this is his big chance to grab Gold, and try to hang on or close heading into the last (shorter) ITT. For the record, Cadel was second in both of the long Tour ITTs, as well as fourth in the Romandie time trial, scene of his big 2006 win. Perfect course for him; he should be top-3 regardless. And if not, forget the podium in Madrid.
Sylvain Chavanel (1.33)
Before July, outside a coupla prologue results, Chavanel had nothing to recommend him as a time trialist. But he pulled down an 8th place in the Albi ITT, a very solid result (Cofidis were gone before he could confirm this result at Angoulême). Mark him down as "intriguing" but a good 40 seconds short of "favorite."
Ezequiel Mosquera (@ 1.36)
See "Monfort, Maxime" for a detailed description.
Leonardo Bertagnolli (@ 1.49)
See "Mosquera, Ezequiel" for a detailed description.
Oscar Pereiro (@ 1.57)
Not the worst resume, sort of like his climbing skills: can't rule him out; shouldn't get too excited. He was too exhausted in last year's Vuelta to count those results, but he paced a fine 4th at the 2006 Tour's penultimate event (riding in yellow for the last time). He was also 10th at Lloret (1.47 down) in 2005, and 8th at Guadalajara, a mere 33" back. Assuming the latter is the most telling, Oscar should be in the thick of things tomorrow.
José Ángel Gómez Marchante (@ 2.23)
Not a lost cause, but his better chances are in the mountains. If he were running a minute better, I would say he can afford to limit losses tomorrow, but now he needs a result. He was 2nd in the Murcia ITT, as well as 13th at Cuenca (1.15 down) and 17th at Rivas Vaciamadrid (1.45 down). All of these results involved climbing. Tomorrow, he'll have no place to hide.
Sammy Sanchez (@ 2.29)
Dug himself a hole on stage 4, and though he did brilliantly in the final time trial last year (2nd, 6" down to Vino and his magic red blood cells), that appears to be a bolt of lightning, and not the most analogous course anyway. He was a more human 37th at Cuenca, 2.33 back. Nobody's under more pressure tomorrow... at least he'll have the benefit of going off earlier.
Vlad Karpets (@ 2.57)
Not an overall contender for such a hilly Vuelta, but he's the chronoman in the lineup. He's got eight top-three placings in time trials over the last two years, including third at Albi. Was 5th at Rivas Vaciamadrid last year, seconds off the pace. Since he's going before the other guys on this list, expect him to set a hard standard to top.