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Vuelta Stage 2: Eye Candy and Sprint Fodder

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A coastal run, with a few tricks up its sleeve

Jaime Reina, AFP/Getty

Stage 2: Algeciras -- San Fernando, 174km

What is it? A run from just outside Gibraltar to just outside Cadiz, officially linking two horribly beautiful places together, to the chagrin of most of the rest of the viewing world. I see your monastic MTF, Giro, and raise you two Spanish beaches!

That said, it's not just about lovely scenery, it's the first sprint of the race, one that the teams featuring sprinters will be all too impatient to let out of their grasp. It is hardly straightforward, however:

Stage_2_final_medium

This is the last 20-30 minutes of the stage. Presumably that turnaround in Puerto Real isn't terribly dicey, and the road to the finish from Cadiz isn't one of those French causeways that's underwater every twelve hours. It's a four-lane divided highway with a guardrail in the middle. Which means the race will have two lanes to fan out across when the wind blows in off the sea. Who knows how to handle tricky ocean breezes in close quarters at high speed? For starters, every team that's ever raced (successfully) in the Netherlands.

Will it matter? I think so. The points race will be up for grabs for at least a little while, though Peter Sagan of Cannondale is such a master point-poacher on less straightforward sprint courses that it's tempting to stop caring about the competition altogether. I'm not quite ready to do that, personally. Not for a few days at least.

There will be the usual danger to the overall contenders, but my guess is that the only real trick will be getting in position in case of crosswinds. The riders should know when they're coming and not get caught out. Plus, we're talking about Contador, who knows better, and Quintana, whose team will be in control. And Froome... who had better not f- this up.

Who's Interested? Moreno Hofland, Belkin; Peter Sagan, Cannondale; Nacer Bouhanni, FDJ; John Degenkolb, Giant-Shimano; Gerald Ciolek, MTN-Qhubeka; Tom Boonen, OPQS; Michael Mathews, Orica-GreenEdge. That's the short list, at least.

Pick to Win: Moreno Hofland. Been a great season, and his team will know what to do.