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Vuelta GC Power Poll- 1st Rest Day Update

Bryn Lennon

State of the race

First nine stages are in the books and brothers and sisters we can winnow down the riders who have a chance to win this thing to three: Quintana, Contorador (sp?),  and Froome. Sound harsh? Why not Valverde or Rodriguez or Aru or Uran or Anacona or Matthews? (Okay getting sarcastic there. I promise I'll stop.) Here's the thing. Take any rider outside of the three who I rate now as the only real contestants for the overall win. Then take the whole field. Can you imagine any of the field beating one of Froome, Contador or Quintana? Just one, any one. I can imagine it, sure. It won't be easy but definitely doable. Now how about beating two of the Big Three? Less likely, right? Now all three? Can any of the field beat all three of these guys? Really long odds there. Which is what the bookies are saying. I'm not saying that it is impossible for another rider to win it, it is just that the odds for any other rider is a lot longer and for good reason.

But this is an interesting race although in a negative way. Recall yesterday's stage where 31 riders got in on the break. That happened because none of the big GC teams (Sky, Movistar, Tinkoff, Katusha) wanted to take control of the race before the final two climbs because they didn't want to wear their domestiques out. The whole peloton knew this and so the jailbreak was on. The best GC guys (Contador, Quintana, and Rodriguez) finished in 12th-14th places-unusually far back for GC guys in a Grand Tour MTF stage.

Sky tired to take control but they did so prematurely and ineffectively. And regardless of what noises come out of their camp now they have to be concerned that Froome got distanced so easily. One way for them to try to lessen the chances for that again is to keep their domestiques from working too much too soon.

That's what Katusha did and it paid off for J-Rod. Vorgonov and Moreno were in perfect position to help their leader. But they also know now that their leader is not the obvious #1 climby guy in this race. He'll continue to need his helpers.

Movistar...not sure what they did yesterday as a team. Javi Moreno was in the break and never came back to help like Cataldo did for Sky. I'm thinking that they will need to do a better job at coordinating their team. On the other hand they refused to work hard to pull back the jailbreak: smart.  With Valverde getting distanced yesterday (like Froome) and with the TT probably putting their Big Two in a position where for the first time they need to attack to catch up they are gonna have to use some finesse for the first time in the race. Let's see if they have it in them.

Tinkoff meanwhile has (as I say below) the weakest team. They can deal with the flat parts of stages fine but they are gonna have to think hard on how to help Bert in the hills, especially if he gets the lead in the race.

The Leading Three

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1. Nairo Quintana

What did we say before?

He's still the most likely to win it; guarantee he'll podium if he doesn't crash. But he's less of a favorite than the hype says. There's serious competition here...

Why he's looking good for the win, besides the fact that he's in red right now. You know: he's a great climber and the two Grand Tours that he's done before this race he's finished very strongly. It's not hard to imagine him getting stronger daily through the end of the race. Remember what he did in the Giro this year: after the stage 12 TT he was in 6th place, 3:29 behind Uran. By the end of the race he was 1st, 2:58 ahead of 2nd place Uran. That's pretty impressive. It's gonna take an exceptional ride to beat him.

Why he might not win- A couple of reasons. First he's an okay chronoman and there's a couple of borderline great chronomen breathing down his neck. One can't expect him to be in red after the TT on Tuesday.  So he'll be trying to overtake Contador and/or Froome afterwards and that's a bigger ask than what he did in the Giro. And then there's the shorter-but-still-a-TT last stage too. He'll need an advantage before stage 21.

The other reason I basically mentioned: Froome and Contador are much harder to beat than Uran and Aru were in the Giro. Both F & C won't be outsmarted by Q. In fact I would favor at least C in the racer brains dept.

A third thing not in his favor is that it's still hard to do the Giro Vuelta double. He's gonna have to be at his best to do it. The Shark couldn't close the deal, can Don Nairo do one better?

So what will happen? Still a good chance to win as he has fewer questions than his two rivals but he's nowhere near a lock.

2. Alberto Contador

What did we say before? Ahem-

Count me as one  who is seriously shocked that he's riding.  That's totally crazy.  Anything I said above about Froome and Rodriguez and form should apply in spades here. Maybe the Vuelta is the new prep race for Milan-Turin.

Sigh.

Why he's looking good for the win- Guy's got a new nickname: The Shoveler. Cause he's shoveling a whole lot and it ain't sand folks.  Until his crash in the Tour he was having a great year: vintage Bert. And it looks like the crash has only slowed him down a little. ( I say the pre-crash Bert would have finished off yesterday's attack.) He should produce a very good TT, somewhere in the vicinity of Froome and either be first or second going into the serious mountains. And besides, he doesn't need to be the best climber of the GC riders to win a Grand Tour. Ask J-Rod what happened two years ago. Or ask Froome today because Contador's attack on the last stage happened when Froome started showing weakness. The Shoveler is the best racer of the GC guys and probably only Nibali and maybe Valverde can rival him in that regard.

Why he might not win- He's definitely not 100%. The TT may show where his leg is weak in a way that 2 km of 8.5% does not. Plus if he winds up in the lead at some point his team may cause problems. He's got Benna and decent support on the flats but in the mountains he'll be quickly isolated. Hernandez, Valgren, and CAS are no Majka, Rogers and Roche.

So what will happen? You don't get rich betting against this guy. If he clears the TT okay then he will become at least co- favorite with Don Nairo with mainly his team being the main problem. By the next rest day we'll know.

3. Chris Froome

What did we say before?

Let's say podium. Split the difference.  But as for range he could win, more likely podium, less likely top 10.  We got to see his form.

Why he's looking good for the win- He's got a killer TT and a good enough climby team around him. This rest day may benefit this guy more than anyone else.

Why he might not win- Sorry for the short sentence in why he's gonna win section but the thing is the jury's still out on this guy, because of his crash a couple of stages ago affecting his form. At any rate something ain't hitting on all cylinders yet. His inability to respond to first Contador and then Rodriguez and Quintana in the last stage was disheartening.

And the thing is, yeah, Froome has a tendency-not guaranteed but a definite history-of fading in GT's. Even his lone GT win he faded at the end compared to Quintana. And his fade in the 2012 Vuelta was impressive. He hasn't always faded but you gotta be wondering about his form at this moment more than Quintana or Contador.

So what will happen? Honestly I don't have any better of a feel now than I did before stage 1. Froome could put a couple minutes into everyone else in tomorrow's TT and build a big lead in the next couple of MTF's and game will be over. I do think he needs to be in the lead before the next rest day. He still has easily the best chance to win of anyone not named Contador or Quintana, but if I had to predict I think it's more likely that he fades again and might miss the podium. See? I dunno.

The Next Three

Next three riders who  have long odds to win this race and decent odds in bumping one of the Leading Three off the podium.

4. Alejandro Valverde

Why he's looking good for the podium- Second best racer + experience + he's having one of the best years of his career. Al is the most experienced GC rider in terms of doing the Tour/Vuelta double. Check out how he's placed in the Vuelta after riding the previous Tour:

  • 2013 3rd
  • 2012 2nd
  • 2008 5th
Basically Al knows how to conserve his energy which dovetails nicely with his superior Classics riding skills. And he does this while not being the best climber. Yeah he won the first MTF but that mountain was short enough to be in his Classics wheelhouse. He knows how to limit damage better than any of the other riders here.

Why he might not podium- Lots of competition which will make his one bad day stand out.

So what will happen? Top 5 still most likely. The upcoming TT will be telling as his TT results can be all over the map.

5. Joaquin Rodriguez

Why he's looking good for the podium- Looks so far like he's climbing better than in the Tour and with the real meat of the Vuelta still to come he's gotta be optimistic.

Why he might not podium- His TT tomorrow for one and the TT on stage 21 for another. And the jury's still out as to how good a climber he is in this race. While better than his Tour form he's not where he used to be.

So what will happen? If everything broke for him-Contador's and Froome's injuries catch up to them and he has got his climbing A game-then 2nd. More likely 4th or 5th as it is doubtful everything will break in his favor. Yes, I am saying he cannot catch Quintana.

6. Fabio Aru

Why he's looking good for the podium- The kid might be the biggest surprise of the race. Here's what I said about him before:

Aru hasn't raced since Poland. Ya gotta wonder about his form. Another thing is that outside of the Giro, Aru has not shown much: 7th at Trentino, 20th at Catalunya. The Giro podium finish was where everything came together. can he do it again?

In the Age of Specialization, Aru might be leading the way towards even further specialization. He's not just a stage climby specialist like say Contador or Froome but he's pointing towards an Andy Schleck model of just concerning  himself with the Grand Tours. Look at his palmaries this year.

Why he might not podium- Dunno! Let's see how the kid fights against a more experienced group of riders then he faced at the Giro. Top 10 looks very likely. Top 5? Not out of the question.

7. What about Anacona?

In the Vuelta preview I completely ignored Winner, thinking that he's Horner's caddy plus he's never seriously contested a Grand Tour. In helping Horner last year he finished a cool 105th. He did score a 19th on GC in the 2012 Vuelta though as he and Niemiec (finished 15th) were co-leaders for Lampre that year. Until his breakaway win yesterday he looked to be ticketed for the same finish. But maybe today will give him the needed boost to land in the top 10. Something to watch for.

Others

9. Rigoberto Uran

What we said before:

best case the podium. Probably...I haven't a clue. Since the Giro he's only ridden de l'Ain, finishing a not so robust 22nd. I like the Big Rig. But he's not a top tier GC guy.

What we say now: After a slow start, he had an encouraging last stage, finishing with Froome, Valverde, Aru, and D-Mart. He's 9th on GC now; let's see if he can move up further.

10. Dan Martin

What we said before:

Top 10 at this Vuelta? I can see that. He's this Vuelta's answer to Bauke Mollema.

What we say now: same thing. Started slow in the heat of Andalusia but finished nicely yesterday. Top 10, yes.

11. Robert Gesink

What we said before:

may creep into the top 10.

What we say now: Man with a heart finding some decent form. Let's see how he handles the big mountains though. We know he has the talent for a top 10 finish but does he have the form?

12. Warren Barguil

What we said before:

Made his GT debut at last year's Vuelta where he finished 38th including two stage wins. L:et;s see if he can be more consistent now.

What we say now: So far mission accomplished. Might even keep a top 10 place; top 15 seems very realistic. Very nice step up in class.


13. Wilco Kelderman

What we said before:

Top 10, easy. Top five good chance. Podium? Slight chance. Yeah: I'm saying Buy stock in young Wilco.

What we say now: Looking wobbly on the last stage after a good finish on the first MTF. Gut check time-should score a decent TT to move up the ranks again. Top 10 though is looking difficult. Take off the Buy order but keep it at Hold.

14. Johan Chaves

What we said before:

Fun fun fun watching the kids (included Chaves with Yates, Landa, and Dennis) making their debuts.

What we say now: Chaves is easily the standout of these kids. Slipped a lot yesterday though. Realistic chance at a top 20 finish. If he can find his legs, top 15 easy, top 10 maybe.

Riders that some anonymous writer here overhyped

15. Cadel Evans

What we said before:

blah blah blah Utah blah blah.

What we say now: Working for Samu. Currently 47th on GC.

16. Thibaut Pinot

What we said before:

Best case is probably the lower part of the top 10 with perhaps just a top 20 placing if he loses it. If he makes top 5 or the podium though that would bode well for him taking that last step of GC God and making the Big 4 a Big 5. That alone makes me root for him.

What we say now: EVERYONE OFF THE PINOT TRAIN! THIS IS THE LAST STOP! (Currently 106th on GC after moving up 12 big spots with yesterday's MTF.)