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Podium Cafe's Vuelta Roundtable!

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So we're back again for some semi-coherent discourse, this time for the Vuelta. Yet again, we bring you another PDC member, who we lured into the trap of debating this stuff with us. Topics covered include Conor's willingness to triple Galicia's exports, Chris' turnaround on Nairo, and Jens' love of the Tour de L'Avenir.

Avila Spain Vuelta scenery Lars Ronbog, AFP/Getty Images

CHRIS: Welcome Pablo777! An old friend of the Cafe, who I can't believe I haven't met in person for all my trips to New Jersey. But I know you've met many other Cafe-sters, and ridden bikes with them. We all appreciate your writings on the Weekend Report over the years. Cycling fans also ride.

PABLO777: Thanks Chris..! and everyone else for having me here.. And I love the stories and pictures from everyone..!!!

JENS: Which stages are the ones near you Pablo?

PABLO777: Close? None... We are going to Alicante for stage 19 and 20... And we will have a little get together with the other podium members.. maratsafin, yeehoo, thebongolian...

JENS: Ah ok, those should be good ones. And good company.

JENS: I must confess I missed stages 1 & 2 but the action has been 3&4 anyway right?

CHRIS: Yup -- let's do a Vuelta status check

CHRIS: The first two stages, a TTT and a sprint -- clearly the Vuelta saying to the 20 percent of riders in attendance who don't climb for a living: here's a bone for you.

What do we think of the start of the race? Too much, too little or just right?

CONOR: I liked the first three stages, but today was guaranteed to be what it was.

PABLO777: I like what the organizers are doing... If you don't like our race... go prepare somewhere else for your future races... If you come here is to compete..

CHRIS: My only criticism is that the could have rearranged the order of stages 2 and 3 if they wanted more weekend viewers.

CONOR: They probably wanted to do the Ezaro though.

CHRIS: Yeah. It was a pretty mild criticism on my part.

JENS: The steep stuff maybe killed off some guys who we may have been wondering about a little longer. But this way it became pretty clear who is just not interested. Going up 15% grades will do that.

CHRIS: OK, question -- do 15% (or even 28%) grades benefit anyone? Seems like we've seen ultra-steep stages where they went on a while and everyone just got killed. But the shorter version, that was a little more fun. [Also why do 28% ramps even exist?]

JENS: I think they just benefit whatever climbers are really motivated. It's all about the engine and grinding it out long enough to stay in contention.

CONOR: Well, stage 8 is just as steep as Ezaro. But I agree, it is possible it just turns into an endurance thing.

CHRIS: It was something to see, and the spectacular area made for good viewing. This is becoming a big thing now at the Vuelta, no? Maybe those southern stages with long stretches on red clay roads were too dull? The last couple editions have been VERY heavy on natural beauty, national parks, etc.

CONOR: I liked the southern stages in 2014, they added a challenge to the flat stages in a way. (If that doesn't sound too sadistic).

CHRIS: Maybe it's just me, but those southern stages just *looked* way too hot. It's refreshing to see the sea. I know that is bordering on total irrelevance to the race... But also Spain just has so much to show off

PABLO777: The shorter steep climbs gives you a bigger variety of possible winners.. So yeah..! is more fun to watch..!

JENS: It's really been a huge trend in all the GTs in the last few years, right? Focusing almost as much about the visual impact of stages as the actual difficulty. And Spain and Italy just have mountains everywhere to pick and chose from.

CONOR: The natural beauty stuff is important though, I don't go for this stuff, but the only guy I know in "real life" who likes cycling watches it mostly for the views.

CHRIS: OK, question for Pablo -- where are you now? You are one of our best-traveled Cafe'sters and you are now in Spain, close to the action? Maybe not close enough.

PABLO777: Natural beauty? yes.. lots of it everywhere... Now be careful today Galicia was very atypical.. Usually is foggy and damp.. You can't see all that beauty in a normal day.. Says local people, not me. We moved with the family to Málaga.. South part of the country.. Right between Marbella and Málaga capital

JENS: It's Pablo and 10% of all retired Swedes who have moved there. It's practically Sweden's Florida.

CHRIS: I know the Vuelta does not go to Malaga this year, but you must see some racing come through?

PABLO777: I was lucky enough to watch part of the Vuelta del Sol or Vuelta a Andalucia... 1 stage the TT... was held about 20 minutes from my new home town... Also this was my first experience watching the pro peloton in action.. FUN..!!!

CHRIS: Do you ever see pros out training? Maybe more in winter.

PABLO777: I do..! No clue who they are... But I know Jasper Stuyven and a few other Belgium riders are based in Alora.. I ride close to that place often... Then I see lots of pro looking people.. And one local guy rides for Radio Popular, Portuguese continental team.

CONOR: Now, am I right in saying the Vuelta doesn't go within a hundred miles of Malaga? It's weird how the Vuelta gets away with confining the action to the north the whole time. It's a big country, but so is France, and the race is spread out much more evenly there.

JENS: Well, last year had lots of Andalucia stages I seem to remember. Sierra Nevada is also in more often than not.

CHRIS: 2012 was the last all-northern race. Every now and then I guess it's OK?

CHRIS: OK, one more especially for Pablo, our man on the ground in Spain. How interested in the Vuelta a Espana are the people near you, from what you can tell? We have heard stories in recent years that interest in Spain is not very high, but how do you see it from your worldly perspective?

PABLO777: Here where I live and the people in general that I talk to... They are very interested.. But lets face it.. Cycling is like the 6th more important sport here in Spain.. I was lucky enough to land in a town where cycling is very high in people taste.. Right behind Futbol and Basketball...

CHRIS: Well in that sense maybe more southern and Basque stages are in order. Go where you are most wanted!

Speaking of... how often does the Vuelta dip into Portugal? I wonder if they would ever do a real Portugal event, like three stages around Porto or something.

PABLO777: Not very often since by memory I can't recall any recent ones.. They like Andorra more then Portugal.. Might have something to do with Purito living near by the place?

CHRIS: Ha! yes

JENS: Has it ever? If it has I've missed it. Is this a treaty of Torsedillas question?

CHRIS: Mmm... maybe. I think they dipped over the border from Galicia last time. But not for a stage start or finish. My guess is that there isn't much money to be made there, but someday that could change.

CHRIS: OK, enough fantasizing, back to reality. Is this a more relentless set of stages coming up (after the next few days of mellow terrain) than we've seen in a while? And where do things come to a head?

PABLO777: For personal preferences... I hope nothing gets decided till stage 20... That is like a second Queen stage and where things will be set on stone before heading to Madrid..

JENS: There's more lunacy on the hockey stick stage isn't there. The one Conor mentioned. But otherwise the answer is always Lagos de Covadonga in the Vuelta I think. It's the Tourmalet of the Vuelta.

CHRIS: Yeah that thing is a stone brute. I'd love to go on holiday in the Cantabrians but no way am I bringing a bike.

CONOR: I don't know, every Vuelta is "The Toughest Vuelta Ever," and everything is pretty close to the status quo for the last few years. I personally think the Aubisque stage will be huge. That includes some very hard climbs. Remember Froome's 2015 launchpad in the Tour? Not even categorised Esp.

CHRIS: I love that they linger in France a bit, particularly Basque France.

PABLO777: Here is where I go quiet and let the people with knowledge talk...

CHRIS: Not allowed!

CONOR: You're very polite. It'd be pretty quiet around here if everyone did that.

CHRIS: I'll say this: Froome is the only guy from Los Bigs who you have to hurt before the ITT. So there needs to be a shit-ton of attacking at the Lagos de Covadonga and the Basque/Pyrenees stages. I'm guessing Pablo will get his wish and the race is still open in the final weekend. Hard stages or not, the gaps between the big seem to stay prety narrow.

CONOR: Oh yeah, hate to be boring, but that TT as ever is the key stage. Who were the top GC guys on Ezaro? Chaves, Froome and Quintana. Which one can take two minutes out of the others there?

PABLO777: Is a hard race all over.. lets not forget that Froome already has the Tour and Olympics on his legs.. He will be competitive but I think is one of those years when a total stranger walks away with La Vuelta..

CHRIS: Atapuma!

CONOR: Well, the eventual champ is Colombian...

CHRIS: So no on Froome! OK then... I agree, the Olympics after the Tour, that's a killer schedule.

PABLO777: Fernandez..!!! Actually he lost 49 secs today... But he looked sooooo good on stage 3..!

CONOR: Yeah, I knew that guy would show something, but he's not a top ten guy yet. You know who is? Samu. Nice start from him.

JENS: Lopez should climb faster now that he's three teeth lighter! Slacker.

PABLO777: But that is not very aero while smiling Jens..!

JENS: I can't tell Avenir winners apart , they all look the same to me.

CONOR: Whatsisface is turning in his grave!

CHRIS: OK, well I am hopeful for a wide-open event. What do we think about Quintana? He seems fine for now and maybe skipping the Olympics will help him hold it together to Madrid. He's certainly a better time triallist than most of the pure climbers on hand.

CONOR: If he ends up in Madrid in red, I will purchase Spain's entire stock of Estrella Galicia. But sure, he'll plough on for a top 5.

JENS: My prediction is Q and Valverde settle 1 & 2nd place with a fistfight in Madrid. Movi look scary at this point.

CHRIS: Is Spanish beer any good?

CONOR: Maybe I have their economy at heart!

PABLO777: I drink lager beers... Or drafts... to me is refreshing..!!!

CHRIS: I was always suspicious of the name "cerveza." Every other country has a derivative of "beer" as the name. Seemed like maybe they were trying to hide something.

But then Mexican cerveza is fine by me, at least in hot weather.

PABLO777: Get my point about refreshing?

CHRIS: grudgingly, yes.

JENS: Is San Miguel Spanish? If so I ve had more of that than I've had Swedish beer. It's quality if you're looking to drink quantity.

PABLO777:Yes Jenscer..! San Miguel is Spanish.. A bit too sweet...

PABLO777: I do not think your body will react all that well to thick and heavy beers in this heat... My new favorite is something called "Clara" is beer and some sort of sweet tonic water...

CONOR: "I'll have a B&T?"

JENS: "Clara" huh. I think they call that Heineken in the rest of the world.

CHRIS: There was an old ad in the US about a beer that was "the one beer to have if you're having more than one." It was catchy, though it begged the question about what happens if you just wanted one.

CHRIS: OK, before picking results... Valverde. Three grand tours. Olympics. WTF?

CONOR: I'll let Jens answer this one.

PABLO777: Pedro Delgado was saying today that he has the ability to recover very fast and get in shape really quick..

CHRIS: Yeah, and of course there will be some grumblings about what that means. But still, the mental exhaustion is a thing, no? You just don't see guys of his stature do this, like ever. Not nowadays.

JENS: No worries. Valverde skipped E3 & Flanders too avoid tiring himself out. He should be OK.

CHRIS: Bah!

PABLO777: Lets all raise our eyebrows and hope for the best outcome of all of this...

CONOR: Yeah, he's set for yet another top ten here. Has that ever happened? Lejarreta nearly did it once, but wow, it's incredible in any case.

CHRIS: Probably Merckx and Hinault

CONOR: You'd think, but no. Between them, they only did three Vueltas.

CHRIS: OK, well I guess back when the Vuelta was before the Giro, you still had to pick just one.

JENS: The whole moving the Vuelta to the fall sort of ruins any chances for comparisons.

CHRIS: OK, setting aside the possibility of a Quintana or Froome win, who is the guy we weren't thinking of pre-season with the best chance of a career-altering GC victory?

CONOR: Chaves! Does he count? Because he's going to win.

CHRIS: He counts.

JENS: Only non-Movi, non-Sky who can win.

CHRIS: Here's a curveball for you... Kennaugh

JENS: Swing and a miss

CONOR: Funny you should say that, because I'd like to talk about the white elephant in the room. Contador. Can he recover?

PABLO777: We can consider Atapuma... Right? What ever happened to Contador? Let me answer my own question.."don't get old, it's a bitch"

CHRIS: Sore subject! Contador does look very old to me. Kennaugh was fifth in Burgos, and hasn't raced the Tour this year. [But I don't think he's stronger than Chaves.]

JENS: Kennaugh has a very definite ceiling to what he can do if you ask me. Contador has started the long fade into the shadows I'm sure.

CONOR: Czech curveball: Konig. Seventh the 2014 Tour. Sixth in the 2015 Giro after working for Porte the whole time. Rested.

CHRIS: Ooh! That's a sharp breaking curve!

JENS: Do we know if König has a new contract or is he riding for one? I can see him getting 4th-5th but not beyond that.

CONOR: I don't know why he'd want one.

CHRIS: OK, time to make our calls for Madrid. I think Froome is less than awesome but has just enough of a gain in the time trial to hang on for the win.

CONOR: Hey Chris, what's with the Nairo-Froome turnaround? You were his staunchest defender in the Tour.

CHRIS: Conor, you know what they say. If everything you say is wrong, then the opposite... must be right. I have a lot of faith in Don Nairo still. Don't get me wrong.

PABLO777: Just because he seems very concentrated and rested.. Don Nairo will be wearing red in Madrid...

CONOR: Chaves. Chaves all day long.

CHRIS: Jens? got a non-Colombian pick?

JENS: I'll go with Valverde. He looks perky and I think the course suits him better than Nairo anyway.

CHRIS: OK that's a wrap! Thanks guys, and thanks Pablo for stopping by!

CONOR: Adios! (Yes, got it first!)

JENS: Hasta la vista! (baby)

PABLO777: My pleasure..! I will try to take lots of pics at the stages... Also will try to sneak behind the scenes at the TT finish line..

CHRIS: yes, we very much look forward to pics from the PdC gathering in Valencia!