Saturday, 25 August 2012
It's come around really quickly, thanks I think to the fabulousness of the Olympics bridging the gap between the Tour de France and the start of the Vuelta. Sorry this is a bit late - but 1 week in, what does the cyclist make of the Vuelta?
Is this a straight up Froome V Contador?
Yeah, I think it probably is. There are a couple of others who fancy their chances, like Rodriguez, but realistically it'll come down to Froome and Contador at the end of the three weeks.
Where's Contador at? Physically and mentally?
Mentally, it's anyone's guess really. He's made it very clear he wants this win, but only time will tell the psychological toll the ban has taken on him.
Physically, it looks like he's lost none of his top end speed and his ability to attack aggressively on the climbs. However, for whatever reason, he doesn't seem to be showing the prolonged power he had prior to his ban. A lot has been made of the multiple attacks he made on stage 3, suggesting this shows he could make an attack stick at any point. To my mind, this is bullshit. These are professional riders racing a Grand Tour, not competitive mates showing off on a club run. When you are riding a three week Grand Tour for the win, you do not waste energy on multiple attacks to prove a point. If he could've made an attack stick he would have there and then.
And Froome - is he too tired? Can he cope with the psychological effects of being a team leader?
Let's be straight - Froome has a more difficult task ahead of him to win this Vuelta than Wiggins had to win the Tour. The Vuelta is inherently a much more unpredictable race. Firstly, the Vuelta team Sky is fielding is not quite as strong as the team they sent to the Tour. Secondly, the parcours is absolutely nails. Thirdly, the main contenders for the Vuelta, in contrast to the Tour, are incredibly aggressive attacking racers. They will not be content to sit back. Wiggins largely benefitted from a massive psychological advantage going in to the Tour - no-one believed they could beat him. This was due to a combination of his supreme dominance going in to the race and the fact that the route suited him down to the ground with strong emphasis on Time Trials.
There is one potential undoing for Froome - he has to maintain consistency at all times. If he, at any point, drops to the back of the group like he did once or twice at the Tour, he will be attacked and how. Provoking an attack could cost him any time he'd be looking to make up in the time trial, especially taking in to account time bonuses. Now, Froome has proven he has the ability to out time-trial any and all of the other main contenders for the GC. But the time trial here is relatively short, and he'll probably only take 30 seconds from his main rivals.
But on the question of whether he's tired, I think the answer would be no. He looks to be raring to go. Last year's Vuelta he was not team leader, and he was second. Tour de France he was not team leader and he was second. He's finally got his team leader position and he's got a lot to prove. He needs this win for himself. So far it looks like he's calm and in control and has the measure of his opponents.
Will the race unveil any surprises?
Quite possibly! The Vuelta is the Grand Tour of the three most likely to conceal a surprise performance or two!
What about the time bonuses?
Time bonuses should never be discounted in the minds of the contenders, but I can see this Vuelta being less close than last year's was. The time bonuses have been reduced from last year - I think the result will be a true reflection of the race.
As an aside, the cyclist makes an advanced prediction for next year's Giro - Richie Porte. You're welcome!