Category: Vuelta a Espana 2006

September 13, 2006

Vuelta Stage 17: Adra - Granada

Tom Danielson answered some critics today by winning a suprising stage 17 that saw Vino end up in the overall lead. After Danielson and Discovery were unable to defeat the efforts of Euskatel in stage 16 -- the Vino/Valverde battle worked against Danielson's chances -- Danielson this time found himself on the right side of the GC competition. Danielson managed to solo off the front while behind Valverde desperately chased Vino and Kashechkin. Just as Valverde caught the Astana riders, Vino took off and jumped all the way up to Danielson. There must have been some agreement between Vino and Danielson as the two worked together all the way to the finish -- Vino working for the golden jersey and Danielson working to just up the top ten standings and the stage win.

I really didn't expect to see Vino in the golden jersey. The first several stages of the Vuelta made Vino's teammates look as good if not better than Vino, and Vino certainly looked worse than Valverde, but Vino's stage 7 and stage 8 victories started to bring him back into contention. The stage 14 time trial seemed to close the door on Vino's chances, though, as VIno only managed to scrape back 9 seconds on Valverde. Valverde, looking so strong in both the mountains and the time trial, seemed well-suited to hold off an Astana assault.

I meant to keep the Vuelta posts more regular but I've had a bit of trouble following the Vuelta as cycling.tv has been a bit wonky -- I can't wake up early enough for the live broadcast and they've been unpredictable with when they make the stage highlights available. This year's Vuelta has been very exciting with all the battling between Valverde and Vino, with some Sastre punches thrown in. Astana has been amazing with its ability to get riders up at the front of the race and Discovery has been taking their chances ever since Danielson's then Brajkovic's chances were dashed.

August 27, 2006

Vuelta Stage 2: Malaga-Cordoba

Bettini grabbed the first individual stage win of this Vuelta and Thor Hushovd showed his skill in grabbing leader's jerseys as it was a familiar scene with him pulling on the golden jersey -- he must have wanted one to replace the yellow jersey that got all bloodied and torn during the Tour de France.

I once had the opportunity to take the road from Malaga to Cordoba, but my fellow travelers preferred Granada instead. From the coverage, it looks like it an open and exposed road -- plenty of wind to batter the peloton, though with an early start the temperatures weren't as punishing as last year's Vuelta.

It was a day for the sprinters and all the sprint teams did their work -- Milram, Lotto, Liquigas, Lampre, and Credit Agricole all did their work chasing back a break by Discovery's Joachim and Cofidis' Marichal, who jumped past a break by Relax's de Sarraga. With all the work and coordination of the sprint team, It was surprising to see Bettini win the sprint finish.

Milram did the leadout train in the final kilometer, but they seemed to lead Zabel out a little too early and Zabel only managed 10th. McEwen had a bit of trouble with his leadout getting stuck behind Hushovd. As McEwen was giving up his sprint, Bettini came jumping out from behind him and took the stage win.

Sastre had a flat in the final kilometers, but it didn't matter much as he was awarded the same time as the peloton. Either way, he was going to lose his jersey to the finish line bonuses.

Vuelta Stage 1: Malaga

It was nice watching a European stage where I had some more familiarity with the route. With the exception of the Tour de France finish in Paris, most of the racing occurs on remote countryside roads that I have little chance of ever rolling through. Not so for Malaga -- although I couldn't exactly place the coverage, I have fond memories of strolling along its flat seaside roads with the Castle of Alcazaba above. It's a great place for this unusual start to a grand tour -- a prologue-ish team time trial.

I love the team time trial and after watching this prologue, I think the idea of a prologue team time trial is growing on me. With such a short distance, it is all the more important that your team is well-drilled. Make a couple mistakes -- like Discovery did -- and you can easily lose the seconds you need to finish in first. Very unforgiving, very fast, very fun to watch. CSC was nearly perfect in their run and quite deservingly wears the golden jersey -- for a night at least, as it should quickly be handed over to a sprint team with the stages ahead.

The Vuelta coverage was a bit funky to watch -- the footage focused mainly on the first half of the course for each team, the Vuelta graphics kept obscuring the coverage, and the cameramen were a bit rusty. Here's my observations, as best as I could tell:

  • CSC was clearly the best of the lot. There was a tricky turn/roundabout combination that splintered most of the pacelines going through and caused a crash for Gerolsteiner, but CSC kept everything tight and in control. They dropped Fabian Cancellara in the final kilometer, but Cancellara had put in a great effort at the front and burned everything he had to put his teammate Sastre in the golden jersey.
  • Caisse D'Epargne looked like a well-drilled team. I'm placing big bets on Valverde -- they should be in a good position to pick up their second Grand Tour this year.
  • Discovery didn't look great at the start. They seemed to have a bit of trouble falling into line at the beginning and they confused the rotations a bit. Still, they managed a very respectable fourth place at nine seconds back
  • Gerolsteiner looked horrible. They couldn't keep the line together, they didn't have their rotations down, and it cost them: heading into a roundabout they really split apart and team captain Davide Rebellin went down when he ran into the rear wheel of his teammate. They didn't wait for Rebellin, so he lost over two minutes on this very short stage, and the team only finished with 6 riders at the finish. In fact, Gerolsteiner looked as bad as Euskatel, but at least Euskatel didn't crash and finished with 7 riders.

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