Vuelta d’Espana Midpoint Report

Well, the Vuelta has about reached it’s midpoint, providing us with a good chance to look back over our pre-race predictions. If you recall, we divided this year’s participants into 4 groups according to what their attitudes and goals might be heading into this year’s final Grand Tour. We labeled them Redeemers, Builders, Asserters, and Seekers depending upon whether they are: a)redeeming themselves for an unfulfilling season; b) building form for later in the fall; c) asserting themselves as a legitimate contender in their given area; or d) seeking a new or better contract for next year.

As per usual, we’ve hit the target on several occasions (with others still to be determined), while missing horribly on others. Keeping in mind there’s still 10 days left to race, let’s see how we’re doing, beginning with The Redeemers.

We presented Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde as both seeking some redemption at this year’s Vuelta. So far, so good as they sit in 2nd and 1st place respectively on GC with only 7 seconds separating them. With several exciting days remaining, the pending dual between these two talents might be one of the season’s finest.

Kim Kirchen came to the Vuelta for redemption as well—too bad he’s already dropped-out due to what have been described as “intestinal problems”. Clearly, this has not been the season Kirchen was banking upon. Maybe the environment at Katusha will give him a fresh start?

While the Redeemers came to the race seeking immediate redemption, several of the Builders hope to find the form they’ll need to get it a bit later on. Case in point: Tom Boonen’s been close to a stage win on several occasions, but he still seems to lack the last-second burst he needs to win. Time will tell if Tommeke’s season will end on a high note, but one can only hope the kilometers he’s logging now will reap rewards in October.

On the other hand, Damiano Cunego, another of our “Builders”, seems to be doing quite nicely. He won the Stage 9 summit finish and currently sits in 7th place overall. If he keeps it up, he’ll be the overwhelming favorite at Worlds and Lombardy–if he doesn’t go too deep in Spain. His compatriot Alessandro Ballan has had a quiet Vuelta so far, one can only guess how he’ll be later in the season. Maybe he works for Cunego at Worlds?

And finally, Fabian Cancellara stormed to wins in both Vuelta ITT’s and is the clear favorite to win the World Title on his home turf.

As for the Asserters, Andre Greipel has clearly cemented himself among the world’s finest field sprinters by winning 2 stages and wearing the Gold Jersey for a few days. Furthermore, he’s staying with Columbia-HTC for 2010, thus ensuring that perhaps the strongest challenger to Mark Cavendish’s sprint throne stays home.

The first draft of today’s post mentioned Tyler Farrar as someone who fell short of our forecast. However, the young American finally broke through today, winning Stage 12. It caps a fantastic year for the Garmin rider, one which saw him progress steadily through the ranks of the world’s best field sprinters. Another win or two certainly wouldn’t be a surprise, firmly planting Tyler—along with Greipel—as one of the best in the world.

Samuel Sanchez was hoping to assert himself as perhaps Spain’s second-best Grand Tour rider. He currently sits in 6th place overall, about 1 minute down on the leaders. That’s a bit of a deficit, but it’s one Sanchez is clearly capable of overcoming given the right circumstances. The Vuelta’s been won and lost in the final week before; Sanchez could still pull it off.

On the other hand, Andy Schleck’s Vuelta ended on Sunday when he abandoned about 90km into Stage 8 with stomach cramps. I expected more from both him and his brother (who abandoned today to have season-ending knee surgery). That said, Andy won Liege-Bastogne-Liege and finished 2nd in the Tour. A rest is clearly in order following what has been a long, but successful season.

An astute reader asked why I forgot to mention Robert Gesink among the Asserters. Clearly he was right, as young Robert’s currently sitting in 3rd place on GC. With several mountain stages still to come, Gesink could give the Dutch a well-deserved Grand Tour victory.

And finally we have the Seekers, and what a good group they’ve proved to be.

Ivan Basso and Tom Danielson have consistently ridden with the leaders, currently occupying 5th and 4th place on GC. Basso’s been reported to remain with Liquigas next season, while Danielson’s name has been absent from most transfer talk. That said, a solid Vuelta for both might just lead to some greener pastures for these two talented men.

Simon Gerrans has already claimed what he sought, winning Stage 10 into Murcia. He’s now won stages in all 3 Grand Tours and will surely command a hefty salary for next season. My money’s on SKY getting his name on the dotted line.

And finally, there’s Chris Horner, a man we mentioned as possibly vying for the win. Unfortunately, Horner’s run of bad luck has continued, with a first week crash taking him from the race before it really even began. It’s clearly been a tough season for Chris.

So let’s see: that’s 7 stages and 6 of the Top-10 on GC for men we mentioned before the race. Not too shabby! Although the others might be sending us some hate mail for jinxing their chances.

What about you? What are your thoughts on the first half of the race? Share your comments below.

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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