Editor’s Note: In today’s Monday Musette, Mattio takes “A Closer Look at Stage 19 of the Vuelta”, a stage that might prove to have been a good indicator of who will be wearing the rainbow jersey six days from now.
On paper, Stage 19 of the Vuelta looked like just another sprint finish. However, the stage profile didn’t indicate the true difficulty of the last few kilometers before the finish. That said, it’s likely Phillipe Gilbert knew exactly what to expect—he finished 2nd to Paolo Bettini in 2008, when Stage 6 finished in Toledo with the same run-in. Gilbert is a true classics champion, an aggressive rider who knows to win with powerful attacks on late-race climbs. He knows the kind of parcours that suits his strengths; Stage 19 was a likely target.
His victory bodes well for his prospects at the upcoming World Championships, where Gilbert is the #1 favorite. This year’s Worlds course is said to favor sprinters—not pure sprinters, but rather, the classics-type sprinter who wins from small, select groups. As Paolo Bettini said, if a sprinter wins, “it will be a sprinter that has a lot of resistance in the harder parts of the course.” Gilbert might not be a sprinter, but he has the power and the savvy to find the right late move or get the jump on the sprinters in a dwindling group—his performance in the Vuelta (Stage 19 in particular) suggests his form is there. Indeed, his effort on Stage 19 is impressive. A few late attacks pushed the pace, disintegrating the leadout trains of the field sprinters on the twisting roads of Toledo. And though a Garmin man forces Gilbert to close the gap to Gianni Meersman, Gilbert still summoned the power to attack—from the front with 700 meters to go, a “come and get me” move that left no room to wonder who was strongest on the day.
Take a look though, at who finished second—Tyler Farrar, who despite obvious talent has sometimes had a hard time taking field sprint wins against other notable sprinting heads of state. (Cavendish chalked-up his defeat to Farrar on Stage 21 as being due to a broken spoke and rear wheel rubbing on his brake pad.) Some of his other performances this year—in particular, his 5th-place at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen—suggest he’s got the potential to trade-in some of his top-end speed for the endurance required for success in races favoring classics riders. That Farrar was on Gilbert’s wheel, trying to come around him, when so many gaps had opened on the rolling, technical approach to the finish, indicates potential for a high American finish at Worlds. It’s also a sign that Farrar, Thor Hushovd, and Heinrich Haussler, united on Garmin-Cervélo for 2011, have the potential to be a major threat next spring.
The finish to Stage 19 also revealed the prospects of another possible Worlds dark horse. Vincenzo Nibali, wearing the leader’s red jersey, finished sixth, 12- seconds ahead of Ezequiel Mosquera. In those final kilometers, as the race strung-out and broke apart, Nibali moved to the front and stayed there. The moto camera spots him tucked a few wheels behind Gilbert when the Belgian launches his race-winning attack. Mosquera later lamented that he didn’t want to lose the Vuelta by those twelve seconds—certainly the extra time allowed Nibali a bit more breathing room when Mosquera attacked on the steep climb to Stage 20’s Bola Del Mundo. General Classification contenders must climb well and time trial well, but one can’t overlook the importance of smartly snatching time at every opportunity. Nibali’s attentive riding in the approach to Toledo was a smart move and a good indicator that his grand tour performances this year were no fluke. And who knows, with a bit of free rein from Italian DS Paolo Bettini this Sunday, Nibali could trade his red for rainbow stripes.
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