Thursday, August 26, 2010

The 2010 Vuelta a España Preview

The Vuelta is the final major stage race of the year.  Like the Giro and the Tour it is a 21 stage race, but there is a major difference between the Vuelta and the other two major races. 

There are many riders who start the season saying the Giro is their main objective of the season.  Just this year you had Ivan Basso, Alexander Vinokourov, and Cadel Evans to name a few.  Similarly many more riders make the Tour their prime objective.  There are no big name riders who make the Vuelta their main objective of the season.  Because it comes near the end of the season it is too far to aim for when you are planning out your season in January.  The only riders who aim for the Vuelta are young riders, or riders who the team want to test to see if they have the potential to contend for an overall.  Lance Armstrong for instance made his major stage race return from cancer at the Vuelta.  It was at the end of the season, so he could build up to it after such a long time off.

But of course it is a long season, and injuries occur and as chances fall away during the season the Vuelta becomes a new objective.  Frank Schleck is a good example for this season.  His entire season had been built around the Tour, but an early crash knocked him out of the race, but kept his form in tact.  This means he should be able to train up and get ready in time for the Vuelta.  Christian Vande Velde is another example.  Also guys like Carlos Sastre who simply didn't have form in the Tour until late in the race will look to extend that form into September and try and save their season. 

The race also gets a group of single day riders who are looking to train up for the World Championships coming at the end of September.  They will normally drop out once the mountains get too tough, but it makes the opening stages very fun to watch.  This year in particular we have a flood of sprinters as many believe the World course for this year can come to a sprint finish.  This means we will get to see Mark Cavendish once again dominate the sprints as he has said the World's are his primary goal to end the season.

So who will win the Vuelta, who are the favorites.  Well like very year at the Vuelta it is very hard to say.  The big names to watch are Frank Schleck, Carlos Sastre, and Denis Menchov.  The wild card picks right now would be David Arroyo and Marzio Bruseghin.

For the Americans the big name to watch will be Tom Danielson.  There was a time when everyone, including Armstrong, believed Danielson would be the next great American stage racer.  But he has literally collapsed under the pressure and has never lived up to the hype.  His team Garmin-Transitions has made it pretty clear that this year is Danielson's last to show that he can still be a competitive rider. I feel if he fails in this Vuelta to finish top twenty, it will be the last time we see Danielson riding in Europe.  The other American to watch will be Tyler Farrar.  Once again he will be the main challenger to Cavendish in the sprints.  Farrar was injured early in the Tour and so the battle never took place, it will be interesting to see if a healthy Farrar can compete with an in form Cavendish. 

The best part of the Vuelta, however, is the Spanish rider that could.  Every year there is a young or old Spanish rider who seems to come out of no where to have a great race.  Sometimes they go on to great things, sometimes it is a swan song, and sometimes they are a one hit wonder, but every year it is a fun thing to watch.

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