In His Own Words: Sport Director Matt Wilson Previews La Vuelta

Wed 21 Aug 2013

Having introduced you to our Vuelta a España roster last week, we’re now ready to review with you what’s in store for our nine riders over their three weeks in Spain. We’ve clearly stated our intention of chasing stage wins, and we believe that our line-up offers us a variety of opportunities to achieve this goal.

Without a rider who can place anywhere high up on the overall, we’re in Spain purely for stage victories. Any team without an overall contender that leaves a Grand Tour with a stage win will consider it a race well done. We’re no exception. That said, I think we can win more than one stage. We’ve got some riders on exceptionally good form, and the team is really motivated this year.

I’d be happy to leave Spain with a stage win and ecstatic with anything beyond that. Where do I see our best chances? Read through my stage by stage analysis to learn where I expect us to contend for Grand Tour glory. 

Stage 1: Vilanova de Arousa – Sanxenxo

The final Grand Tour of the year begins in Galicia with a team time trial. The 27.4km course is largely non-technical although a coastal finish could mean wind. While we don’t have our best team time trial squad in Spain, we have a solid group. Like every other team, we’ll go out there and do what we can. Without knowing the full line-up for other teams yet, I can’t say what we’re aiming for in terms of a result. Who knows? Maybe we’ll shock them like we did at the Tour.

Stage 2: Pontevedra – Baiona. Alto do Monte da Groba

There’s no easing into things at the Vuelta this year. The first stage features a category one summit finish on Alto do Monte da Groba. With lots fresh legs and lofty ambitions, I don’t expect the break to have any chance today. The winner is likely to come from the overall contenders.  I don’t think we’ll have much to say on this stage.

Stage 3: Vigo – Mirador de Lobeira / Vilagarcía de Arousa

It’s the second road stage and the second summit finish, but this one has our name written all over it. After flat roads and gentle rollers throughout the afternoon, stage three ends with a short, punchy category three ascent that will favour the likes of Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans. We’ll need to recon the finish and then speak with Bling and Gerro privately about how they’re feeling. From there, we’ll make a decision about who we’re racing for and put all our eggs in that one basket.

Stage 4: Lalín/a Estrada – Fisterra. Etapa Fin del Mundo

Billed as the “End of the Earth” stage, day four should either suit the breakaway or the opportunists. It’s a solid day on paper with no real mountains but lots of ups and downs. Depending on how things go for us on stage three, we’ll decide if we want to get in a breakaway or pin our hopes on Matthews into Fisterra.  

Stage 5: Sober – Lago de Sanabria

An undulating stage with more roads pointing up than down, I see stage five as another chance for the sprinters although it’s possible a break could contest the finish. A descent off a category three summit and two small uncategorized hills on the run-in towards the finish offer an opportunity for the attacks. We’ll look to Howard or Matthews on this stage.

Stage 6: Guijuelo – Cáceres

It’s another lumpy day, but this one serves up a fair amount of downhill that clearly favours the sprinters. Anything other than a bunch kick on stage six would be a surprise. We plan to look to Howard on the flatter, faster sprints and Matthews on the more selective sprint stages, so this could be a day where Howard has his chance.

Stage 7: Almendralejo – Mairena de Aljarafe

If a sprint is likely on stage six, it’s almost an absolutely certainty on stage seven. There’s not a single categorised climb and the lumps and bumps are minimal. A battle of the sprint trains should emerge ahead of the finish line in Mairena de Aljarafe. If all goes well, we’ll be amongst the pointy end of the action.

Stage 8: Jerez de La Frontera – Estepona. Alto Peñas Blancas

The GC riders will have needed to remain attentive during stages three through seven but will have largely taken a backseat to the sprinters and rouleurs since stage two. Things change on stage eight. The day ends with a category one summit finish that looks a bit harder than the category one climb that concludes stage two. This stage will be a bit of a rest day for most of our team or perhaps an opportunity for a rider like Christian Meier, Simon Clarke or Wes Sulzberger to chase a result from a breakaway.

Stage 9: Antequera – Valdepeñas de Jaén

After stage eight, the overall classification will have started to take shape, and some teams may be more willing to let a break go and stay away.  The category two climbs will prohibit the sprinters from making it to the finish, and it’s not a hard enough day for the overall contenders to chase gains, which leaves this stage to the breakaway artists and the opportunists. I tend to think it favours the former, so we’d be keen to send Christian or Wes up the road.

Stage 10: Torredelcampo – Güéjar Sierra. Alto Hazallanas

The last stage of the opening week of the Vuelta is a doozy. While an early break will be allowed to go clear, it will splinter and eventually be overtaken either on the category one climb that tops out less than 30km from the line or on the slopes of the hors categorie mountaintop finish. We’ll call this a rest day before the rest day because there’s nothing in it for us.

Stage 11: Tarazona – Tarazona

A 38.8km time trial marks the start of the second week of racing in Spain. Although we don’t have any time trial specialists, Sam Bewley may have a crack. Beyond him, no one will target a good result, so this is pretty much a rest day for us.

Stage 12: Maella – Tarragona

A bunch sprint is likely in Tarragona, and we have this stage earmarked for Howard or Matthews. A category three ascent at the mid-point of the stage could split the peloton slightly, but the sprint teams, like ours, have plenty of time to get the bunch back together and under control before the finish. Because we’re focused on putting in a really good effort here, we have extra incentive to treat stages 10 and 11 as on the bike rest days.

Stage 13: Valls – Castelldefels

A bunch sprint on paper but a far more select one than what we will have seen the previous day. The pure sprinters will likely be distanced on the category one climb up to Alto del Rat Penat that tops out 40km from the finish in Castelldefels. With the way Matthews was climbing in Utah, it’s possible that he could remain in contact with a reduced bunch, but we’ll have to see how he deals with the fatigue of his first Grand Tour. If not Matthews, stage 13 could also suit Gerro.

Stage 14: Bagà – Andorra. Collada de la Gallina

The Vuelta moves into the Pyrenees at the start of the second weekend of racing. The hors categorie Port de Envalira ascent will begin inside the first hour of racing and top out nearly 50km later at the mid-point of the stage. By the time the peloton reaches the summit, they will be in Andorra and at the highest point of this year’s Tour of Spain (2,408m). Two category two climbs follow before the category one Collada de la Gallina summit finish. Lacking pure climbers, this is not a stage for us.

Stage 15: Andorra – Peyragudes

We remain in the Pyrenees for stage 15 as the race travels from Andorra into France, tackling four category one climbs along the way. At 226km, this is the longest stage of the race and could possibly be considered the queen stage as well. On a stage this brutal, it’s survival mode for most of our riders. 

Stage 16: Graus – Sallent de Gállego. Aramón Formigal

It’s the third consecutive summit finish and although this stage measures slightly shorter than the rest, it will be hard. Often times shorter translates into more aggressive, and I expect that to be the case here. Stage 16 is nearly all uphill with a category three climb at the start, a category two climb early on in the second half of the race and a category one climb to the finish in Aramón Formigal. Expect more survival mode from our camp.

Stage 17: Calahorra – Burgos

The third and final week of racing begins with a good opportunity for us. The first stage after the second rest day could go to the escape group or the sprinters. It becomes increasingly difficult to keep the race together after two hard weeks of racing, so the teams with an interest in the sprint will need to collaborate to ensure a bunch kick. If it doesn’t finish in a sprint, hopefully we’ll have put a rider in the breakaway, so we can take our chances there. There are lots of tired legs by this point in a Grandy, making tactics a bit more difficult to predict.

Stage 18: Burgos – Peña Cabarga

A rolling day over the medium mountains that culminates in another summit finish could prove fertile ground for another successful escape. Although the day includes five categorised climbs, the initial four are not too difficult. The category one climb to Peña Cabarga presents the only real challenge. I don’t see anything for us here save for a late race move on the lengthy downhill before the final climb.

Stage 19: S. Vicente Barquera – Oviedo (Alto del Naranco)

I need to take a closer look at this stage. It finishes on a category two climb, but it’s unclear how tough it is. I hope we’ll have a chance to do some good recon of this stage before we race it. It could be a day for the overall contenders to attack each other over three categorised climbs that come in quick succession in the last 40km or it could be a day for an opportunist like Gerro or Clarkey to survive in a reduced bunch and deliver a winning acceleration to the line.

Stage 20: Avilés – Alto de L’Angliru

The Angliru is by far the hardest challenge of the Vuelta and is harder still for coming on the penultimate day of racing. The peloton will make their way over a category three, category two and category one climb in the build-up to the absolutely brutal mountain finish. While the overall victor may seem all but assured, anything can and has happened on the Angliru. Although there is absolutely nothing for us here, this will be a spectacular day of racing and well worth watching for any cycling fan.

Stage 21: Leganés – Madrid

The final day of racing ends with nine laps of a 5.7km circuit around the city centre of Madrid. For us, it’s all about getting to this last stage and having another go at the bunch sprint. Hopefully we’ll still have riders with good legs so we can have a crack. It would be very exciting to close out the Vuelta with a win on the final day of racing.