Saturday, 3 September 2011

How steep?!?

So, we said that the mountains would be too much for him. No, the really long mountains. No, sorry, the really long mountains with lots of changes in gradient. Not only have they not been too much for Bradley Wiggins, but his head-up, commanding riding at the front, marshalled by Chris Froome has been too much for many of his rivals.

Seriously, look at the list of riders that Wiggins has dropped at one point or another in this race: Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez, Michele Scarponi, Mikel Nieve. Not bad for a chap we thought would defend in the mountains.

Of course, tomorrow we’ve got a really long mountain with lots of changes in gradient and some horrifically steep sections. By rights, that should be too much for Wiggins, but by this point he’s confounded expectations often enough that it wouldn’t be a terrible surprise if he holds it together on the Angliru.
Even after the Angliru there’s still stage 17's summit finish on Pena Cabarga, a climb too short for massive time losses, but steep enough for gaps to be created easily - a good day tomorrow could lay the foundations for a deciding attack on Wednesday. Nevertheless, Wiggins is in the strongest spot now.

Of his expected challengers tomorrow, any attempt by Mollema to get away would lead to an Anglo-Dutch replay of last year's slo-mo Mosquera/Nibali chase. TGBM has the strength to maintain a gap, but not the acceleration to make the gap especially dangerous.

Cobo could have something left in the tank, but it would be almost the reverse of the Mollema situation - he could easily open a sizeable gap, but potentially not maintain it - much like today, where he was chopped back to 15 seconds by the finish.

I can't bring myself to count Nibali out entirely either. 1:25 is a big deficit for a guy with so little acceleration, but he's finished second and third on the Mt Zoncolan in the last two years. When it comes to really long climbs with batshit gradients, Nibali has proven that he can hang in there even as the faster guys fade. The Angliru might yet play to his consistency.

Nevertheless, Wiggins has to defend the time he’s already got, while everyone else has to overcome sizeable caveats (and sizeable mountains) to seize the time they need. I don’t want to tempt fate, but things have never looked this good before...

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