Friday, 15 February 2013

An Interesting Day in Oman

Brilliant fight up Green Mountain yesterday. It feels a bit early in the season to be seeing the big names duelling it out, but I'm not complaining.

It's also probably too early in the season to read anything into the results, but I'm going to ponder anyway. As with last year's Vuelta, you get the feeling that Contador's acceleration is fractionally less powerful and sustainable than it used to be. Watching him grind his way onto Nibali's back wheel was a real surprise, Nibali being the sort of diesel climber that an explosive rider like Contador should be able to catch, match or despatch with a couple of pedal turns.

Evans and Froome were equally interesting. Both capable climbers, but falling short of the acceleration and top speed of Rodriguez or Contador, they overcame their shortfalls with brains and, in Froome's case with what  I suspect was a bit of bluffing. They stayed within themselves, didn't redline it following attacks they couldn't catch, and used the strength they'd saved to attack when their technically faster rivals were depleted. I'd expect that of a canny rider like Evans, but seeing it from Froome was a surprise.

In the past, I've been guilty of suggesting that Chris Froome's racing brain wasn't as strong as his racing legs. I always thought his high placing in the 2011 Vuelta was largely down to sticking to Wiggo, who was making all the smart decisions about who and when to chase. Yes, he was stronger in the TT and on Angliru, but I'm not sure if he's have been in contention by that point if he hadn't spent the first ten days benefitting from Wiggo's decisions. I know that sounds mean, but consider Froome's now forgotten reputation for burning all his matches in meaningless early attacks. Remember his attempt to sprint for a bonification a kilometre too early, or the old stories of him riding 50km to the start of a 150km race. He's not a chap you expect to ride cleverly or cagily, yet there he was peeling off to the side either in exhaustion or, more likely, disgruntlement, part way through the chase of Rodriguez, forcing Contador and Nibali to come through and do their share, presumably thinking he was spent.

I wish the camera had been on their faces when he tore past them. If the finish had been half a km further on, I think he might have caught Rodriguez and got the stage win as well as the leader's jersey.

And as for Rodriguez's attack, what can you say? It wasn't his usual lethal turn of speed, but it came when his major rivals were unprepared, and he used the element of surprise to make it stick. Poetic justice, given how Contador used similar tactics to pinch last year's Vuelta out from under J-Rod's nose.

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