2012 Vuelta: The Race Against The Clock. Up A Mountain.

It’s the first true test of the Vuelta, and all the GC men know it.

When the 2012 Vuelta route was unveiled, a lot of riders made other plans for August. Some went to Colorado, others Denmark, and some called it a season and hit the beach instead of competing in Spain or at Worlds. But for a number of GC contenders, it was an unbelievable, dream come true, perfect route. Those men were climbers. Even the time trial has a CAT 3 climb slapped into the middle of the route, bringing riders up over 1,000 feet before spilling back down to the finish.

Experts say it isn’t a stage for climbing specialists, but riders like overall leader Joaquim Rodriquez and Laurens Ten Dam  should be able to limit their losses with a solid climb on the day. If the winds are lighter, the pure climbers should survive well, even if they concede a handful of seconds to the specialists.

And specialist would certainly be the name for the best time trialist in the race, Christopher Froome. He’s shown is TT chops at the Tour, where only Bradley Wiggins could beat him, and again at the Olympic TT where Wiggo and Tony Martin were the only men faster. This course actually suits him better than those and he’s just 53 seconds behind Rodriguez, who has already said he expects to lose two or three minutes, plus the jersey, to Froome on today’s stage.

This might also be the best glimpse of Contador’s form to date. While he’s been aggressive and in contention on the early summit finishes, this TT is going to be a massive step in his Grand Tour return. In his hey-day, he would have been the overwhelming favorite on a stage like this one, but no one is quite sure what his engine will be like on an intense, 39km effort like this one. On a good day, even now, he should be able to challenge Froome and possibly even beat him, but for this Contador, losing less than 30 seconds might be considered a victory. What he loses today he’ll fight for in the mountains, and he may be able to take advantage of Froome’s lead when his SKY teammates are left dragging the peloton through another ten days in the high mountains.

Alejandro Valverde is very quietly hanging around the lead, and his stage wins have yet to truly announce his presence among the GC contenders. Even though he’s right behind Contador, magazines and Twitterers are writing off the man returning from a two-year ban, saying he doesn’t have the ability to climb in the high peaks like Contador, Froome or Rodriguez. Valverde has very smartly downplayed his chances, though not everyone is listening. Contador thinks he’ll be a solid contender for the TT and, down the line, for the overall in Madrid. Valverde would laughingly tell you otherwise if you met him on the street.

Enjoy today’s stage and remember, no one will win the Vuelta today, but a few might just lose it.

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