2014 La Vuelta a Espana preview – Quintana lines up Giro/Vuelta double

Nairo Quintana will start the 2014 La Vuelta a Espana on Saturday bidding to secure a rare double feat.

If the Colombian Movistar rider wins he will become only the fourth man in history to have won the Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta in the same season after Eddy Merckx (1973), Giovanni Battaglin (1981) and Alberto Contador (2008).

Of course, Quintana will have to battle Contador himself to carve his slice of history after the Spaniard withdrew from this season’s Tour de France with a fractured shin bone.

Contador’s quicker than expected recovery has convinced his Tinkoff-Saxo team that he is 100% fit for a tilt at earning a third Vuelta win, but there is another huge challenger for the win.

Britain’s Chris Froome who, like Contador, also withdrew from Le Tour after sustaining a broken wrist and hand, is perhaps Quintana’s closest rival for the Vuelta this year.

After making an almost unnoticed comeback from contracting the bilharzia parasite, Froome blasted his way to prominence with second place at La Vuelta in 2011, a heartbreaking thirteen seconds behind Juan Jose Cobo.

With three Grand Tour superstars in the race, La Vuelta’s route will be a constant battleground for them as it features no fewer than eight summit finishes and just five flat stages out of 21.

There are also three time trials, one team and two individual, with the final 10km time-trial in Santiago de Compostela breaking a 21-year-old streak of finishing La Vuelta in Madrid.

The 12.6km team time-trial kicks off the Vuelta in Jerez, before the race winds through southern Spain in a mixed opening parcours.

The opening nine stages before the first rest day are composed of two mountain stages, three hilly stages, three flat stages and the team time-trial.

Race organisers Unipublic have seemingly decided to incorporate all four types of parcours to add early uncertainty to a race which gets down to business in the second week.

After the opening rest day, the riders tackle a 34.5km time-trial to Borja – which could expose Quintana and play into the hands of strong time-triallists Contador and Froome.

But the Colombian could retaliate to any potential time losses incurred against the clock when the race hits the mountains of northern Spain.

Stage 11 includes a summit finish before stages 14, 15 and 16 loom large.

That trio of mountainous stages looks set to decide the race and, with time bonuses available throughout La Vuelta, the main general classification (GC) riders will be attacking for maximum gains.

Stage 16, with its five first category climbs includes a destructive sting in the tail.

Traversing the highest point of the race, the riders will encounter the summit finish to La Farrapona, Lagos de Somiedo which tops out at 1,715m.

The final week looks progressively harder, but not as taxing as the middle week.

A flat-looking stage 17 is followed by two medium mountain stages and a mountainous penultimate stage ending in a highest-category summit finish in Puerto de Ancares before the 2014 Vuelta ends with a zippy 10km time-trial.

Quintana looks ideally placed to win the Giro/Vuelta double, but with Contador and Froome bailing from the Tour de France in its opening week they should be fresh and ready to salvage an esteemed result from their season.

Other noteworthy contenders include Joaquim Rodriguez, who has used the Tour to prepare for the Vuelta, and Alejandro Valverde but reigning Vuelta champion Chris Horner has been withdrawn voluntarily by his Lampre-Merida team.

The 42-year-old delivered an abnormally low cortisone level and, although that level is not illegal under UCI rules, Lampre have acted upon the Movement for Credible Cycling’s (MPCC) regulations and pulled him out without external request. 

Elsewhere, rising star Wilco Kelderman is also a serious danger to the established GC contenders after a superb seventh place in the Giro, while Rigoberto Uran will also demand respect after a second-consecutive second-place at the Giro.

There is healthy British representation this year, with Garmin’s David Millar recovering from his late Tour relegation to aid Andrew Talansky and Dan Martin in their bid for a top ten finish.

Orica Greenedge’s Adam Yates, winner of the Tour of Turkey this year, will make his Grand Tour debut after watching brother Simon compete in the Tour de France in July.

Team Sky are fielding a trio of Britons in Froome, Tour of Austria winner Peter Kennaugh and Luke Rowe – indicating the presence of plans B and C should Froome’s form deteriorate.

Of course, the British team will be hoping to recover from a disastrous Tour which saw the absence of an alternative plan hopelessly exposed by Froome’s withdrawal.

But the pointy end of the race will likely involve Quintana, Contador and Froome. Rodriguez could also be together with them and that could form an interesting dynamic as happened in 2012 when Froome was attacked by a Spanish alliance of Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez.

Race favourite Quintana appears to warrant his candidacy as the best of the contenders, but much depends on the form of Froome and Contador. Have they recovered enough fitness after their injuries to challenge the diminutive Colombian?

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

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2013 F1 Seat Showdown: The Contenders

With testing for the new Formula One season due to begin in less than a month, there are still two seats available on the 2013 grid.

Only 11 teams and 22 drivers are expected to make the first test on February 5th at Jerez due to HRT’s apparent demise in the close season.

So far, only 20 drivers have been confirmed for next season and this has left an intense battle for the final two seats, with places at Force India and Caterham still available.

Let’s look at the contenders for each drive.

Force India

1. Jules Bianchi

The promising Frenchman is a member of Ferrari’s Driver Academy and drove for the British-based team in nine Practice 1 sessions during the 2012 F1 season.

Nico Hulkenberg’s move to Sauber has given him a chance to partner Paul di Resta and the 23-year-old is widely tipped to fill the vacancy created by Hulkenberg’s switch.

There is also a persistent rumour that Force India are looking to secure Ferrari engines for 2014 when major new regulations come into play, and Bianchi’s signature for 2013 could be a sweetener to such a partnership.

2. Jaime Alguersuari

The talented Spaniard drove in 46 Grand Prix for Toro Rosso between 2009 and 2011, becoming the youngest-ever driver in Formula One history at just 19.

His controversial departure from the team led to a testing role with F1 tyre supplier Pirelli in 2012, and it was thought his valuable knowledge of the newly-constructed 2013 tyres could have led to a seat with a big team next season.

However, such prospects failed to materialise and Alguersuari is now one of many drivers linked with Force India.

Despite decent financial backing, the 22-year-old is expected to miss out on the seat and has been in talks with teams in the popular German Touring Car Championship (DTM) about a 2013 drive.

3. Bruno Senna

The nephew of the late great Ayrton, Bruno stopped racing for 10 years after his death. This stunted his improvement as a driver, but his talent still endures. Coupled with hefty financial backing from Brazil, Senna is in with a good chance of taking the seat at Force India.

But the Brazilian will have to improve on his race performances for Williams in 2012, where a lack of practice time (Valtteri Bottas drove his car in several Practice 1 sessions) cost him in race trim.

Is also a candidate for the vacant seat at Caterham, where his vast sponsorship may prove irresistible.

Caterham

1. Vitaly Petrov

Having saved the team’s season in the final Grand Prix of 2012 in Brazil with a lucrative 11th place (securing them a cash windfall for 10th in the constructors’ championship), Petrov might have expected a quick offer of a drive from Caterham for 2013.

Instead, Caterham employed Marussia’s Charles Pic and the Russian is now fighting to save his F1 career. Significant backing from Russia and the added possibility of huge media and corporate attention in the run up to the inaugural Russian Grand Prix in 2014 makes Petrov an attractive prospect for the F1 minnows.

2. Giedo van der Garde

The Dutchman impressed during his six Practice 1 drives for the team in 2012, and despite an average GP2 season in which he finished 6th overall, van der Garde is a serious contender for a 2013 seat.

Like so many other drivers, he carries good financial backing. His age, 27, is a potential obstacle to a deal while his inexperience, allied with that of Pic’s, also hampers his chances of securing a 2013 spot, with Caterham unlikely to pick two drivers with only an aggregate of one season’s experience between them.

3. Heikki Kovalainen

The experienced Finn is unwilling to provide the millions that Caterham want to keep his seat for 2013. Having had three outstanding seasons with the team he has been discounted. Should the team wish to call on his knowledge again, he would provide the perfect balance for Pic’s unpolished talent, but he looks set to suffer the same fate as fellow veteran Rubens Barrichello.

My picks for remaining 2013 seats:

Force India: Jules Bianchi

Caterham: Vitaly Petrov