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Vuelta roundtable: Nibali vs. Froome

At the halfway point, the 2017 Vuelta a España has had ample action. We had a punchy uphill finish in stage 3, a tricky day on stage 5, and of course, Chris Froome put his foot down on stage 9. However, stage 11 was the first true mountain stage with a summit finish. What do we make of the GC race? Is Froome vs. Nibali a legit matchup? Why does Astana keep hoping Fabio Aru will do something? Let’s roundtable!

Who are your three winners and three losers from stage 11?

Spencer Powlison, @spino_powerlegsMy winners: Anyone who had a rain jacket to put on at the top of the first categorized climb; farmers in southern Spain who needed that torrential rain; oh yeah, and Chris Froome — big-time winner in stage 11.

The losers are: Ag2r because Romain Bardet’s incessant attacking still hasn’t worked and Domenico Pozzovivo abandoned. Ice vests are also a loser today … Nobody needed to cool off for this stage. And my third and final loser is Gianni Moscon. Come on man! You couldn’t smash it for just a few more kilometers and win a stage to cap off a lovely ride through the Spanish countryside? Jeeze … Sky’s gonna come down hard on the Italian for slacking off so much today.

Andrew Hood, @eurohoody: In the ‘winners’ category: Froome doubles his lead, Nibali moves into second, and ‘Superman’ Lopez confirms his promise.

The ‘losers?’ BMC’s double-threat sunk from the top-5 to out of the top-10; De la Cruz had an ill-timed mechanical that cost him a lot, and the dampening sense of suspense in the GC. Froome is put a stranglehold on this Vuelta.

Caley Fretz, @caleyfretz: Winners are easy. Vincenzo Nibali, Wilco Kelderman, and Froome. Nibali and Kelderman because they both launched up the overall (11th to 5th for Kelderman, 4th to 2nd for Nibali). Froome because after letting the initial attacks go he reeled them in and didn’t lose a single second.

Three losers? Fabio Aru is out of contention now, Nicholas Roche dropped like a rock, and Tejay van Garderen lost over three minutes. Aru still has a shot at the podium (3rd-8th are tightly packed) but he won’t take much confidence from Wednesday’s stage.

Was the weather a significant factor in stage 11?

Spencer: How often does more than half of the breakaway get dropped on a descent midway through the stage? That happened today. Sure, Bardet and Yates were shredding that descent, but I think those other fellas were too cold to keep up. Cold legs might have ruined the day for a few other GC guys like Fabio Aru and Esteban Chaves as well.

Andrew: It was a yuuuuge! factor. Temperatures went from the high 90s to the low 50s in little more than 36 hours. Add wind, cold, and the Vuelta’s first true mountain stage, and it was one very hard stage. Staying fueled and recovery is critical for all the GC hopes right now.

Caley: It certainly appears that way. The Yates brothers suffered, Romain Bardet didn’t look his normal self. Nicholas Roche had an awful day, dropping outside the top 10, and tweeted that he’d really like summer to come back.

The GC battle looks like Nibali vs. Froome… How do you handicap this matchup?

Spencer: Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch to put these two on equal footing, but let me try to spice up this 21-day plate of cycling paella. Nibali has the edge when it comes to attacking unconventional stages — more of those to come this Vuelta. Froome is going to be better on pure summit finishes. (But he wasn’t that much better in stage 11.) Froome also has an edge in the time trial, but Nibali isn’t awful against the clock like some other GC guys. Though Nibali doesn’t have team support like Froome, I think he can rely on someone like Alberto Contador on those unpredictable, tricky stages.

Andrew: I see this Vuelta already as a race for the podium. Froome now needs only to follow wheels and avoid unnecessary risks, and then consolidate his lead at the Logroño TT on Tuesday. Barring a dramatic, Formigal-style coup, Nibali won’t be able to take back enough time on Froome to seriously challenge for red. Having said that, Nibali is a very dangerous rival. Froome cannot afford to let down his guard.

Caley: Nibali can do a good time trial, but he’s still going to lose 45 seconds, minimum, to Froome over 40k. He’s 1:19 down now. So if we’re talking handicaps, Nibbles needs a solid two minutes.

Should Astana be riding for Lopez rather than Aru?

Spencer: Maybe it’s presumptuous to cut Aru loose at the Vuelta’s halfway point, but I have yet to see the Italian do anything notable in this race. Maybe it would do Lopez some good to ride for a GC result to test the waters?

Andrew: Lopez came to this Vuelta without GC pressure, with an eye of winning a stage and making it all the way to Madrid to complete his first grand tour. The highly talented climber already is protected, so Astana will be looking to push them as high as possible on GC. This late in the season, it’s more of a question of who has the legs.

Caley: Nah. It’s early, and ‘Superman’ Lopez is young. He could still crack spectacularly. So could Aru, of course, but it’s slightly less likely. Plus neither is going to win the Vuelta, and riding for Lopez would just make Aru angry. Do you really want to make your top GC guy angry for so little gain?

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