Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Brands

Vuelta a Espana

Contador vs. Sastre duel dominates Vuelta

The 63rd Vuelta a España roars out of Granada on Saturday afternoon in a fitting start with a team time trial in what should be a dogfight between cycling’s two strongest teams and Spain’s two biggest stars. The showdown between Alberto Contador and Carlos Sastre and their respective Astana and CSC-Saxo Bank teams should provide plenty of drama during a three-week course loaded with hard mountains spread judiciously among a long string of sprint-friendly stages.

Don't miss a moment from Paris-Roubaix and Unbound Gravel, to the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and everything in between when you join Outside+.

By Andrew Hood

Sastre will have to ride like he did in July if he hopes to fight off a challenge from Contador.

Sastre will have to ride like he did in July if he hopes to fight off a challenge from Contador.

Photo: Graham Watson

The 63rd Vuelta a España roars out of Granada on Saturday afternoon in a fitting start with a team time trial in what should be a dogfight between cycling’s two strongest teams and Spain’s two biggest stars.

The showdown between Alberto Contador and Carlos Sastre and their respective Astana and CSC-Saxo Bank teams should provide plenty of drama during a three-week course loaded with hard mountains spread judiciously among a long string of sprint-friendly stages.

The psychological warfare is underway well ahead of Saturday’s start to the season’s third grand tour, with Contador calling Sastre the favorite and vice-versa.

What’s sure is that with the absence of defending champion Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Cade Evans (Silence-Lotto) and other big-name foreign GC riders, the 2008 Vuelta will very much be a Spanish affaire.

Contador-Sastre duel
Contador should have the upper hand in his showdown with Sastre.

Contador wants to add another jersey to his collection.

Contador wants to add another jersey to his collection.

Photo: Graham Watson

First, he’s prepared for the Vuelta as his top goal of the season. After being snubbed for the Tour de France and managing to win the Giro d’Italia back in May with an eight-day notice, Contador has been able to preview the key stages, hold Vuelta-specific training camps and otherwise prepare impeccably for the race.

Secondly, Astana is bringing its A-team. Along with Contador, Astana lines up with Tour podium men Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Klöden, two riders who will have their own ambitions but will also provide Contador with overwhelming firepower against CSC-Saxo Bank.

And finally, Contador is chasing history. If the 2007 Tour winner manages to win the Vuelta to go along with his Giro crown in May, he’ll become the fifth and youngest racer in cycling history to complete the grand tour triple crown.

“I’ve had good preparation. I am feeling good both physically and mentally, so I hope to do well. Of course, winning is the goal,” Contador said. “If I can win the triple crown, that would be just an added bonus. I’m not obsessing on that, just on the race.”

Behind Contador is Sastre. Flush from his recent victory at the Tour, Sastre is cautiously optimistic he can win his first Vuelta.

Five times in the top 10 and twice runner-up, Sastre will have support of a solid CSC-Saxo Bank team. It’s not the same Tour squad, but instead a team with fresh legs and high motivation to back its captain.

“We have a very competent group of guys here even though there’s only one rider from the Tour line-up. All nine of us are motivated and that’s what counts,” Sastre said. “I might automatically be among the favorites because I won the Tour, but some of the other guys and teams will also have to step up and claim responsibility in this race – especially Alberto Contador, who’s been preparing himself specifically for the Vuelta. I’m confident that we as a team will be able to put our mark on this race.”

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) is an outsider for the podium, but the two-time Vuelta podium man has already said he doesn’t have the form to challenge Sastre and Contador on equal terms.

Instead, Valverde will use the Vuelta to hone his form ahead of the world championships in Italy next month without discounting anything if luck turns his way in the Vuelta.

“The Pyrenees will by my definitive test. These two first mountain stages will reveal what kind of condition I have,” Valverde said. “First my intention is to try to win a stage. So far I’ve won 11 races, including Liège, the Dauphiné and a stage in the Tour, so if I can win another stage it would complement a fantastic year.”

Leading the foreign invasion will be Astana’s Klöden-Leipheimer tandem. Both will be ready to step in if Contador stumbles, especially Leipheimer, whose third place podium finish in 2001 heralded his arrival to the elite of the sport.

Damiano Cunego (Lampre) will be trying to make up for a disappointing Tour that saw him crash out while Robert Gesink (Rabobank) will be making his three-week tour debut with hopes of winning a stage and finishing among the top 10.

Basque climber Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) skipped the Tour this year to focus solely on the Vuelta, so the favorites will have to be on guard to not let the dangerous rider slip away unnoticed.

Wild ride
The 21-stage route features enough vertical challenges to make the Spanish mountain goats happy.

Four summit finishes and a climbing time trial on the Vuelta’s penultimate day at Navacerrada tip the profile in favor of climbers likes Contador and Sastre.

Back-to-back finishes in the Pyrenees in Andorra on September 6 and Plan de Beret on September 7 will put some order into the GC, but it’s the return of the feared Angliru on September 13 and the inclusion of the new climb at Fuentes de Invierno the following day that should crown the podium.

Back for the first time since 2002, the Angliru is one of the most feared climbs in Europe. With ramps as steep as 24 percent, the never-ending assault up what is literally nothing more than a paved goat path should be the highlight of this year’s Vuelta.

Contador will be looking to add his name to the list of winners that includes José Maria Jiménez, Gilberto Simoni and Roberto Heras up the narrow, twisting climb high above the verdant mountains of Spain’s lush Asturias region.

A brutal day to Fuentes de Invierno, another cruelly steep run to a ski area high in the spectacular Cantabrian Mountains could see a candidate ride definitively into the leader’s jersey.

If there’s still any doubt, the final 17.1km climbing time trial up the Cat. 1 Navacerrada – featured in last weekend’s Clasica a Puertos won by Leipheimer – should settle things nicely before the final romp into Madrid.

Filling out the race a variety of sprint-friendly stages and hillier stages ideal for head-bangers in search of a late-season win to secure contracts going into next year.

Riders such as Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), Juan Antonion Flecha (Rabobank), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) and Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto) will have plenty of chances to try to blow up the race.

The opening team trial is short and explosive. At just 7.7km, the time differences won’t be very big, but teams like CSC, Astana and Tinkoff will be facing off for the first leader’s jersey.

Heat will be a major factor in the hilltop finish into Jaén and stage 3 into Córdoba, with a Cat. 3 in the final 25km ideal to provoke late-race attacks.

If the heat isn’t too oppressive, sprinters will come to the fore into Puertollano ahead of the Vuelta’s lone long individual time trial in stage 5. At 42.5km, the long, flat course is ideal for pure specialists, giving Leipheimer an ideal opportunity to win a stage and perhaps take the leader’s jersey.

Sprinters should rule into Toledo despite some late-stage short climbs. After three hard stages across the Pyrenees at the end of the first week, any survivors will have plenty of options to pad the resume in the Vuelta.

Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto), Erik Zabel (Milram), Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) and Juan José Haedo (CSC-Saxo Bank) lead a solid presence of sprinters.

The peloton’s gallopers will have solid chances for sprints in stage 10, 11, 16, 17 and 18 while the head-bangers should delight in the hilly profiles in stages 12, 15 and 19.

All in all, it should be a good Vuelta. With shorter stages, later starts and inconsistent motivation among the weary participants, the Spanish tour is often the most exciting and unpredictable grand tour of the year.

Photo Gallery

Mountain Bikers React to Their First Taste of Non-Alcoholic Craft Beer

These local mountain bikers tried Athletic Brewing Company's craft beer for the first time, and you'd be surprised by their reactions.

Keywords: