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Vuelta a Espana

TT specialists, GC contenders to square off at Vuelta Wednesday

The race through Spain resumes after Tuesday's rest day with the 38.8-kilometer test against the clock

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Wednesday’s lone individual time trial will be a battleground with two fronts as the Vuelta a España clicks back into gear.

On one side, time trial specialists Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) and Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) will be squaring off for bragging rights. The pair is revving up for a likely showdown in the world time trial championship later this month, and it should be a telling test of form going into Florence.

And for the GC contenders, the 38.8-kilometer test against the clock could prove decisive on who wins this 68th edition of the Vuelta.

Rolf Aldag, who works alongside Martin at Omega Pharma, said the course is challenging, but does not favor the pure time trialists such as Martin or Cancellara.

“We just did the recon, I think Tony feels good about it. Every time trial is important, but it’s not a dream course for him, but he will try,” Aldag told VeloNews on Tuesday. “Cancellara will also be good. It will be a battle between the specialists and the GC riders. It’s much more open than say the final time trial at the Tour de France.”

The out-and-back course at Tarazona features a third-category climb midway through the stage at the Alto del Moncayo at 18km. The climb is roughly 500 vertical meters over about 11km, meaning it’s hardly ideal for pure power riders like Cancellara and Martin, but not quite steep enough to give an advantage to the spindly Spanish climbers. The final 20km are flat and descending all the way back to Tarazona.

Aldag said it will be a challenge to measure the effort over the entire length of the course. Though not technically challenging, he said it was certainly worth taking a closer look at the parcours.

“It starts pretty steep, then it gets into a good rhythm. It’s not a complete leg-breaker, so it’s not for pure climbers,” Aldag said. “You cannot over do it, you have to have the power to keep going. You have to approach it the right way. It’s not dangerous, but there are some turns you have to be aware of because they’re coming fast.”

It will be interesting to see who manages the course better in the showdown between Cancellara and Martin.

Both are looking to be in top shape, and both have come close to stage victories so far through this Vuelta, each posting some impressive performances in the first half.

Between the two of them, they have won six world time trial titles. Cancellara, however, has not yet defined his worlds program. “Spartacus” is putting special emphasis on the road race, and has not decided whether he will race the team time trial race or the individual time trial.

For Martin, the Florence time trial is his absolute priority going into Tuscany. With strong challenges expected from Sir Bradley Wiggins and Taylor Phinney, Martin is using the Vuelta to hone his form.

Yet Aldag cautioned Wednesday’s time trial is so different than the flat, pure power course in Tuscany that it’s a stretch to read too much into whatever the result may be.

“It’s a nice test before the worlds, but the courses are not comparable, so I would be careful to draw the wrong conclusions,” Aldag said. “The TT in Firenze is a high-speed course, with pure power over the long straights.”

The stage could have major implications in the fight for the red jersey.

Overnight leader Chris Horner (RadioShack) will start last, giving him a huge advantage on his GC top rivals.

Following Horner’s amazing demonstration in Monday’s summit finale in the Sierra Nevada, Horner will start with a 43-second head start to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and 53 seconds ahead of Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).

On Monday, however, Horner was wondering out loud that he might lose his red leader’s jersey to Nibali, who is the best time trialist of any of the top GC contenders lining up tomorrow.

“It’s been a few years since I’ve done a good time trial,” Horner said. “I could lose the jersey to Nibali tomorrow. It is what it is.”

Strong time trialing in 2010 was key to Nibali’s overall victory at the Vuelta that year, but that year’s edition included two individual time trials, including a long, flat 40km course that allowed him to take huge gains on the Spanish climbers.

“On paper, Nibali has an advantage in the time trial,” RadioShack sport director Jose Azevedo told VeloNews. “With this type of course, when you’re in good shape, you can have a good time trial and limit the losses. The time trial is important, but I do not think it will prove to be decisive.”

The Tarazona TT could alter the GC battle if one of the favorites can take some serious gains, but Aldag said the hilly nature of the course will likely keep the differences to a minimum.

“It’s a good TT course for both [Nibali and Horner]. They should be able to do well against the Spanish climbers,” Aldag said. “It’s not a [Joaquim] Rodríguez type of course, because it’s less steep and rhythm will count, but even he should do OK. It’s hard to predict now who will do better.”

Wind could be a factor as strong winds usually blow down the Ebro Valley. Forecasters are calling for crosswinds and headwinds on the way out, and cross/tailwinds on the way back.

That will set the stage for an interesting battle, but as nearly everyone agrees, the GC will be won or lost in the climbs of the Pyrénées and Asturias waiting in the final 10 days.

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