Saturday, April 07, 2012

Why Samu will seal País Vasco: an analysis

Samuel Sánchez heads into today's concluding 18,9km individual time trial in Oñati placed second, but as arguably the favourite to win the race overall. Katusha's Joaquím Rodríguez holds a nine-second advantage over the Euskaltel man, but is unlikely to hold him off if past performances is anything to go by.

Over the last five years, 'Purito' has only participated in the Vuelta al País Vasco twice. On both occasions, in 2011 and 2010, he was beaten by Sánchez. Last year, Samu bettered Rodríguez by a big 51 seconds, while he put ten seconds into him over 22 kilometres in Orio the year prior. Speaking after winning yesterday's stage, Rodríguez all but ruled himself out of contention for the win, saying that stage wins was his target and that he'd like to see Samu come out tops in the general classification. The punchy Katusha man has allegedly spent more hours on his tempo bike this winter than in years past, but his performances in the discipline over the last year doesn't indicate he's improved all that much. The hilly parcours in Oñati is likely to favour Rodríguez, but that could also be said of Samu - who nonetheless holds an enviable track record in time trials at this race no matter what the course the last few years.

Samu hasn't once placed lower than 13th in the closing day time trial since 2007. That ride to 13th actually came last year, when he failed to find his rhythm over the mainly flat 24-kilometre course in Zalla.

If last year's scenario was to play itself out again later today, Samu will not emerge victorious. Samu ceded 1:23 to Tony Martin a year ago, and holds 56 seconds over the powerful German this year. Little indicate a repeat of last year though: the course is both shorter (at 18,9 compared to 24) and substantially hillier than what was the case in Zalla, while it can also be said that Samu looks a wee bit stronger this time around. While Martin has by no means looked off colour so far, the same can't be said of his state of form.

Importantly, Samu's performance in that time trial was hugely disappointing and atypical, and as such is not likely to repeat itself. On that off-day though, he still only lost 23 seconds to Horner (which would be sufficient today as he holds a 35-second lead on him), while he put time into rivals Hesjedal (35 seconds), Van Den Broeck (16 seconds) and Nordhaug (2:54). The likes of Kiserlovski, Scarponi, Henao and Mollema did not line up in that year's edition, but have hardly - if ever - toppled Samu in a time trial.

In 2010, Samu rode to sixth place in Orio - 10 seconds ahead of 'Purito', 58 ahead of Hesjedal, 59 ahead of Van Den Broeck and 2:17 ahead of Mollema. The overall winner that year, Horner, naturally also took out that time trial, but only distanced Samu by 23 seconds - a margin that again would allow Samu to triumph overall today.

In 2009, Contador was at his untouchable best and trounced Samu by 45 seconds over 24 kilometres in Zalla. Samu's ride was still good enough for third though. Of the likely contenders today, only Michael Rogers and Damiano Cunego were present back then. The three-time world champion was no match for the Euskaltel leader and ceded 24 seconds, whilst Cunego as usual was somewhat off the pace a full 51 seconds in arrears.

Samu did not take the start in 2008 as Tour preparations took centre stage, but of course won the closing time trial in 2007. As Samu has pointed out, that year's ITT in Oiartzun is reminiscent of the one in Oñati today. Back then, he bested Contador by two seconds and Cunego by 14.

To sum it up, Samu's never been below 13th in the final day time trial the last five years and has never lost more than 1:17. Considering those statistics, coupled with his own impeccable form, the lumpy and short time trial course and his main rivals' (Rodríguez, Kiserlovski, Nordhaug and Scarponi that is) lack of time trial pedigree, the stage might finally be set for Samu to triumph in what has been dubbed 'his race'. Follow the stage live on BiciCiclismo, or check out for live streaming.

1 comment:

Kristof said...

He wins TT and GC:-)


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