Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Graham's View: Castilla y Leon Stage 3

Whether it is true or not that Astana has few real friends in this sport, the team must have gained about 120 more today by virtue of the way in which it led the peloton at such a perfect speed throughout the day's windblown stage. If Astana had really wanted to make life miserable, they could have ridden just a fraction faster and demolished the peloton completely - maybe even shelling Mauricio Solar out the back as well. But they didn't, and although we are all heading for a late dinner tonight, so tough was that wind, Astana deserves respect for the way it rode so professionally.

This was a bitterly cold day in northern Spain, you could see that etched into the faces of Rubiera and Paulinho, who seemed to bear the brunt of the elements as they toiled away for the first few hours. But tomorrow will be an even harder task, for with the wind is said to be turning into a bit of snow on high ground, which could turn the day into an epic battle in more ways than one.

For probably three of the four hours which the stage will last, we will be about 800-metres above sea-level - with a jump up to 1,200 metres and then a mighty 1,500-metres for the last two climbs. It is the last one, the Collada de Salcedillo - try saying that after a few glasses of Rioja - where this race will be decided. I anticipate day-long control by Astana, then a massive acceleration by Rubiera, Leipheimer and Horner as the 1st category ascent begins. At some point Solar will make one of his big jumps, and Contador will then make one of his signature attacks in response. Only the stage-result is unpredictable, for me the overall win has already been decided - Graham

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