The Tour of Spain?s first rest day sees Denis Menchov of Russia ruling the roost with few chances for the rest of the field to challenge in the last two weeks of the race.
The Rabobank rider has a solid lead of 2-01 over second-placed Vladimir Efimkin of the Caisse D?Epargne squad, with Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) in third at 2-27.
Menchov is also leading in the King of the Mountains classification and is second overall in the points competition behind Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) – who is supposed to be heading for home before Madrid.
Is Menchov beatable? It?s not looking likely, although perhaps the one weak link in his armour is his team. So far in the mountains, Rabobank have rarely shown themselves on the front – although Menchov has hardly seemed to be in trouble on the climbs.
?Menchov?s shown himself to be very superior up to now.? Saunier Duval director Joxean Fernandez Matxin said in a team press release.
?His rivals? only hope is that he will have a bad day, because otherwise he?s got the Vuelta sewn up.?
Matxin argued that the Zaragoza time trial had had a key influence on the race, saying that ?rather than being long, the problem is that there are no other stages that compensate for those 52 kilometres of motorway.?
?If they?d had an uphill time trial at the end of the race it would have balanced things out a bit.?
?I don?t think the situation is completely irreversible.? Menchov?s toughest rival, Carlos Sastre (CSC) argued. ?There?s no single day which I?d say is particularly crucial, but there?s enough of the race left to do a lot of damage.?
With the general classification looking clear and Rabobank?s other star rider, sprinter Oscar Freire out of the race, the Vuelta?s second week should see breaks of riders far down on general classification going away on the four flattish stages that precede the next key day in the mountains, to Granada on Sunday. However, the fastmen will also be keen to take advantage of Freire?s absence, and on the exposed terrain of the next few days, echelons – very much a feature of almost every Vuelta – could come into play as well.