By David Hunter
Lorca – Observatorio Astronómico De Calar Alto 187.5km
The peloton continue the brutal second week of La Vuelta.
Double cat 1 ascent alert!!!! The stage begins with an uncategorised climb of around 10km at 3%. It isn’t much, but should have an impact on who makes the break. We then have a long period of tempo riding, before starting the brilliant end to the stage. You’ll be able to taste the nerves in the peloton.
I really don’t know how this is “only” a cat 1 climb. Alto de Velefique is 13.2km at 7.3%(despite what the picture says), this is a monster of a climb.
(Beautiful photo thanks to @loictraquelet, a cycling nomad!)
The opening 5km rises at around 9%, that is really going to blow the peloton to pieces. It then settles down into a steady 6/7% effort, before kicking up at the peak. We could have a very small peloton at the top of this climb.
The final climb, up the observatory, is a complicated affair. An average gradient of 5.9% makes it sound much easier than it is. Due to around 6km of relative flat, the climb can be split into two sections. We open with 7km at around 8.5%, then the shallow section. As the summit approaches, we have two steep kilometres, before it flattens out for the finishing line. Expect a lot of damage on the lower slopes of this mountain.
More rain! Music to the ears of the Belgians. The forecasters are predicting a massive storm in this area, it could be an extremely wet day in the saddle.
Over to Contador. The first climb is difficult enough for a big selection to be made, and I fully expect to see Trek trying to put many riders into the red. We have already seen that Contador is very keen on trying to take back some of the time he lost in Andorra and this marks a huge opportunity.
Contador has the support of Bernard, Stetina and Pantano. Now, this isn’t the best mountain train I’ve ever seen, but they are capable of putting the hurt on for a number of kilometres. After that, it’s over to Alberto. Will they risk it all by attacking on the first climb? I would think so. The great man is a long way down on GC, it really is time for a big swing of the right arm. Who will he connect with?
Team Sky have two options. They can either sit in the wings and see how many domestiques survive the Trek attack, or they can take to the front and see if they can destroy the Trek boys. Sky usually ride an attacking race, I don’t see them letting Trek hit the front. Their train is superior to Trek, they will want to show that.
Waiting in the wings will be Orica. They have Chaves and Adam Yates, both sitting in the top 10. They must use this to their advantage and they cannot wait until later in the race, as they probably won’t be as close to Froome. On the final climb, once the domestiques are gone, Yates must make a move. They have to try and make Froome work and waste energy, before Chaves attacks. This is the whole point of bringing their top climbers to this race. As you can see, it’s going to be a busy day for Poels, Nieve, Moscon and Rosa.
Poor weather will help them. Sky certainly won’t chase the morning move, it really will be up to Trek and Orica. If the break is big, I’m not sure they have what it takes to bring it back. The stage starts with a little climb, that is good news for some of the climbers, who would normally struggle to make the move. The problem is, the break might not go until the flat.
Sky will be on the watch for Trek riders joining the early move. Given his love of attacking from distance, it would be suicide letting Contador getting his helpers up the road. It promises to be a tense start to the stage.
Chris Froome – in incredible form, make no mistake. He already has a stage win and has followed every attack without much fuss. It will be very difficult for anyone to distance the red jersey, but can he handle the rain?
Alberto Contador – time to see what he’s got! There will be no following wheels and hoping for a good result, Contador will go out fighting. Expect to see him unleashing everything he has, we’ll just have to see if it’s good enough to win the stage. Will he attack early? Could we see a patient Contador? If he waits until the last climb, he probably has a better chance of winning the stage, but that would not be most un-Contador!
Vincenzo Nibali – loves racing in poor conditions. I still remember fondly the stage he won in the snow, back in the 2013 Giro. As we hit the longer climbs, we’ll start to see more of the Italian, who has struggled a little on the short, steep climbs. This is where the shark should be at his very best, he is someone the others will fear, even Froome.
Ilnur Zakarin – another rider that should like the poor weather conditions. Being from Russia, Zakarin will be used to extreme conditions. He’s look in good condition in the last few days, despite the climbs not suiting him perfectly. I am a little concerned about the descent between the climbs, he’s not the best downhill.
Esteban Chaves – can Orica play the perfect tactical game? Chaves knows that Froome is incredibly strong, but he’ll still believe that he can beat him. The Colombian looks back to his very best, after a tough year. I am delighted to see him back challenging for stage glory, he should have a big say in the outcome of this stage.
Rafal Majka – breakaway option number 1.
Rui Costa – breakaway option number 2.
Darwin Atapuma – breakaway option number 3.
Antonio Pedrero – breakaway option number 4.
Maxime Monfort – breakaway option number 5.
This is classic break v peloton stage. Sky won’t chase, but other teams might. Trek could try and place riders up the road, either for later in the stage, or to try and grind down the Sky domestiques.
Another option is that a big break rolls up the road and no one chases it. Sky’s rivals are not blessed with a huge amount of strength in depth, can they control a big break?
Given the terrible weather conditions, I think the break will stay clear and fight for the stage. He seems to be over his stomach problems, so I will go for Rafal Majka.
Back in the peloton, we’ll start to see which riders are the real challengers for the podium and top 10 positions. I don’t think Froome will lose time, in fact, it’s likely he’ll all but seal the red jersey.
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