Vuelta a España 2018 – Stage 17 Preview

By David Hunter

Getxo – Balcón de Bizkaia 157km

If you anything in the legs, this is the day to make a move on GC.

The day begins with 9.7km of flat, before we hit the first climb, which is 6.7km at 5%. Not that difficult and I doubt the move will establish at this point, I think we might not see the break establish until after the 30km mark. The climbers will hope it goes on the unclassified climb, just after the sprint, as that would give them a chance of making it.

The next climbs are 3.8km at 7.6%, 7.3km at 4.3%, 4.5km at 5% and 5.5km at 4.3%. Nothing that will test the climbers and will act as a warm up for the day’s final climb.

One of the hardest climbs in the Basque Country, the climb is 7.3km at 9.7% and features a maximum gradient of 24%. This is a climb which could end the GC hopes of some of the top 5, it is a huge day in the right for red. The final 4km rises at 11%, this is where the damage can be done.

Tactics

Who chases the break? The opening 110km is actually on the easy side for this race, which means the break can be controlled by rouleurs and not climbers. Most of the GC teams have a couple of riders who can do this job, meaning it is possible to chase down the break, but which team wants to do this?

Astana did the chasing on Sunday, but when their men had all pulled over, Movistar still have Carapaz to chase down López. This could put Astana off chasing the morning move. Movistar are the team most will look to, but we’ve seen before that they don’t want to chase. As they need to protect Carapaz, Quintana and Valverde, they only have five men left to chase.

Will Jumbo step up to the plate? Kruijswijk delivered a brilliant TT, but this climb isn’t really suited to his characteristics.

Once on the climb, teammates don’t do a huge amount. On slopes like this, drafting means very little. This is all about who is the strongest and tactically astute on the day.

With Yates leading Valverde by 33s, Kruijswijk by 52s, Quintana by 1:15 and López by 1:34, it puts the Brit in an interesting position. The stage is set for López and Quintana to attack from distance and let Valverde try to follow the wheel of Yates, which will be easier said that done. Adam Yates has been saving himself for the final week, but I doubt he’ll be at the level required to still be around with 4km remaining. If the Colombians attack, Yates will hope that Kruijswijk responds to defend his podium position, but I hope he doesn’t. The Dutch climber should also sit on Yates and make him work, I think we could see a game of poker develop on the final slopes.

Breakaway Hopes

The hopes of the morning move depend on Movistar and Astana. Will they chase? I doubt if the teams even know the answer to that.

Weather

A small chance of rain and the wind is coming from the north. It might not be strong, but it is a tailwind on the climb.

Contenders

Gianluca Brambilla – after a frustrating season, the Italian seems to be coming into some fine form. Riding with the GC group, he managed to finish 11th on Covadonga, ahead of many GC men. He sits 13th on GC, just under 4 minutes behind the top 10. He’ll sniff a chance of making a break and sneaking into the top 10.

Michal Kwiatkowski – I was worried about how Sunday’s crash would have impacted on his performance, but he was flying today. The Pole has enjoyed a good race, but still wants a win. He was very active trying to make Sunday’s break, but it wasn’t to be. As Sky no longer have a GC hope, they can throw all their resources behind making the morning move. If he makes it, the win is well within his grasp.

Rafa Majka – with Buchmann sitting in 11th place on GC, 5 seconds behind Gallopin, I doubt we’ll see Bora committing too many resources to him. That should free Majka or Formolo up for a day in the break. Majka was very close to winning stage 13, he’ll still be annoyed at not finishing the job off. On his day, he’s one of the best climbers in the world, the others will hope he doesn’t make the break.

Dylan Teuns – 3rd behind Majka on stage 13. The Belgian has two 3rd places to his name, but he’ll be desperate to take his first grand tour win. His problem will be the level of climbers who could make the break, I feel he could be in for another podium, but not a first win.

Merhawi Kudus – I’d love to see him win. The Dimension Data man is a fine climber and does like steep gradients. Still waiting for his first pro win, it would be very cool to take it here.

Vincenzo Nibali – is it time for a shark attack? There has been some signs of improving form, but it’ll be hard to win considering the level of his rivals. With the worlds fast approaching, Nibali only has three stages left to get his legs ready, so I think we’ll see him in the morning move.

Miguel Ángel López – the Colombian climber has a fair bit of ground to make up. He now sits 1:34 behind Simon Yates, but still has three mountain stages left in the race. If he can move to around 40s behind, with the final mountain stage left, he’ll be a happy man. To do so, this is an important stage for him. He must attack and hope to distance his rivals, but Quintana could spoil the party. If he makes the move with López, it will be fascinating to see if he cooperates, or plays the Valverde card. We shall see how it unfolds, but López is certainly the favourite from the GC group.

Simon Yates – I can imagine what he’s been told by his DS, it will be along the lines of just to follow wheels and not attack. The Brit is a man who rides with panache and can’t help but attack, even when advised not to. If he feels his rivals are weak, he will make the move and try to seal the red jersey.

Prediction Time

I have a weird feeling the break will make it, not sure why! That being the case, I’ll go with Michal Kwiatkowski for the win. Back in the GC group, López will take time on the rest and get back in the battle for red.

*Overall Preview

David Hunter

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