Vuelta a España 2019 – Stage 18 preview

By David Hunter

Comunidad De Madrid – Becerril De La Sierra 177.5km

The penultimate day in the mountains. Please note that the organisers have made a late change to the finish, the above picture is incorrect, but I’ll get to that later.

We have four cat 1 climbs, and enough climbing metres to get everyone excited, but are they hard enough to see big gaps?

The opening climb is 11.8km at 6.3%. We don’t have a huge amount of flat before the this, it should be possible for teams to hold everything together, and the break will form on the uphill.

Next up is 11.2km at 5.4%, which is lucky to be classified as a cat 1.

The hardest climb of the day, 9.8km at 6.7%, but still not as hard as climbs we’ve already seen in the Vuelta. Will any of the GC riders sense weakness in their rivals and go for a long-range attack?

The final climb is 9.2km at 5.7%, which is a little disappointing if you ask me. Once over the top, we have 7km of flat, before a descent of 12km. Another disappointment is that the descent is very easy.

Finale

This is the new finish, 4.5km at 2.4%. It’s actually quite similar to the old finish, both have an uphill kick.

Weather

Another sunny day, and it’s still relatively windy. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as today, but it does mean the final climb is a tailwind, which could help attackers.

Tactics

Who has any energy left after today? The answer to that question is going to be crucial. Movistar are back in a threatening position, with Quintana and Valverde sitting 2:24 and 2:48 behind Roglič. The problem is the climbs in this stage, they just don’t look hard enough to me.

Fatigue could play a part in the day’s proceedings. Some riders will have gone very deep into the red during the echelon “fun”, that means they could blow spectacularly in this stage. Astana and Movistar have the teams to put pressure on Jumbo-Visma, but they haven’t looked like cracking yet. Expect to see both teams trying something in this stage, but I just can’t see it working.

Breakaway Hopes

Brilliant. When we have a big climbing day, that doesn’t end on top of a mountain, it often goes the way of the attackers. Time for another crazy start to a stage.

Contenders

Sergio Higuita – lost a bucket load of time today, he’s now way down in 18th place. The Colombian has a very fast sprint, which is perfect for this stage. He’s also shown that he can climb with the very best, but I did expect him to blow at some point, as this is his first grand tour. After such a demoralising day, I wonder if he can bounce back with a stage win.

Tao Geoghegan Hart – the Ineos man has been in impressive form, but is still just missing out on a win. Two podium finishes will have boosted his confidence, particularly after such a tough opening week, and he’ll be looking forward to the last two days in the mountains. The young Englishman has a fast finish, especially from a small group. Don’t be worried about him being tired, he’ll have plenty left in the tank.

Ion Izagirre – Astana have allowed their domestiques to chase personal glory in recent stages, will that continue in this stage? Izagirre can climb very well, but his descending skills are second to none. He’ll take a look at all the downhill in this stage and his eyes will light up. This is his type of stage.

Ruben Guerreiro – the Katusha man has been their only shining light in the race. He continues to join breaks and gain good results, a second and fourth place is impressive work considering this his is grand tour debut. He’s another climber with a good sprint, something that is essential in this stage.

Mark Padun – seems to be riding into some good form. He might only have a fifth place to show for his efforts, but I sense he’s about to do something special. The Ukrainian came into the race in good form, after a season ruined by injury, but he quickly fell out of the GC picture. Given that he’s just 23, a stage win would turn this race into a huge success.

Gianluca Brambilla – another rider who’s starting to show form. He has three top ten finishes in the race, and he impressed me as he held onto Fuglsang on Monday. Brambilla hasn’t won a race in three years, it was back in the 2016 Vuelta he last tasted success. Can he take his third grand tour win and roll back the clock?

Alejandro Valverde – if it all comes back together, the world champion has to be the big favourite to win the sprint, even though Pogačar is also fast.

Prediction Time

Another day for the breakaway, but who to pick? Given his form in the last few stages, this is a day for Tao Geoghegan Hart, he does seem to be gathering momentum. I don’t expect big changes in the GC picture, the climbs just aren’t hard enough.

*Overall preview

David Hunter

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