By David Hunter
Mora De Rubielos – Ares Del Maestrat 198.9km
We begin with a short descent, bouncing straight into a cat 2 climb, not something many riders will appreciate. 9km at 4.5%(really 6.7km at 6.5%) is hard enough, but it’s almost immediately followed by 7.7km at 5.7%(really 6.1km at 6.8%). During this period, the morning break will establish and it could be a big one. We’ll have to see which teams want to try and control proceedings in those opening stages, as a big break will likely survive all the way to the finish.
We end with a cat 3 climb, 6.9km at 5.7%, which means goodbye to the sprinters. This is a finish for the puncheurs of the bunch.
Make no mistake, this is a tough finish. The hill simply rises all the way to the line, with few areas for resting. We’ve seen finishes like this before in the Vuelta, they usually turn out to be more selective than the profile suggests. The average gradient might be 5.7%, but this climb has lots of 7% sections, which pushes it out of the reach of the sprinters. You can bet the GC teams make it full gas all the way to the line, which will make the bunch relatively small come the finish.
The grind up to the line is also good for late attackers. No doubt we’ll see Movistar and EF Education First controlling the closing stages, but when they run out of domestiques, that is the point when you want to attack. Time it right, and a stage win is waiting.
The opening 30km are tough, and with a big GC coming on Friday, some will sense a chance for the morning break. The problem is that the next 130km is actually very easy, and it will only take a couple of teams to pull back the break, as long as it isn’t too big. The chances of success all comes down to the beginning of the race, and how many men escape.
Another hot day with a light breeze coming from the south, meaning a tailwind for much of the final climb.
Alejandro Valverde – oh, he looked strong today. The world champion was more than happy to push on and drop his own teammate, now putting himself into 4th place on GC, just 28 seconds behind López. Movistar decided not to chase today’s break, but given this finish, I wonder if they’ll commit and set up the sprint for Bala. This is a wonderful finish for him, but maybe some people will be concerned about him being outsprinted by Higuita and Aranburu, the other day. We’ll have to see if Movistar decide to chase.
Sergio Higuita – told you he wasn’t going to challenge today; the climb was simply too hard in his first grand tour. This is a stage much more to his suiting, we all know how explosive his kick is. EF Education First should be looking to help control the break, as this is one of their best chances of taking a stage. If it does come back together, they need to keep Higuita close to the front, as you can be sure that Movistar will drill the climb.
Alex Aranburu – easily won an uphill sprint in Burgos, but this is the Vuelta. Aranburu is at his best when sprinting uphill, but I fear he won’t be able to maintain a top position in the bunch. Caja-Rural aren’t very strong, he’ll be praying that someone can help him in the closing stages.
Thomas De Gendt – breakaway hopeful number 1.
Philippe Gilbert – breakaway hopeful number 2.
Ben King – breakaway hopeful number 3.
Valerio Conti – breakaway hopeful number 4.
I expect the bunch to chase down the morning break, but maybe I’m wrong! If it all comes back together, Alejandro Valverde will take the win.
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