By David Hunter
Andorra La Vella – Cortals D’Encamp 94.4km
It might only be the ninth stage, but this is the defining moment in the 2019 Vuelta. Make no mistake, this is the day.
Just 94.4km long, but rammed full of climbs and descents. We have almost zero kilometres of flat, which should encourage attacking from distance. The organisers have made the route in the hope we see fireworks on Coll de la Gallina. Fingers crossed we get an attacking day.
Coll d’Ordino starts from the gun, and is 14.7km at 4.9%. If these short stages have shown us anything, it’s that the opening kilometres will be crazy, I can’t wait! A long descent follows, before he hit the hardest climb of the stage, and the first especial ascent of the race.
The Gallina is 12km at 8.1%, it’s long and very demanding. The climb can easily be split into two halves: the opening is relatively straight forward with modest gradients, the second half is brutal with double digit gradients. Once over the top, we have a very technical descent.
A good descender can certainly make some time on this downhill. We have a huge amount of hairpin bends, which is good news for those with good bike handling skills.
Alto de la Comella is only a cat 2 climb, but it’s 4km at 7.8%, which certainly isn’t easy.
The final 15km of the day contains two categorised climbs. First up is the cat 2 ascent, Alto de Engolasters, which is 4.8km at 8.4%. We then have 5km of dirt roads, before the final climb of the day. Alto Els Cortals is 5.74km at 7.8%. I don’t think the dirt roads will have any impact on the race, hopefully there are no punctures.
These short stages have a lot to do with team strength. Both Movistar and Astana still have a full complement of riders, something that most teams can’t say. With so many climbs, you don’t simply need riders, you need guys who can actually climb. This is where Astana have an advantage over Movistar, they have Fraile, Gorka Izagirre, LL Sanchez, Cataldo, Fuglsang and Ion Izagirre to support López. On paper, they are the strongest team.
Jumbo-Visma are missing Kruijswijk, which is a huge lose in a stage like this. On the plus side, Kuss is looking very strong, and they also have George Bennett, Gesink and Powless to help support Roglič. Despite this strength, I think Astana are the strongest team. We’ll have to see how Astana approach this stage, it would make a lot of sense to send some domestiques up the road, allowing López to attack from distance. Remember, the Colombian needs to make significant time on Roglič, as we have a big time trial on Tuesday. Getting riders up the road is easier said than done, all it takes is a GC rider to infiltrate the break and it won’t get much rope. Stages like this are a big chance for riders sitting lower in the top 10 to make a big move. It’s a huge gamble, but if a rider is willing to lose it all, they can actually hit the jackpot.
Movistar might not have the climbing depth of their rivals, but they do have Quintana. Having two riders high on GC gives them a massive tactical advantage over the rest. If they get their timing right, Movistar could have a huge day.
We have a thunderstorm warning in place. The current forecast suggests we could see some heavy rain at the end of the stage, but as we all know, this could change.
Usually not very good in a stage like this. The start will be very fast, putting a huge number of riders out the back door. Once the race settles down there is a chance for riders to escape, but the distance of the stage means we won’t see many moments of calm. It will be hard for a breakaway rider to win the stage.
Miguel Ángel López – the Colombian will know that this is the day he’s been waiting for. If López is going to claim his first grand tour, he has to put the hurt on Roglič. He has the team to help him, he has the legs, he has the mountains. Everything seems to be aligning for the climber, but can he drop the Slovenian? After a disappointing Giro, this is a huge chance for him to join the top table of cycling royalty.
Primož Roglič – the Slovenian has looked very strong in the opening week. Some were worried he would struggle to find his form after a long period without racing. If anything, he looks very fresh and his route into the race looks wise. Everyone knows he’ll be able to make time on all the GC riders in the time trial, which could see others looking at him to work hard in this stage. His team have looked strong, and he’ll be counting on the help of Sepp Kuss and George Bennett deep into this stage. These riders will be crucial as Roglič needs to save as much energy as he can for the closing stages.
Alejandro Valverde – has his stage win, and now sits 3rd on GC. It’s 10 years since he won the Vuelta, his only grand tour title, but can he win another red jersey? Stages like this have never been his speciality, but his current form is very strong. Much of these climbs get close to 2000m, which is when he starts to suffer, but I don’t see that being an issue in this stage. If he gets through this stage without losing time, we have to start talking about him as a genuine contender for the red jersey.
Nairo Quintana – worked brilliantly on Friday for Valverde. Despite dropping time on stage 5, the Colombian is still right in the fight for the red jersey. Sitting just 27 seconds behind López, he is a rider that Astana will be concerned about. Movistar will have to think carefully about their tactics in this stage, they must take advantage of having two riders close on GC, and not let themselves get into a position where Quintana has to pull for Valverde. That is easier said than done, but I hope they allow Nairo to attack on the Gallina.
Mikel Nieve – exactly the type of rider who can take advantage of an early move. Mitchelton-Scott have Chaves and Nieve in contention for top 10 positions, but they’ll want more than that. The Basque rider is hugely experienced and rarely disappoints in the big stages. It would be great to see him ride with freedom.
Tao Geoghegan Hart – breakaway hopeful number 1.
Wout Poels – breakaway hopeful number 2.
Dani Martinez – breakaway hopeful number 3.
I’m going to stick my neck on the line and go for something that might surprise you. Movistar have the cards to play, giving them an advantage, and I think Nairo Quintana will take the stage win, and red jersey.
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