By David Hunter
Vitoria – Alto Campoo 215km
The race heads back into the mountains for three stages that will determine the winner of the race.
Of the three stages, this is the easiest. A flat start to the day, with two important climbs in the second half.
Puerto del Escudo is 7.1km at 8.6%, ignore the road book! This is a seriously difficulty climb and will put a number of riders in difficulty. We end the stage with our first, especial, summit finish.
As you can see, this is a long climb. 15.2km at 6% is a serious test of the GC favourites. In the following stages, the climbs are harder, but this will also cause gaps.
Cortals d’Encamp was a very revealing climb. It detroyed the hopes of most and leave us with Aru, Dumoulin and Rodriguez fighting out the GC. Aru has looked very impressive and the others must be a little worried about him. He knows that Dumoulin will take a lot of time off him in the TT, so he needs to keep attacking. This long climb is good news for him, but bad for Dumoulin. The Dutchman limited his losses well, but these long climbs aren’t his speciality. He will be looking forward to returning to the shorter, steeper climbs.
That means we should see an attacking display from Astana. They might only have 7 men, but they are very strong riders. Vanotti and Zeits will be used early in the day, saving Cataldo, Sanchez, Rosa and Landa for the climbs. Their smaller team won’t be a problem in this stage, but could be in the coming days. Sensing this, they really need to land a knockout blow in this stage.
Having a smaller squad, means they won’t chase the break. The profile isn’t a classic breakaway day, but with Astana happy to let it go, it has a great chance of success. In fact, the same can be said of the next few stages, unless Aru is determined to get himself a stage win.
In terms of the GC battle, the eyes will be on Dumoulin. I don’t know how he managed to limits his losses, but he did, and he remains a huge threat. It’s a huge shame that he doesn’t have a strong team with him. Lawson Craddock is the best he’s got, but it is good that he isn’t in red, as his team were not strong enough for that. He’s 30 seconds behind Aru, but needs to stay close to him here. The climb isn’t the hardest but if Astana make the pace very high, he could suffer and blow. I really hope not. He has been a wonderful addition to the race and I want to see Aru get worried!
It was looking good for Rodriguez, but he and Moreno, couldn’t stop Aru. That was a big concern. If Rodriguez couldn’t beat him on a stage he knows well, will he perform better here? That is doubtful. Rodriguez is not a good TT rider, so he also needs to distance Dumoulin. He has looked good, but his confidence will have taken a knock. It would be good if he could bounce back and take some time on the others. This might just be his best chance of winning a Grand Tour. At 36, time is running out!
Movistar had a disaster! Quintana has been ill and Valverde crashed. Their GC dreams went up in smoke, thanks to Aru and Rodriguez. Quintana finished over 3 minutes down to Aru, ending his GC hopes. The Colombian had a fever and will find it hard to bounce back. Valverde has a better chance of recover and he will stop hope to finish on the podium. He knows how to manage his body and will be hopeful of a full recover.
Standing in his way is Rafal Majka. He looks to be back to his best form and will pose a threat to Aru. When good, he’s very good! This long climb is very good for him and I see him lasting the distance. He will be helped by Hansen, McCarthy and Poljanski and this is a solid looking squad. Like Valverde, he will be hopeful of the podium, his first in a Grand Tour.
Team Sky are now left with plan D. Mikel Nieve started the race behind Froome, Roche and Henao but he’s the last man standing. He’s always been a great rider, but has not fulfilled his potential. This is his big chance. If he can deliver a big result, he will force his way up the pecking order, at Team Sky. He hasn’t been great since joining from Euskaltel, but remember he’s twice finished 10th in the Giro and once in the Vuelta. He was also 12th in the 2013 Tour. He has huge talent and will be motivated to seize this chance. He was getting frustrated at the lack of leadership opportunities, he now has one, so he better not waste it!
Pozzovivo, Chaves and Meintjes could go well but I would be surprised to see them beating the riders already mentioned. Time to talk about the break!
Yesterday I gave you a long list of breakaway candidates. As the stage finishes with an especial climb, it does suit the mountain goats. However, the Vuelta does like to throw up surprises, look at Lindeman winning on a mountaintop! Here’s some talent that could win from a break:-
Nico Roche – Sky are now focused on the team classification, that means they can’t miss any breaks. They could go for a number of riders, but Roche looks to have recovered from his crash.
Mikael Cherel – Was riding really well in the Tour. The Frenchman is a talented rider and a good option for AG2R.
Darwin Atapuma – After a disappointing start, he’s starting to impress. Had a very good season and a victory here would top it off.
Jose Goncalves – The man who can do everything!
Rodolfo Torres – Team Colombia have had a poor race. 1 stage win is all they need to turn it around. Torres is an excellent breakaway rider.
Kenny Elissonde – Now sitting in 15th position, he’s still not a threat on GC. Knows what it takes to win a stage of the Vuelta, he won on the legendary Angliru, back in 2013.
Larry Warbasse – The American riding for IAM. Not a well known rider but gradually starting to impress me.
Natnael Berhane – The man from Eritrea and former winner of the Tour of Turkey. Can certainly climb and will hope to continue the MTN fairytale.
Joe Dombrowski – Despite crashing, he was an impressive 15th on stage 11. Recently won a stage and the GC in Utah. If in the break, the others will be worried.
Pierre Rolland – Can he? Probably not!
George Bennett – Looked good on stage 11, but lacked a little. That stage will have been good for his legs and he’ll be looking to try again.
Frank Schleck – Younger readers will probably be surprised to hear that he actually finished 4th and 3rd in the Tour! Such a long time has passed and he has not looked capable of recapturing his old form. Out of the GC picture, he will give it a try.
Kristijan Durasek – I’m a huge fan of the Croatian. This season he won the Tour of Turkey, but I’m still waiting for an even bigger result. This boy can climb!
Thomas De Gendt – Time for him to hit the break. Realistically, Lotto’s only hope of a win in the next 3 stages. Although, we might see Bart De Clercq trying to get in the break. The riders from 11th to 15th, have been looking active and trying to move up the overall standings.
Don’t see Astana chasing and doubt the other teams will either. Time for Goncalves to take a win. He certainly deserves it.
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