By David Hunter
Torrevieja – Cumbre del Sol 168.3km
Last week we started by the seaside and now we’re back! The stage runs through some very popular tourist locations: Alicante, Benidorm and Calpe. Being beside the sea, should mean the riders get a nice breeze from the Med. This would be very welcome. The wind is predicted to be around 12mph and it looks like being a headwind. That is bad news for the break, as a whole stage riding into the wind is a very hard thing to do.
Again, it’s one of those boring stages. Nothing is going to happen until 120km and the cat 2 climb. The cat 2 climb, is actually the climb we finish with. The riders complete around three quarters of the climb, which means they get to see the brutally steep opening section.
A smaller peloton will approach the final climb of the day. It’s not an alpine climb, but it’s very, very difficult. The Vuelta loves short, steep finishes and we’ve found another one here. The climb is 3.7km at 10.1% and has a maximum of 23.3%. This is going to cause some severe damage!
We’ve already has some difficult final climbs, but this looks even harder than what’s gone before. The climb starts with a bang, 17.6% for 285m. It’s the hardest part of the climb and will bring the speed of the peloton grinding to an almost standstill. We do have some easier sections, but the climb consistently rises above 10%, making it a fitting finish to a stage.
After the initial shock, the middle section of the climb is 11.6% for 560m. The final kilometre is also brutal, averaging just under 12%. For the fans, this is going to be brilliant. Not so much fun for the riders.
The headwind and easy profile, spells doom for the break. I see it being a relatively small breakaway and they will be caught before the final climb. This stage is all about the GC riders.
As usual, the two big favourites are Valverde and Rodriguez. We’ve had two similar finishes already in this race and they’ve messed up both times. Esteban Chaves has been the beneficiary, now sitting with 2 stages in the bag. Movistar and Katusha cannot allow the Colombian to attack early. They must save enough men to chase down the attacks, at the foot of the climb. Giovanni Visconti is going to be very important. He is the rider who should be able to last until the end, protecting both Valverde and Quintana. Katusha will rely upon Dani Moreno. It would be unbelievable if Chaves won a 3rd stage, with an early attack.
Of the two Movistar captains, this climb should suit Valverde more. Quintana is a fan of the alpine climbs, but Valverde is better on shorter slopes. I have mentioned before that I’m not 100% convinced about Valverde when the slope remains above 10% for a long time. This climb will be on his limit. The tactic for Valverde is simple, follow the wheels and hope for a small sprint. If he manages to do so, he wins the stage. Don’t expect to see him attacking.
His number one threat is Joaquim Rodriguez. He’s the opposite of Valverde. As the slopes go over 10%, he becomes more powerful. Purito is still searching for his first stage win of the race. As I mentioned in a previous preview, he won stages from 2010 to 2013, only missing out last year. When Chaves won to Caminito del Rey, Rodriguez attacked from the bunch and no one was able to follow. With countless sections over 10%, this is a climb for Purito. Remember his wins in Jaen, this is a rider at home on these slopes.
Chaves is now a main player. He will not be allowed any freedom, but I don’t think he needs it. He now seems to be fulfilling his potential and gaining in confidence. As race leader, he will be wary of Dumoulin, but not scared. Being the holder of the red jersey does bring some pressure. When the attacks fly, the others will look towards him to chase them down. I’m not sure if he is strong enough to refuse the requests of others. It takes time to learn how to ride as the leader of a Grand Tour, the little Colombian might not deal well with the pressure. However, attack might just be his best defence. We’ve already seen the others struggle to go with him, when he attacks.
Tom Dumoulin has been magnificent. Looking nice and thin, the Dutchman has been one of the riders of the race. He loves the steep slopes and will be looking forward to having another go at taking the red jersey. Also in fine form is Nico Roche. Remember back to stage 2, it was Chaves, Dumoulin and Roche who battled out the stage. The three of them have maintained that form and will hope to be challenging for the stage. Roche now looks like the Team Sky leader and that’s a position he will try to honour. Expect another attacking display from the Irishman.
Rafal Majka is now hitting some form. After a poor 2015(I know he won a stage in the Tour), he is at last showing some sign of his 2014 form. We all know what a talent he is, but I have my doubts on the steeper slopes. Staying with the main group will be his goal.
Another rider starting to show form is Fabio Aru. His attack on stage 7 was impressive. That was the first sign of his return to Giro form. He’s another rider that favours the longer climbs, rather than the short, steep stuff.
Only two other riders have a chance of taking this stage: Louis Menitjes and Domenico Pozzovivo. The South African has been very impressive, fighting it out with the GC favourites. Both riders will benefit from a little bit of freedom and will look to attack when the others are looking at each other. As we approach the end of the climb, it will start to get very tactical. Most teams will only have 1 rider, so no one will want to waste energy chasing. This is why it’s a great time to attack. Good timing, a little bit of luck and great legs is all you need;)
Only one man is winning this stage… Purito Rodriguez!
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