By David Hunter
Lugones – Lagos de Covadonga 188.7km
The day before the rest day.
This will be a hugely significant day, in the 2016 Vuelta.
Lagos de Covadonga is a favourite of the Vuelta. In recent years we’ve paid visit in 2012 and 2014. On both occasions, the stage was won by a breakaway rider. In 2012 it was a win for Caja Rural and Antonio Piedra, with Niemiec taking the glory for Lampre in 2014. Despite the climb being very tough, it usually doesn’t split the very best riders.
The organisers have decided to return to the 2012 route, and approach the final climb via Mirador del Fito. This cat 1 climb is 6.2km at 7.8%. That includes an easy opening 1.5km, making the final 4km incredibly difficult. This will tire the legs of many domestiques.
This is the first especial climb of the race, 12.2km at 7.2%. It really is a beast of a climb, a proper mountain! After around 7km, the peloton will be very small, probably down to 15 riders. We then have a series of steep sections and downhills, making it very hard for a rider to get into a rhythm. Alberto Contador goes well on this climb, Chris Froome not so much.
Saying that, Contador couldn’t shake off Valverde and Rodriguez in 2012 and 2014. I would also think that it favours Nairo Quintana, especially as he seems to be in good form. He was brilliant here in 2012 as a domestique for Valverde. It will be fascinating to see if Froome can successfully follow his own pace up the climb, ignoring the attacks of the more explosive riders. He’s done it in the past, but it didn’t work on Saturday.
The final ramp of 17.5% is not an issue, as the riders approach it at great speed. If a rider is away with 1.5km to go, they won’t be caught. The race is really to that point.
Movistar are in a commanding position. Sitting with Quintana and Valverde in 1st and 2nd is a wonderful place to be. They know that Valverde and Quintana are good on this climb, so they will hope to put the other GC contenders under pressure. They can rotate their attacks, making it difficult for Contador, Chaves and Froome. It should be a good day for Movistar.
As I’ve already mentioned, the last two winners here were both from breakaways. Not just any rider can win this stage, you need to be a good climber. With a cat 1 climb followed by the especial summit, there are a lot of KOM points on offer. Expect to see the main contenders fighting to be in this move. Whether the break stays away, depends on Movistar. Froome is not a fan of this climb, so Sky won’t chase. Contador has crashed, so I don’t expect Tinkoff to work either. Chaves is looking okay, but Orica never chase! It’s Movistar v The Break. That gives the escapees a good chance of success.
Omar Fraile – the winner of the KOM jersey from 2015. We’ve already seen him in a break, and making this one is essential. He had an easy day today, not like De Gendt and Geniez, so he should be fresh. The KOM jersey is important, but he really wants a stage win. This is a good looking stage for him.
Tejay Van Garderen – why is he here? No sign of any attacking yet from the American, so I’m expecting something soon. On paper, one of the best climbers in the race. If he makes the break, he has a wonderful chance.
Christophe Riblon – the invisible man! We haven’t seen him yet, but he does love a proper mountain stage. He’s won on Alpe d’Huez and Aux 3 Domaines, so watch out for him here.
Pierre Rolland – another classy rider, with plenty of big wins in his career. He tried to catch Calmejane, but failed, on Tuesday. Rolland is looking to ride himself into a bit of form, this stage also looks good for him. Such a good climber, he has a strong chance of success.
Merhawi Kudus – the 22 year old from Eritrea, is a rising star in the world of cycling. That first big win is just around the corner, but depends on team tactics, if Fraile is also in the move.
David Arroyo – probably his last grand tour, his 17th in total. He is a real classy rider, very popular amongst his teammates. It would be great to see him roll back the years.
Alejandro Valverde – 79 race days, 3 grand tours and plenty else! The amazing season continues. There is still no sign of Valverde getting tired, his rivals should worry. This is a climb he knows well, so should approach the stage with confidence. He will be perceived as less of a GC threat than Quintana, that could buy him a little freedom at the very end of the stage.
Nairo Quintana – treated us to a masterclass on La Camperona. It was great to see him back to his best, after a frustrating Tour de France. Dropping Froome must have filled him with confidence and he’ll look to put more time into his rivals. Will form a strong alliance with Valverde.
Alberto Contador – despite his crashes, he keeps bouncing back. He also knows the climb well, it’s one that really suits his constant attacking. Hopefully he is 100% fit and can unleash his inner beast.
Chris Froome – climb doesn’t really suit him, he’ll try to limit his losses.
Esteban Chaves – was not at his best on Saturday, I don’t think he wins this stage, but he should still be close to the others.
How much does Movistar want a stage? They need to chase all day, but will still be concerned that Contador or Froome takes the stage. I think they’ll let the break go. In that case, I’ll go with Tejay Van Garderen. He’s done nothing so far, hopefully that doesn’t continue!
Back in the GC group, I expect to see one of the Movistar men taking a little bit of time, but the gaps will still be small between Valverde, Quintana, Contador, Froome and Chaves.
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