By David Hunter
Saint Palais – Urdax Dantxarinea 180km
We head to the Basque Country.
This is a stage to tease the sprinters. If this was in the opening few days, the quick men would fancy their chances of being around at the end. If this stage was in a one week race, they would be licking their lips. As this stage comes in the 2nd week of the Vuelta, most will be simply looking to survive. The only team who will have faith in their sprinter is Mitchelton-Scott.
The hardest climb of the day is the cat 2 ascent, Col d’Ispéguy, which is 7.8km at 6.2%. As you can see it’s a steady effort, but still in the difficult category for the quick men.
The final categorised climb of the day is 7.6km at 4.3%, but it does have a maximum gradient of 19.5%. As like most cat 3 climbs in the Basque Country, it is harder than it seems.
Cresting with just 8.5km to go, this is the final lump of the day. Depending on the race situation, 1.6km at 4.6% could have a big impact on the outcome of the stage.
A nice day for the peloton, but as we are now in the north, it’s not as hot.
The hopes of the breakaway depends on the attitude of Mitchelton-Scott, Bora and Movistar. This is exactly the type of stage Luca Mezgec can win, but as the Aussies have Nieve and Chaves high on GC, it leaves only a few men to do the chasing. Will they commit, and gamble that their man can get over the cat 2 climb? Bora only have 6 men left in the race, and one of them is Majka, meaning they will only be able to commit 1 or men to the chase. Does Bennett back himself to survive the climbs?
Movistar are the other option. They could also join the chase, then make the cat 2 climb very hard. This would set up a reduced sprint, where Valverde would be one of the men to beat, but will they waste valuable energy when Higuita and Aranburu could potentially beat their man? Higuita is very fast, but EF only have 5 men left in the race, making it tough to chase. As usual, a lot will depend on the size of the break.
A word of warning. If the break doesn’t go in the opening 35km, the peloton hit a tough uncategorised climb. We’re talking 2.75km at 8.8%, which would totally change the type of rider who makes the move.
Nice and straightforward.
Luca Mezgec – he’ll sense a big chance to take his first Vuelta win. The Slovenian would love to make it three in a row for his country, that would be a huge achievement given the relative size of Slovenia. He would like to have a full team at his disposal, but this is a grand tour. Mitchelton-Scott will hope that another team are willing to help with the chase, I doubt they can control on their own. Mezgec will be confident of surviving the cat 2 climb, even though they’ll hit it hard to try and distance the faster sprinters.
Sam Bennett – can he survive? The Irishman is climbing better than ever, but this is close to his limit. The good news is that the cat 2 climb is still a long way from home, and the temperature is much more to his liking. With Bora down 3 riders, they’ll have to hope that other teams also want to chase, it will then be up to Bennett to survive the big climbs.
Paddy Bevin – after going close in the TT, the Kiwi clearly has good legs. Bevin packs a fast sprint, but he might decide to go for the break instead. It certainly won’t be an easy move to join, but he has the raw power to escape the pack.
Sergio Higuita – if we get a sprint, but all the sprinters have been dropped, the Colombian will be the fastest rider left.
Thomas De Gendt – breakaway hopeful number 1.
JJ Rojas – breakaway hopeful number 2.
Jesús Herrada – breakaway hopeful number 3.
Edvald Boasson Hagen – breakaway hopeful number 4.
We have 2900m of climbing, which is in the limits of the climbing sprinters, but the problem is who will do the chasing. Okay, I’ll say that a few teams will ensure the break is small, and then it will get chased down. In the reduced sprint, Luca Mezgec will take the win.
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