By David Hunter
Valls – Igualada 166.9km
After today’s big stage, this one is quite a lot easier.
Only one categorised climb in the whole day, are we sure it’s the Vuelta? Hearing this, the sprinters would have started to sit up and take note, but when they see the climb their little hearts will sink.
7.1km at 6.9% would be a cat 1 climb in all week-long stage races, even in the Basque Country! It’s far too hard for the quick men, and possibly too hard for some puncheurs too. Cresting with just under 30km remaining means it’s highly unlikely any teams will want to control the morning break, which means it’s another wonderful day for the escape artists.
One potential issue could be how long the break takes to form. Everyone will want a piece of the action, which means it could well be past the 60km mark before it gets away. If the move is relatively small, we could see a team decide to chase and try to set up a reduced sprint finish, but this is unlikely. Another reason the break has a good chance is that the GC teams will be trying to save as much energy as they can for the enormous stage in Andorra, which is on Sunday. It simply has to be a day for the breakaway.
Another hot day with a small risk of rain at the end of the stage.
Inside the final kilometre, the road does start to kick up a bit.
500m at 4.4% is one that will interest the riders in the break with an explosive kick. It starts to level off as the riders hit the final turn.
JJ Rojas – the loyal servant. The Spaniard has dedicated the vast majority of his career to riding for others, but has also enjoyed a few opportunities to shine, but luck has never been on his side. In 2017 he had a second place and two thirds at the Vuelta. This year, he was third in a stage of the Giro. If Rojas keeps knocking on the door, eventually it’s going to open. Movistar will be in the break, as they look to claim the team classification. If Rojas is the man, he would be a very popular winner.
Gorka Izagirre – with an enormous GC stage coming on Sunday, we’ll have to see if Astana allow any of their riders some freedom to chase personal glory. If they do, Gorka is a brilliant option. He can climb, and packs a very fast finish.
Zdenek Štybar – without a GC rider, all the QuickStep boys will have freedom to chase a stage win. Štybar is a rider who can climb well, when he has to. If he makes the break, he’s exactly the type of rider who can win a stage like this.
Thomas De Gendt – the great man himself. De Gendt is riding his third grand tour of the season, it’s simply impossible for him to be in every single breakaway. I think he’s been carefully trying to save energy, before going full gas on a couple of stages. This is a brilliant stage for him, the climb is hard enough for him to drop riders, and not too hard to put him into difficulty.
Valerio Conti – another experienced grand tour breakaway rider. He was brilliant in the Giro, wearing the pink jersey for six days. The Vuelta was his breakthrough victory, taking a breakaway win back in 2016. UAE do have GC aspirations, but Henao was in today’s break, showing that the team are happy with their domestiques chasing stages.
Alex Aranburu – one of the rising stars of Spanish cycling. Caja-Rural don’t have a strong team, but Aranburu is a classy cyclist. He has a very fast sprint and should easily cope with the climbing in this stage. For him, like most, making the break will be the hard bit.
Jesús Herrada – already has a stage win, but he’ll want another. Herrada has enjoyed a brilliant season, he has six wins to his name, that’s more than any other year of his career. With a stage to his name, he’ll now be a marked man, which will make life harder for him. He looks in form, and will worry the others if he makes the move.
The breakaway will have another day in the sunshine, there is no need for the GC teams to get involved in the chase. As it’s a classic breakaway stage, I’ll go with a classic breakaway rider. This is one for Thomas De Gendt.
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