Vuelta a España – Stage 4 Preview

By David Hunter

Vélez Málaga – Puerto de Alfacar 161.4km

A stage very close to my heart.

The riders start in Vélez-Málaga before quickly heading down to the coast road. They then head through the beautiful towns of Torrox and Nerja(where I go on holiday). This part of the Costa del Sol is brilliant, with beaches on one side of the road and mountains on the other.

Once the peloton hit Almuñécar, they turn left and head for the hills. First up is the mammoth climb of Alto de la Cabra Montés.

15.7km at 5.9% is a nice test for the riders, but it’s the heat that will be the main issue not the gradient. Make no mistake, it will be scorching hot on the exposed parts of this climb. When you check the weather forecast, it will say that the temperature will be 30 degrees, but in this part of the world it usually feels around 36 degrees and quickly rises as you head inland. After cresting, the peloton have some time to gather themselves, before the final climb of the day.

Puerto de Alfacar is 12.4km at 5.4%, with is straightforward for a mountaintop finish. The main area of difficult is the central section with kilometres at 9%, 8.6%, 3.8%, 9.2% and 6.4%. It then flattens out for a relatively simple finish. With an easy beginning and end, the damage has to be done in the middle of the climb. The heat and the difficulty of the climb means that some riders will get blown out of the GC battle.

Weather

Hot as hell, with the wind helping the breakaway.

Tactics

Who can make the final climb hard? This isn’t the Tour de France, we don’t have squads dripping with climbing talent. Here’s a look at climbing domestiques:-

Astana – Bilbao, Cataldo, Fraile, Hirt, Zeits and Villella.

Bora – Majka and Formolo.

Mitchelton Scott – Adam Yates, Howson and Haig.

EF Drapac – Moreno and Woods.

Jumbo – De Tier, Kuss and Kruijswijk.

Movistar – Amador, Anacona and Carapaz.

Sky – Sivakov, Geoghegan Hart, Henao and Puccio.

The strongest squads are Movistar, Sky and Astana. It will be up to these teams to make the pace on most climbs, but how hard will they push it? Lopez already lost a handful of seconds and will be keen to take some time back.

Sky are in an interesting position. They have the strongest team, but not the strongest GC rider. If they push hard on the climb, they are in danger of putting their leaders into difficulty, something they’d rather not do!

Movistar will be aware of this and would like to strike early. Both Valverde and Quintana seem to be in good form and I think they’ll want to try and put everyone under pressure. The problem is that they only have three climbing domestiques and this is a long climb. I still think Movistar will light it up and Quintana will attack when the gradients become difficult. Who can follow? Who’ll get dropped? This stage will tell us a lot about the coming weeks.

Breakaway Hopes

Very good. In the Tour de France we saw the impact of 8 man teams, which gave more opportunities for the breakaways to succeed. Sky have control of the red jersey, meaning they will dictate the pace for the vast majority of the day. With two GC riders, that leaves just six men to ride on the front. They will probably let Van Baarle and Castroviejo do the majority of the work, right up until the final climb. That will make it easy for the break to establish a big lead and take the stage, as long as no one threatens the overall lead.

Contenders

Breakaway Picks

Tiesj Benoot – the Belgian spends a lot of time training on these roads and knows the final climb like the back of his hand! After dropping time in the first few stages, he’ll have freedom to join the early move, but Sky won’t be happy with him threatening the red jersey. I hope he can win in his “home” area.

BMC – with Porte not competitive, the rest of the squad have been freed up to chase personal glory. They do have Nico Roche, who wants to do a good GC, but the rest of the riders will hope to join the morning move. Looking at them, De Marchi, Bookwalter and Teuns are the riders with the best chance of success. De Marchi is a tried and tested breakaway rider, Teuns has a huge amount of talent and Bookwalter is solid. BMC will make the morning move, but we shall have to see which of their options are in it.

Pierre Rolland – the loveable French climber seems interested in the KOM jersey. I’m sure we all have nightmares about his full polka dot outfit a few years ago in the Tour, hopefully his fashion sense has improved since then! When Rolland is on form, there are few riders capable of matching him in the mountains. The problem that teams have had is getting him motivated and fit enough to contend. I sense that this is coming right.

Thomas De Gendt – seems in full breakaway mode, just like whole Lotto squad. He was a frustrated man in the Tour de France, as his breakaway gambles didn’t work. His approach of riding full gas and seeing who’s left, is a high risk strategy, which means it doesn’t always come off. He will hope that the break forms on the flat, as he is capable of huge power at the beginning of the stage. If in the break, he has a great chance of success.

Steve Cummings – I know!

Omar Fraile – I’m not sure how much freedom he’ll have in this race. Astana are here to ride for Lopez, but some of their riders will have freedom to chase personal glory. Fraile is a good climber, but he rarely wins mountaintop finishes.

GC Boys

Alejandro Valverde – fastest sprint of the GC riders. If we get a small group at the finish, he’ll win. Simple as that! He might even sniff the chance of taking the red jersey.

Nairo Quintana – with Movistar having two options, it would be good to see Nairo attack on the difficult section of the climb. He looks to already have good legs and it would be wise to take time on his GC rivals, if he can. He won’t win a sprint, but could certainly drop everyone and arrive solo.

Wilco Kelderman – despite a lack of racing, the Dutch climber has started the race in brilliant form. He was strong in the TT and finished 4th on Sunday, which will have given him a huge confidence boost. He’ll like the look of this climb and has the kick to finish on the podium, as long as the break haven’t already taken the win.

Simon Yates – as we all know, he times his attacks to perfection. Despite looking to start a little slower than he did in the Giro, Yates will not let an opportunity pass him by. Watch out for him in the closing 4km.

Prediction Time

It looks like a good day for the break and I’m going with Dylan Teuns. BMC look very strong and they’ll go full gas for the break. Back in the GC group, I don’t think we’ll see big gaps between the main favourites.

*Overall Preview

David Hunter

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