By David Hunter
Talavera de la Reina – La Covatilla 200.8km
After a very enjoying opening the week, the race heads to the hills.
The first of the true mountain tests await the riders, with the mythical climb of La Covatilla, but we have a few tests before we reach it. After 37km of the stage, we have a cat 1 climb.
Puerto del Pico is 15.3km at 5.5%, this is where the morning break shall escape. With climbers keen to make the move, I think we’ll see teams chase down the early attacks and let their climbers move on the mountain.
We then have some rolling terrain before hitting the flatlands. It is here we’ll get to see if the peloton are interested in taking the stage. With 60km of flat, we shall see if any team decides to chase down the morning move. With 8 man teams, the balance of power has shifted a little towards the break, but it really does depend on the motivation of the teams.
With an easy start and finish, the brutality of the climb is contained within a 4km stretch. In this part of the climb, the gradients are very steep and riders will suffer, especially in the hot conditions. I would expect the front group to be very small for the final 3km of the stage and then we shall see if anyone has a teammate.
If a team has multiple riders in the front group, they should be able to punish their rivals. Movistar will hope that Valverde and Quintana will be there, but Jumbo will also be confident as Kruijswijk and Bennett look very strong just now.
Hot! We have a light wind coming from the South-East which means a cross/headwind on the climb, but it isn’t very strong.
Very good. The Tour de France showed that teams are more defensive when they only have 8 men, giving the breakaway more hope than usual. When I look at the profile I do get worried for the break, due to the long flat section before the final climb. If a team wants to chase the stage, this is where they get on the front and break the hearts of the attackers.
Nairo Quintana – I’ve been watching him closely during the first week and I’ve liked what I’ve seen. One slight issue is that he and Valverde don’t always seem to be on the same page, but I’m sure the team will ensure both riders know what to do on the final climb. Being the first big mountain finish, you can be sure that Nairo wants to send a message to his rivals. The climb is good for him, but he needs to have the legs.
Simon Yates – this is a proper test for the Englishman. After blowing spectacularly at the Giro, can he bounce back and seize control of this race? If Yates can survive with the main riders, he will start to believe that he can win his first grand tour. After being warned about wasting energy early in the race, I look forward to seeing when he attacks. Will he listen to his DS? I hope not, that’s what we love about him.
Miguel Angel Lopez – a bit of honesty, I’m a huge fan of Lopez. Still just 24, the Colombian is a magnificent climber and one that I love to watch. After finishing 3rd in the Giro, he looked good in Burgos, but still a little away from top form. This race could be a huge moment in his career, as he looks to claim his first grand tour title. Astana have a strong team and Lopez will expect to have support deep into the climb, which will help chase any moves down. The gradients of the climb are great for him, he does perform well on tough tests.
George Bennett – the dark horse! It seems that the Kiwi just gets better and better. After finishing 8th in the Giro, he performed well in the Tour of Poland. This mountain will be a proper examination of his climbing credentials, it will show us if he is ready to fight for the podium or just a top 10 spot. Jumbo have a very strong team, if both he and Kruijswijk survive, they will have options in the finale.
Pierre Rolland – he’ll be gutted about missing out on winning stage 4, but motivated to make up for that. The French climber seems to have an interest in the KOM jersey, meaning he really needs to be in the morning break. Once there, Rolland has the ability to take the stage, but he needs to stop making silly mistakes.
Alessandro De Marchi – such a great rider. The Italian has won two stages in the Vuelta, but hasn’t tasted success since 2015. He has an enormous engine which helps when trying to make the morning move, but his record of turning breaks into wins isn’t great.
Alexandre Geniez – was meant to ride the Tour de France, but was pulled from the squad as he hadn’t recovered fully from the Giro. After a change in race program, he’s ended up in Spain, a country he performs well in. Geniez has two Vuelta wins to his name and should have freedom to chase a third.
Bauke Mollema – now out of the GC picture, he can chase the breaks. He was 2nd on Wednesday, but showed enough to convince me he’ll be challenging for the rest of the race. Remember that when freed up to chase breaks he managed to take a win in the 2017 Tour de France. The Dutch rider will go full gas to make the break and hope it stays away.
Thomas De Gendt – standard De Gendt pick!
The breakaway for me and I’ll go with Bauke Mollema to take the win.
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