By David Hunter
Valencia – Castellon 146.6km
It’s another day by the beaches of Spain and possibly the last day of beautiful sunshine, for a couple of stages. It’s going to be another hot day, but with a strong breeze off the sea it should be a little cooler for the riders. The wind is perfect for crosswinds but this doesn’t always happen in the Vuelta. Teams and riders are usually more relaxed but if the opportunity arises, don’t be surprised to see the odd team trying to create echelons. Tinkoff Saxo are always good in the wind.
It’s the day before the rest day, which usually is a good sign for the breakaway. The GC riders will be keen on an easy day, almost giving them two days of rest. The profile is also good for the break, thanks to the cat 2 climb cresting with just 17km remaining. This is a good day to make the break!
The riders start climbing from near the gun. The cat 3 climb is 5.4km at 4.6%. Not a difficult climb, but as the battle for the break will be fierce, this climb will be done very fast. If you haven’t prepared properly, you could get dropped here.
The stage is all about the cat 2 climb. It’s 7.1km at 5.4%, with a maximum of 10%. Compared to some of the other climbs we’ve had, it’s not too difficult. In fact, most of the cat 3 climbs are actually harder than this. The climb starts fairly easy, but then goes above 8% for a kilometre. The final 260m is at 7.6%, a perfect place to launch an attack.
The climb is nowhere near hard enough to create gaps amongst the GC riders. They will be happy to take it fairly easily and let the other teams control the race. The success of the break depends upon who makes it and the attitude of the sprinters teams.
On paper, Degenkolb, should cope with the climb. However, after 9 hard stages, but with Dumoulin in red they really can’t spare too many men for the German. If they put a man in the break, the break will stay away. There is a decision to be made by the breakaway specialists. Do you join the break at the start or wait till the final climb? It’s a tough one to call! Teams with multiple options will go for the early break and save a few riders for the final climb, just in case the break doesn’t last.
The race does have a number of breakaway specialists:- Kadri, Goncalves, Txurruka, Fraile, Mas, Pedraza, Terpstra, Chavanel, Coppel, Durasek, Hansen, De Gendt, Van Zyl and Gautier.
The uphill start makes it a harder break to join, which suits the specialists. Joining the morning break, is a work of art! From the gun there will be attacks. With the pace very high, we have a process of breaks going and then coming back, until the elastic eventually snaps. To make the break you need an eye for the right move and a huge amount of luck. You then have to hope that no GC threat is in the break. If they make it, your day is doomed, but you can persuade them to drop out. This is the bit I love! An older member of the break will casually go up to the threat and tell them, in no uncertain words, to go back to the bunch. If this doesn’t work, the riders take it in turns to attack, eventually dropping the rider.
Once the break is established, you have to pray that the peloton doesn’t chase. Getting a good mix of teams in the break is essential, but you then have to worry about weird things, like rider birthdays and riders from that area! Back in the bunch, the big teams all start to look at each other. If you have a man in the break, you have a free pass. They amount of teams left to chase and their chance of stage success then determines who works. If no one is willing, the team with the red jersey goes to the front and keeps the gap at a respectable level. This is the joys of the breakaway!
Getting in the break is hard. You then have to hope it stays away and you need to have the legs to beat the others. It’s like winning the lottery, twice!
With Sagan now away home, some sprinters will fancy their chances in this stage. Degenkolb is the big problem, but if you can remove him, it opens the door for riders like Sbaragli, Van der Sande, Bilbao, Barbero, Reza and Rojas. They all survived the climbs on stage 8, this one isn’t going to bother them.
That means we have a stage where 4 things can happen. Time to consider these scenarios:-
- The early break wins.
- The break is caught and attackers go on the final climb and don’t come back. Probably a small group of 4 or 5.
- The break is caught and the attackers on the climb too. On the road into town, a lone attacker gets away and wins.
- A sprint of around 80 riders
Basically put, this stage gives everyone a chance.
It’s a tough one, but I’m going for Jose Goncalves. He seems to be in amazing form and could win from 3 of the above scenarios.
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