La Vuelta 2015 – Stage 7 Preview – Ciclismo Internacional

La Vuelta 2015 – Stage 7 Preview

By David Hunter

Jodar – La Alpujarra 191.1km

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After a cracking opening week, the GC battle starts here. The first mountaintop finish is always a very revealing stage. We usually see one or two of the favourites struggle and the GC picture starts to reveal itself.

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The climbing starts with an easy, cat 3 climb. It’s 8.7km at 3.2%. In fact, the whole stage is relatively easy, until the final climb. GC riders should have their whole team on hand, as we hit the base of the final climb. For that reason, the battle for position will be fierce. Teams will be sprinting into the climb, keen to ensure a frontline position for their riders. Once done, they will peal away and have an easy ride up the climb. For the rest of the bunch, the fun starts here.

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This climb is a monster, all 20.3km of it. The gradient isn’t too bad, only 5.1%, but that’s because of some flatter sections. The final 7km is when we can expect to see the fireworks. At this point, the gradient remains around 7%, making it hard for most riders. They will have been climbing for 13km and some riders will be at their maximum. As soon as it gets steeper, the peloton will explode.

Thanks to the injury to Tiralongo and the elimination of Nibali, Astana are not as strong as normal. They still possess a strong squad, but will struggle to dominate the climbs as much as we would normally expect. The battle for control should be between Movistar and Sky. Both teams are full of climbing talent and will dominate the mountains.

Movistar – Rojas, Erviti, Sutherland, Ventoso, Visconti, Moreno, Amador, Quintana, Valverde.

Sky – Puccio, Boswell, Knees, Kiryienka, Thomas, Nieve, Henao, Roche, Froome.

It looks clear to me that Sky are the stronger team. In the Tour, they love to demolish the opening mountain stage. Delivering such a blow strikes fear into everyone else, but I’m not sure they’ll use that tactic here. They will have Nieve, Henao and Roche as the final support for Froome. Roche is very high on GC and a real threat in this race. The Irishman usually saves his best for this race, having finished 5th and 7th here in 2013 and 2010. If they sense an opportunity to attack, Roche will go for it.

Movistar showed again today that they can be vulnerable at the end of a stage. They really should have been able to close down Chaves and let Valverde sprint for glory, but they failed. The problem was that only Quintana remained with Valverde. The Colombian will not waste energy working on the front of the bunch, he needs to save it all for the GC. They are much better when another team is controlling and they can fire off attacks, like in the Tour. Orica need to control this stage, so Movistar should be able to ride an attacking race.

Dan Martin is another rider who loves the Vuelta. You might call him unlucky but Chaves has gotten the better of him, tactically. Today was a massive failing for Dan. To allow Chaves to surprise him once, is understandable, but twice? A very bad mistake by the English/Irishman. The long climbs don’t really suit him as well but his form cannot be ignored. He has a big chance of winning this stage.

Esteban Chaves is flying! I identified him as a rider to watch and he’s certainly doing me justice. To already have two stages is amazing. The steep slopes are good for him, but so’s the weather. Climbing in 40 degrees is very difficult and some riders go very well in these conditions. Tomorrow is due to be another warm day, music to the ears of the tiny Colombian. Winning his third stage and the team’s fourth would make it an unbelievable start to the race.

Astana will look towards Fabio Aru. Nibali is away and Landa is not as good as he was in the Vuelta. Aru has not looked in amazing form, but we all know how dangerous he is. He won 2 stages in the 2014 Vuelta, can he repeat that feat? He’ll certainly find it harder as he won’t be allowed any freedom.

Katusha will look towards Joaquim Rodriguez. He has started the race well, but has failed to take a stage. Two stage wins in the Tour was excellent, but he failed to survive with the GC riders. He followed that up with a good performance in San Sebastian, before the Vuelta. Having won stages in 4 consecutive Vueltas, he missed out in 2014, but did finish 4th on GC. He’ll be determined to make up for a blank year and add to his 8 stage wins. He can count upon the help of Dani Moreno, who should be around throughout the whole climb. Purito knows that he can’t outsprint Valvarde, so he needs to attack before the final kilometre.

Who will Movistar work for? Both! Quintana will have some freedom to attack, if feeling good. Valverde will most likely wait until the closing kilometres. Imagine the Tour, but reverse their roles. Having two strong options, is certainly better than one.

On the edge of the list of favourites is Pozzovivo and Majka. Both have looked good but also vulnerable. Losing time on stage 2 was not a great way to start the race, but they seem to have recovered. Both riders will be awarded some freedom and that is very important. Similar to previous stages, a long attack might just work. As Froome, Quintana, Rodriguez and Valverde look at each other, it’s possible for a rider to escape. To be allowed freedom you have to be perceived as less of a threat. Having lost time, Pozzovivo and Majka fall into the category, so does Van Garderen. He is still close to Froome and co, but they might let him go on the attack. The same goes for Sami Sanchez. BMC certainly have a strong team and will attack, it’s unsure who goes first!

Other strong riders who could escape are Brambilla, LL Sanchez, Meintjes, Sicard and Navarro.

What about the break? Orica will be determined to maintain the red jersey and will chase any threat. If no threat exists, it’s hard to see who will chase down the break. Movistar, Katusha and Sky will be the teams everyone looks towards. Cannondale might join in as they look to take advantage of Dan Martin’s good form. The chances of the break winning are 50/50.

Prediction Time

For the break, watch for Bilbao, De Marchi, Hardy, Duarte, Van Den Broeck, Cattaneo, Cherel, Txurruka, Plaza, Coppel, Rolland and Cano. The chances of success really do hang in the balance. If they get caught, I think we’ll see another stand off between the big riders. I’m going for a rider who has shown form and will be allowed to attack, Nico Roche to win the stage.

David Hunter

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