By David Hunter
Alcala la Real – Sierra Nevada. Alto Hoya De La Mora 129.4km
Welcome to the hardest stage of the Vuelta.
Just 129.4km long and containing 3305m of climbing. The vast majority of this comes in the space of 72km. This is going to be a crazy day, as the climbs are incredibly hard.
First up is Alto de Hazallanas, it is 16.3km at 5.5%, but that almost masks the difficulty of the climb. The opening is nice and easy, although we do have 2km at around 7.5%. It then gets very easy, before descending into the bottom of the “real” climb. This part is 7.4km at 9.6%, with ramps of 22%. Cast your mind back to the 2015 Ruta del Sol, this is where Contador beat Froome. Yes, it’s that hellish climb!
Next up is Alto del Purche, this was used in the opening stage of this year’s Ruta del Sol. Another climb that is brutal. Officially, it is 8.5km at 8%, but it feels worse than that. The last kilometre is around 12/13%. After the crest of the climb, there is no descent, it just merges into the next climb.
Alto Hoya de la Mora, is the big road that takes you up to the top of the Sierra Nevada. Take a look at the altitude, we climb to 2510m! Despite being the only especial climb in the stage, it’s the easiest climb of the day. It would normally be hard to make any big differences on this climb, but coming at the end of a crazy day, riders will be very tired.
Another hot day. We should have some clouds in the afternoon, but it will be humid. The first two climbs are very exposed and they get incredibly hot. This will make the stage even harder.
Not great. These short stages usually see lots of attacks from GC riders, making it very hard for any break to stay away. There is a chance of escaping the bunch later in the stage, but little hope for the morning move.
Time for the DSs to earn their money! These stages are a nightmare to preview, they are very unpredictable, but I’ll give it a shot.
All teams, apart from Sky, start with the same objective. They have to try and drop the Sky domestiques. Chris Froome is a wonderful rider, but he does rely on having riders to help him chase towards the end of a stage. We saw last year, that when he is alone, he panics. All teams must try and drop Moscon, Nieve and Poels.
Now, this certainly won’t be easy, but it’s the only way of seriously challenging Froome. The problem for most of the other teams is that they don’t have seriously strong climbing domestiques. It looks like the responsibility could fall on the shoulders of Astana. They have Lutsenko, Chernetckii, Sanchez and Bilbao. That isn’t as strong as it could be, but, it will have to do. They must hit the first climb hard and continue all the way to the top. Once there, you look around and see who’s left. That is the tactic of the day!
Other options include Contador attacking on the first climb. If he can take some quality riders with him, we could see Sky beginning to panic. This is a much riskier option than Astana trying to blow the peloton to pieces.
If Poels is still present, with 10km remaining, I don’t think we’ll see anyone taking time on Froome. Poels really is that important.
Vincenzo Nibali – was impressive today, if only Contador would have worked with him. Finishing 3rd meant that he got 4 bonus seconds and now sits 55 seconds behind Froome. Given that most stages haven’t been overly suited to his characteristics, this is quite an achievement for the Shark, such a shame we have a long ITT on Tuesday. Nibali needs time, he must attack and try to put Froome under pressure. He seems like the only rider capable of doing this.
Alberto Contador – weird tactics today. Why did he not work with Nibali? Why did he try and follow Lopez? After all of that, he then drops 6 seconds in the last 400m. It was a strange day for Contador. What will excite Alberto, is the length of this stage, he is brilliant in these short days. I really hope we see him in an attacking mood, and not just following wheels.
Chris Froome – the man they all have to beat. Today was another day chalked off and with the TT on Tuesday, he knows he just needs to follow wheels. Unless he senses weakness, I doubt that Froome will try and attack. Follow wheels, save energy and destroy them on Tuesday. That would be my tactic.
Miguel Angel Lopez – seems like I have underestimated the little Colombian. After crashing early in the 2016 Vuelta, this is going to be his 1st full grand tour. For that reason, I expected him to falter, but he looks stronger than ever. His explosiveness sets him apart from his rivals, they seem unable to follow his initial move. At 3:48, he’s along way off Froome, but he only sits 1:31 behind the podium. This should be his target and Astana are confident in his chances. Look at the way they controlled the final climb today, I hope to see something similar in this stage.
Romain Bardet – will hope to benefit from not being a GC threat. Try and stay with the GC group, and attack on the final climb. That should be his tactic.
Darwin Atapuma – he’ll try and follow the same approach as Bardet. He might have the KOM jersey in his mind, with 40 points on offer. He needs a big day, if he wants to challenge for this title.
Rafal Majka – has to be tired after his exploits today. Don’t think he’ll appreciate such a full gas stage.
Can they isolate Froome? This will be hard, they must go full gas on the opening climb, it would be crazy to wait for the last climb. Looking at the recent stages, I have to go with Miguel Angel Lopez.
Behind Lopez, I don’t expect Froome to lose time. Nibali will challenge him, but he will pass the test.
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