A fast day in the saddle with a nervous peloton that never allowed a breakaway to get up the road.
With all the hype surrounding possible echelons, we had nothing overly exciting all day; only a few minor splits. Well, that was until I tuned into the action at 15kms to go (you can thank me later).
Sky pushed it on in the closing 10kms and we had a group of 20 properly detached, with another 40 or so chasing on roughly 30 seconds behind. That looked as if that was going to be the end of it, until QS came up at three km to go, charing into the penultimate roundabout.
Things strung out and then the front of the peloton imploded as they were battered by a crosswind coming from their left. Theuns put in a massive effort in the gutter to close what looked like a 2m gap to those in front.
However, it was Lampaert who stole the day; attacking from roughly 1km out and holding on until the line. A great win for him and the team!
A rider I like a lot, I wasn’t even mad that Theuns ended up finishing just outside the places in 4th, after he was beaten in the sprint by Trentin and Blythe. After the effort the Trek rider put in to get across to that front group, it would have taken a monumental performance to win. Oh well, at least I wasn’t a mile off!
Will we see another exciting finale tomorrow? Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.
The Vuelta organisers didn’t seem to get the memo from those at ASO about easing riders into Grand Tours…
Two Cat-1 climbs and one cat-2 all in 158.5km of racing. Definitely not what some of the riders would have been wanting on the first weekend of the race.
The road essentially climbs all the way from the gun until we “crest” the Cat-1 climb of Col de la Perche at 34.8km.
At 22.7km long in length and averaging 4.2%, it is certainly not the easiest way to start the day. The slightly low average gradient and its position right at the beginning of the stage mean that it will most likely be attacked at a fast pace. In the searing heat could we see some riders dropped early?
It all depends when the break is formed really.
Once over the summit, they will face an incredibly long, shallow descent for 70km. Pretty much a negative false flat!
The road then drags ever so slightly as they head towards Andorra and the second Cat-1 of the day.
Averaging 6.8% for 13.3km is fairly hard but it is what you would expect in this part of the world. However, the first half of the climb is certainly the toughest, with the gradient averaging closer to 8%.
Peaking at just over 30km to go, will we see any crazy attacks from the peloton here, as the riders plunge straight down the other side of the mountain?
The final ascent of the day is the Alto de la Cornella. Used back in the 2015 Vuelta it is a fairly short but steep climb.
The close to 8% average gradient certainly suits the punchier riders compared to the “sloggers” of the world such as Jungels. We should see the peloton climb it in under 12 minutes at race pace. Damiano Caruso holds the Strava KOM for it when it was used on Stage 9 of the Tour last year, completing it in 12:34. I expect them to go up faster this time round given its place as the final obstacle on the stage!
Although the 28-degree heat might slow them down a bit.
The descent begins off technical, but the final few kilometres into Andorra la Vella itself are straightforward.
How will the stage pan out?
To be honest, I have no bloody idea what to make of it!
We could see a few of the GC guys fancy their chances and make the stage tough, with a select group cresting the final climb together. Things could be slightly easier and a larger group of 20 or so riders come to the line for a sprint. A late attack from someone not deemed a “real” GC threat is a possibility. Then of course there is the breakaway staying away.
We wouldn’t normally expect to see a breakaway stay away this early at a Grand Tour but Polanc did manage it on Stage 4 of the Giro this year. Furthermore, this stage does have a very similar feel to the stage that Van Avermaet won at the Tour in 2016.
Will Quick-Step be happy to relinquish the leader’s jersey?
I would be if I was them! This Vuelta is exceptionally tough and you don’t want to be wasting needless resources early on in the race to protect a jersey that Lampaert is never going to keep all the way to Madrid.
Let another team take the strain of chasing breaks and setting tempo over the next few days. We all know Sky will do it anyway!
So I think we could be playing that game again…
Two is company?
As I really have no idea who might be competing tomorrow I’m just going to name two break candidates for the stage. Plus, with three KOM candidates I don’t want to go crazy. Obviously anyone who wants to compete needs to be a good climber!
Alessandro De Marchi.
The guy that only ever wins at World Tour level and in fact, out of his three pro wins, two have been at La Vuelta. He was very strong in the opening TTT, helping drive his team towards victory and he seems to be in good shape for this race; like always! An attacking rider who is not a bad climber; all three of his pro wins have been from breakaways on mountain days, he certainly has a chance if he makes the move. After losing the jersey today, BMC will want to make amends tomorrow! He doesn’t seem to mind the heat which is a massive bonus.
The early GT breakaway king, can he do the same as he did at the Giro? UAE bring a very aggressive team to this race and they’re bound to get someone into the morning move. Polanc has really taken a step up this season in terms of his climbing ability and he should be able to cope with tomorrow’s stage. My only concern is that I have no idea how well he manages in the heat. I guess we’ll have to wait and see!
“Safe Pick” – Chaves
A tough stage to predict in general but with a climb near the end, you want to be picking a GC rider. If it turns into a GC stage then they should be there, but will also be there in a relatively low scoring position if the break or late attack wins. Take a random dart at a GC favourite, but Chaves seemed fairly attentive today.
“Wongshot Pick” – De Marchi
You picked Degenkolb didn’t you and you’ve already thrown in the towel for the overall? Although you’re not completely out of it, the game is still early, you may want to be bold and pick a breakaway rider. Hoping to gain back some points, or score a crucial stage win.
“Lanterne Rouge Pick” – Fournier
Close today with Zurlo, I think the young French rider might struggle tomorrow in the heat. Well, I say young but he’s 6 days older than me! In the last group today, it could be the same situation on stage 3.
The break to stay away and De Marchi to add to his Vuelta stage win haul!
Sticking to my 2pts a day, keeps the debt collector away rule*
1.5pt WIN De Marchi @ 50/1 (would take 40s)
0.5pt WIN Polanc @ 125/1 (would take 100s)
Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win tomorrow and how? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.