Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 4 Preview: Vélez-Málaga -> Alfacar. Sierra de la Alfaguara

Today’s Recap

Misread the intensity of the riders today as most decided they fancied a day off, so I’ll hold my hands up for that one! Pretty dull afternoon for us spectators with things only getting exciting inside the last 20km. Considering there was no real pace early on, all of the sprinters made it to the finish and the stage favourite won.

Viviani only needed Morkov in the final kilometre to lead him out, with the Dane dropping him in a perfect position. From there, it was over the Italian Champion who duly delivered. He is having his best season ever and has been the sprinter of the year, no doubt about it!

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Nizzolo continued his recovery with a good second place and Sagan survived the heat to come third. However, the latter still didn’t look as good as normal, with him mainly getting that podium due to his great positioning in the finale.

With the slow pace today, I reckon many have been looking to save energy for tomorrow: let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

It may only be the 4th stage but we have the first proper summit finish of the race.

vuelta-a-espana-2018-stage-4

50km of flat lands will lead the peloton to the bottom of the opening climb of the day. The Puerto de la Cabra is a fairly steady climb, averaging 5.7% for 16.4km, with its steepest section coming in the middle. Too early for anything wild to happen, just expect a solid tempo in the bunch to tire the legs ever so slightly and that’s it.

The road plateaus and then actually rises after the official KOM point, before the riders reach the feed zone half-way into the day.

A descent and an uncategorised hill leads into an elongated U-shaped valley, before the final climb to the line starts properly.

sierra-de-la-alfaguara

As first mountain top finishes of a race go, it is pretty much what you want. Not too difficult that loads of guys will struggle, but it is just tough enough that if a few teams put the hurt on (Movistar and Sky namely), then we could actually see a couple of surprise GC casualties. The opening 4km and closing 2km are the easier parts of the climb, with the middle 6km averaging 7.25% and that is the key section of the day. If you want to drop some rivals, it has to be done there.

How will the stage pan out?

Once again we’re left with the age-old question of break or no break?

Given what we have seen so far, the stage once again looks great for both Valverde and Kwiatkowski, although the former is traditionally better on these types of climbs. However, if the current race leader can make it through the steeper section in the middle then he should be there to compete for the finish at the end of the day. There are of course other GC guys who will fancy their chances on a finish like this but they won’t commit their team to chasing the break, therefore, it is down to Sky and/or Movistar to control things.

Sky will be happy to let the break take the day if there is no danger to the overall or their current race lead in the move so a lot of the onus will be on Movistar and their approach. Valverde said in an interview the other day that he was targeting this stage so I think we will know Movistar’s plan then! Unless of course they decide to play a game with Sky and just let them expend some extra energy controlling things all day.

So what about the break then?

With the 45km+ of “flat” roads before the first climb then it will be difficult for any mountain goats to get into the move, unless if they manage it by luck/good timing – it depends on who you ask as to what the answer is to that. A group of strong rouleurs will be able to keep a chasing peloton at bay behind if it is just Sky or Movistar who are doing the work on their own. There are plenty of strong riders far enough down on GC not to worry Sky so I do think it will be down to two factors for if the break makes it:

  1. Any threat to Kwiatkowski’s lead in the move
  2. How much Movistar put into the day/Sky don’t

We could of course just have one of those days where a rubbish break of 4 escapes after the flag drop and that’s it, easy GC day. Who knows.

In the words of Natalie Imbruglia: “I’m torn”.

I think the sensible play is to go with the break then reassess in-play, so it’s time to play everyone’s favourite game again…

TheBreakawayLottery

Just two juggernauts of the breakaway game being named here from me.

Allesandro De Marchi.

A very impressive 6th place on the opening TT, De Marchi is a rider who seems to produce his best performances at the Vuelta, where he has taken two stage wins in the past. BMC currently have Roche in “GC contention” but I don’t believe he’ll be competing all the way to Madrid so no doubt we’ll see them ride aggressively over the coming weeks. Key to get some practice in before the name change for next year and no real GC leader for the Grand Tours anymore, well, none named so far. De Marchi is a powerful enough rouleur to make the break early on and a solid enough climber to deal with the finishing climb. If he makes the move, it has every chance, just like the next rider.

Thomas De Gendt.

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Mr Breakaway, De Gendt was on the move on stage 2 but decided to drift back to the peloton after they realised they weren’t going to get any success come the end of the stage. Either that or he cramped up but I’ll believe the former! Tomorrow is the type of early GT mountain stage that De Gendt can go exceptionally well in. The rolling but mainly flat terrain in between the climbs are good for him while the low average gradients of the ascents themselves are also favourable. I think he’ll have tomorrow circled in his road book. Can he deliver?

GC Contenders

Aside from Kwiatkowski and Valverde, a GC rider will need a good sprint to finish off tomorrow’s stage given the “flatter” final 2kms. Look towards the likes of Pinot, Kelderman and Lopez to pack a punch.

Prediction

The break to stay away after Sky and Movistar play games behind, and De Marchi to take his third Vuelta stage of his career. I really liked the way he looked on the attack in Poland plus his powerful TT on the opening day!

alessandro-de-marchi-foto-Chris-Auld-Photography-1024x560

Betting

As I said above, a day to throw some pennies onto breakaway picks then reassess in play what’s happening.

1pt WIN De Marchi @ 25/1

1pt WIN De Gent @ 50/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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One thought on “Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 4 Preview: Vélez-Málaga -> Alfacar. Sierra de la Alfaguara

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