After a long fight this morning/early afternoon, a big break of 20-odd riders eventually escaped from what was at that time a reduced peloton. Sky let them go and with it the race lead at the end of the day, a sensible decision given they’ve struggled a bit over some of the previous stages.
Up ahead the day was pretty tactical with several attacks and counters throughout the afternoon. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really watch much of today’s action at all and only tuned in with 20km to go with a trio up ahead: Clarke, De Marchi and Mollema.
The latter two tried to play games and drop the EF Education rider but it was not to be as he was just too strong on the flat. They nearly got caught by a group of three behind, which included new race leader Molard, but the trio at the front held on for the sprint with Clarke taking what was an inevitable win.
Mollema finished second with De Marchi.
No opportunity for the sprinters today but that looks likely to change tomorrow. Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.
A pretty benign day by Vuelta standards with only 1400m of climbing throughout the afternoon.
There are a couple of Cat-3 climbs to deal with out on the course but they aren’t overly difficult and come too far from the finish to cause any real issues. Or at least you wouldn’t think so, anyway.
The run in is fairly straightforward with the final 5km being pan-flat. There are a few corners and the most difficult of those typically comes inside the final 1km, where the riders will have to traverse the long way around a roundabout. It will certainly string things out and coming out of the roundabout near the front of the bunch is necessary to be competing come the end of the day.
It gives me great pleasure to bring back this segment for the first time in the race and it is for everyone’s favourite reason: possible echelon action!
The above screenshot is the weather forecast for a town just to the north of La Unión, a.k.a the 25km to go marker for the day.
The riders head pretty much north for twenty of those kilometres before the turn back on themselves before again heading north for the approach to the finish line. The tailwind finish means you can afford to go earlier with your sprint.
Anyway, creating echelons in a peloton needs three inputs really.
First, the road and wind direction combination needs to be perfect, and that is the case for tomorrow with the route heading north and the wind coming directly across from the riders right.
Secondly, you need areas of land that are exposed enough for the wind to have an effect. There’s no point in it being a gusty day if the road is in a valley and sheltered by hills or trees for example.
Oh, would you look at that…
Wide open plain…
After wide open plain…
After wide open plain.
As you can see, even in the final few kilometres to the finish the riders are exposed to the wind coming off of the sea. The only place of real respite they have is when they travel through the towns of Los Alcázares and Los Narejos: only a 4km stretch of road, before it all starts again once they leave the cover of the buildings.
I make it therefore that out of the last 25km in tomorrow’s stage, 20km of them are prime echelon territory.
Finally, the last thing you need for echelons to happen is a couple of committed teams in the peloton. Given how close things are GC wise just now then there will be a good few squads looking at tomorrow as an opprtunity to split things up and gain time for their overall contenders. We’ve seen Movistar do this in the past and back in 2011 Liquigas pretty much did a TTT and tore things apart. We obviously have the likes of Quick Step who are masters in these conditions, remember Stage 2 last year, or stage 3 of the Giro that same year?
How will the race pan out?
I’m being bold here and I don’t think we’ll see a full bunch sprint tomorrow as things will get split up on the run in. As to who might be there, it really is tough to tell!
We will have GC teams trying to protect their main rider but we’ll also have guys trying to split things up with a hope of increasing their chances for the stage win. It’s going to be manic. One thing that you do find though is that a lot of sprinters tend to be the better riders in cross winds due to their size and raw power, so a lot of them should be near the front tomorrow. Unless it is complete chaos.
Viviani is probably still the favourite for the stage given how good he is this year and the team he rides for. But the conditions tomorrow probably don’t help him as much as they hinder him because I’m sure he would prefer his lead-out to be there in full to guide him through the finish.
Bold prediction number two: Viviani doesn’t win.
The Two Lotto Tickers
Tosh Van der Sande.
Lotto Soudal are exactly the type of team with the strength and know-how in these conditions to help split the bunch. They have no GC aspirations so can go all in to try something and hope it pays off. With their full Belgian squad, the wind will be a welcome sight to them after the heat of the past few days. Van der Sande is their fastest rider and if they can get him into a group of 10-15, then he has a very good chance of producing the win.
Another strong rider who eats wind for breakfast, the current European TT Champion is clearly in good form after his very good run in the opening effort against the clock. He looked lively on the third stage and went on the attack but unfortunately came off of his bike. However, he only sustained some “abrasions to the buttocks” so it was nothing too serious. After a couple of days at the back of the bunch, I think he’ll have recovered and want to put on a show again. He’s the type of rider who could ping off the front of a group at the end and be nigh on impossible to bring back. Come on the ‘tache!
Tosh van der Sande wins an echelon filled finale. Don’t @ me.
Actually you can @ me all you want, I know I’m being a bit ridiculous but this doesn’t end in a full bunch sprint so why not have some fun!
Day to be avoiding Viviani unless you’re ridiculously confident. So I’m throwing a few pennies around on the two Lotto riders.
0.5pt WIN Campenaerts @ 400/1
0.5pt EW TVDS @ 300/1
Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.