Was it ever really in doubt? Dennis crushed the opposition to take his second stage win of the race and promptly announced he was heading home!
His team-mate and US Champion, Rosskopf, produced his best ever performance at this level to finish with Spanish TT champion Castroviejo rounding out the podium.
As for the GC contenders, Kruijswijk (4th) and Mas (6th) produced stunning times to tame some ground back on the overall leader Yates, who himself gained on most of his rivals. Still, it leaves 6 riders within 1’34 of the Mitchelton man going into the final 4 days of racing, if we’re not counting the procession in Madrid. Yates has looked the strongest on the climbs so far but will he manage to avoid the last week crack like he suffered in the Giro? Tomorrow’s finish might certainly expose any weaknesses.
We’re in the Basque country so that means twisting, rolling roads and incredibly passionate fans!
3500m of elevation gain throughout the day but with only one Cat-1 climb, you can get an idea of how up and down the terrain must be.
The opening Cat-3 climb of Alto de Arboleta (6.7km at 5.5%) will probably see a big fight to make the morning break but it will also start things off in the battle for the KOM jersey. Things are still very much up for grabs in that competition so it will be one to watch for over the coming days!
The route does flatten out a bit from then but a series of uncategorised hills follows the intermediate sprint point and we reach the second Cat-3 just after the feed zone. More flat follows before the final 45km of the day are constantly up and down.
The first of the climbs in those closing 45kms the riders have to face is the Alto del Balcon de Bizkia which is 9km at 3.9%. Probably the easiest Cat-2 climb the riders will see all Vuelta but there are some steeper sections in it with a few kilometres at 7% etc, however, the closing 2.5km are at a shade over 2% in gradient.
A long descent, some of which the riders will have to make an effort on, follows and that leads pretty much into the next climb. The Alto de Santa Eufemia is a short and sharp affair that averages 6.8% for almost 3.9kms. It is a very consistent climb so should be good for those who like to ride tempo. A fast descent then brings the riders to the penultimate climb of the day: the Alto de Gontzegaraine. Officially 3.3km at 5.8%, the road actually rises gradually before then making it 7kms at 3.7%, either way, it is steepest near the end but nothing too bad for the riders to worry about. Well, not compared to what awaits them…
The final climb can be split into two parts and they are pretty obvious what they are! The opening 3kms of it comes along the main road (that they actually descended down before) which averages roughly 6.3%.
They then turn off the main road, onto a very narrow track and that is when the fun begins…
My legs hurt just looking at that profile. Any words I have won’t really do it any justice and the severity of the gradients will only be made worse by the poor concrete surface the riders will have to traverse. We could see some big GC gaps here if someone isn’t feeling good.
How will the stage pan out?
Mitchelton will be happy to let a break go so it is up to the others to bring it back. The parcours is rolling and hilly but it isn’t mountainous enough to try to send your GC candidate on the attack. All of those moves should be left until Saturday in my opinion. Therefore, it is going to have to be a traditional chase of the break and set it up for the GC riders to battle for the stage. Again though, if teams want to weaken Yates’ team, why would they want to do that? Furthermore, with how strong Yates has looked on the climbs, will we really see Movistar or Astana pull all day and diminish their resources only for their leaders to lose even more time? I don’t think so. I think they will all save themselves for Saturday and try to tire Mitchelton out by letting them do the work until then.
Here we are again then…
The Cursed “Cinco”
Basque rider number one, the Astana man seems to be slowly riding himself into form at this race and he was with the GC group for quite a while on the last summit finish. We saw at the Giro how strong he can be and the local will certainly be getting an extra boost from his home fans. With Lopez slipping down the order a little, I think we will see a change of approach from Astana and they will allow their Basque men free…
Astana’s second Basque rider, Fraile is now a winner at both the Giro and the Tour. Can he add the Vuelta to his palmares? I would be surprised if we don’t see either him or Bilbao up the road tomorrow and they both have the potential to finish it off. On his day, Fraile can deliver some stunning performances on the steep slopes.
After finding himself in the break for three days in a row last week, where he finished inside the top 5 on every occasion, the Belgian had a couple of days off after that. He did come home in 11th place today in the TT which suggests that he has recovered well. Desperately wanting a stage win, the steep slopes of the finish climb tomorrow look suited to his characteristics. No doubt we’ll see a few BMC riders up the road, they have nothing else to do!
#FreeRickie. Once again on the finish of Covadonga it was Carapaz who was the last standing domestique for the GC riders. Like Bilbao, he seems to be riding himself into the race after a tough Giro. He’s proven to be one of the better climbers in the peloton and I hope Movistar give him a chance to shine tomorrow before he returns to domestique duties in the coming days after that.
His 5th place in the TT today would suggest that he has recovered from his crash the other day. Desperately wanting a stage win, the Pole now finds himself far enough down the order to not be a threat so he should actually be able to get into a breakaway that will be given some leeway. Can he deliver?
I think I might be being bold here by not including an Euskadi Murias rider as they will probably try to get their whole team up the road. Oh well!
Break to stay away and a Basque rider to claim victory…
On a side note, I’m really looking forward to the KOM battle over the coming days. Tomorrow will be crucial and could give some a few extra points they want and need. On paper Saturday is the most important day but if we are expecting a big GC showdown from the gun, the main crux of points could be gained tomorrow. Come on Tommy lad!
1pt on each of the break picks.
Kwiatkwoski at 66/1
Fraile and Teuns at 80/1
Carapaz and Bilbao at 100/1
Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think will win tomorrow and why? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.