Vuelta a España 2018 Stage 9 Preview: Talavera de la Reina -> La Covatilla

Today’s Recap

Positioning, positioning, positioning. The key to today’s finish. Some had it, some did not.

Unfortunately for the blog, Viviani certainly did not as he was in around 30-40th wheel coming through the roundabout so was never involved. A bit annoying as Quick Step seemed keen to chase the break all day but they were swamped at the end from 5km out and never managed to get some space. Some can argue that he wouldn’t have been up there fighting for the win but given the composition of the top 10 and his current season, I still think he would have been there, but opinions are opinions and we all have them. One thing is for certain, that’s two “sprint” days now that Quick Step have been out of position; very unlike them!

Anyway, up ahead, Lotto Jumbo were pulling hard to set up Van Poppel but it was Garcia who hit out early, hoping to catch everyone by surprise. No one really hesitated though and all he ended up doing was just leading the rest of the bunch out. Sagan was the first of the big hitters to go and it looked for a while as if he was going to get the stage win, but Valverde came round him in the last 50m, rather comfortably, to take his second victory of the race.

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Van Poppel managed to hold on for third with a real smorgasbord of sprinters/puncheurs/GC riders filtered behind them. Can Valverde make it two in a row? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Last day of racing before the first rest day and we are treated to the first mountain top finish of the race. Yes, we’ve had some hill-top finishes so far, you could even class Sierra de la Alfaguara as a mountain, but none have been as difficult as what awaits tomorrow.

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Over 4000m of climbing throughout the day, this is our first big GC test. Combining that with the heat, then we could see several riders pop on the final climb. Don’t expect any GC action until then though.

The opening trio of climbs come too far out for any early movement and they will more than likely just be the platform for the breakaway to push on and try to gain some time before the second half of the stage.

In that second half, the road is constantly up and down, making a chase slightly more difficult than it would be otherwise. The final 24km of the day are all mainly uphill, with a 9km stretch at 3% before the riders reach the proper start of the La Covatilla climb.

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The last time the Vuelta used this finish was in 2011 when Dan Martin out-sprinted Bauke Mollema to the line, with the remaining GC riders coming in not too far behind them. As you can see on the profile above, the steepest gradients come early and if a few riders hit out here then things could blow to bits. If not, we might see a slow attritional process before gaps are made in the final 2kms as riders attack.

Rather annoyingly though, the current weather forecast projects that there will be a reasonably strong cross/headwind (15km/h) on the climb. It might just be enough to deter many attacks, which would be a shame.

Break or GC winner?

Who wants to hold this one together then?

I think Molard and Groupama will have enjoyed their past few days in red but know that their time is numbered so they are more than likely to forego expending any unnecessary energy tomorrow. Likewise, I can’t really see many of the GC squads wanting to contribute. Possibly we could see Mitchelton and Bora help a chase as both Yates and Buchmann have looked good so far.

However, the brunt of the work will once again be left to Movistar. They have a big chance of taking the red jersey tomorrow with Valverde and given the headwind, he has a good chance of winning a sprint between the GC riders.

Yet, it is a long day out in the saddle and having both Quintana and Valverde in contention for the overall at the moment, and needing a few domestiques for the climbs means that they will be running low on riders to pull. It will certainly be a tough task for Bennati, Erviti and Oliveira to keep a strong break in check!

So. Here. We. Go. Again.

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The Cursed Four

Dan Martin.

The Irishman has been slowly riding himself into this race, hoping to target some stage wins before he more than likely abandons for the birth of his children. Struggling on the opening days, he has said that his form has started to come around and tomorrow looks perfect for him. He’s won here before and I have a feeling that he will have this day circled.

Richie Porte.

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After an illness plagued the opening few stages of this race, Porte is well out of contention for the overall, although there is a debate around whether he was in with a shout pre-race or not. He found himself in the rather odd position of being in a three-man break on stage 6, blowing the cobwebs out. On his day, he is one of the best climbers in the world and if he makes the break there will be very few who can beat him – if he is somewhere back to full fitness. That is a big “if” though.

Bauke Mollema.

Quite unlucky to have had a mechanical when in the winning move on stage 5 as he looked strong enough to drop everyone on the climb. He’s rested the past few days with the intention of making the break tomorrow and giving it all for the stage win. Could we see a showdown between him and Dan Martin again?

Dani Moreno.

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Rolland is probably one of the designated breakaway riders for EF Education but I think Moreno will be given his chance at some point and he might be allowed to go for the move too and they will just see who gets there: someone does need to stay back and support Uran. As I mentioned the other day when nominating Moreno, he is in search of a contract for next year so needs some good performances. A stage win at the Vuelta would all but secure that. Can he roll back the years?

Prediction

No one wants to control the break on what is a long day and history repeats itself with Dan Martin winning atop La Covatilla.

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Betting

1.25pt WIN Martin @ 50/1

1pt WIN Mollema @ 33/1

0.75pt WIN Porte @ 80/1

0.5pt WIN Moreno @ 300/1

Thanks as always for reading. Who do you think wins tomorrow? Will the break fight it out for the stage win or will it be the GC riders? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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