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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Vuelta a España 2017 Stage 9 Preview; Orihuela -> Cumbre del Sol

Today’s Recap

Once again the breakaway stayed away to contest the stage. I really thought that some of the other GC teams would chip in and help Sky chase but it was not to be! As much as I love a breakaway, it is going to make the remaining two weeks long in terms of preview writing. Although I guess we can view it as getting to watch a race on two fronts, if we’re trying to be positive about it all!

Majka and Alaphalippe were the strongest riders on Xorret de Catí in the break, but they played a very tactical game; constantly stalling and then attacking. This allowed Polanc to come back on the descent but in the end, the outcome was inevitable in a sprint finish to the line.

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The Frenchman won the stage with Polanc pipping Majka for second.

Behind, Froome made his way up the GC group on the climb and ended up dropping everyone except Contador, with the Trek rider regaining contact just as they crested. While their attacks were strong, they only gained 17 and 28 seconds on the majority of their competitors. It leaves the top 5 within a minute of the race lead, with all of the top 10 less than 2 minutes behind Froome.

Plenty still to play for as we head into our final stage before the first rest day.

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

Lots of flat ->short, steep climb -> flat -> longer version of short, steep climb.

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The riders won’t face many difficulties in terms of terrain tomorrow apart from the Alto de Puig Llorança. Although with this being the Vuelta, a fairly flat day still has almost 2000m of elevation gain.

On their first passage, they’ll almost complete the full climb but continue straight on instead of turning off.

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The final ascent averages 10.2% for 3.7km with maximum ramps of 23%. It’s another steep one!

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Used back in the 2015 Vuelta, tomorrow’s route is pretty much a carbon copy of that route.

Dumoulin won that day with Froome second, will the Brit go one better tomorrow?

How will the stage pan out?

With the stage travelling along the coast, I had high hopes for some crosswinds and echelon action.

However, that doesn’t appear to be on the cards. We will get some crosswinds at points on the route, but at only 12km/h or so, I can’t see them being of any effect.

There will be a headwind in parts too tomorrow which could be bad news for the break. Although that was apparently the conditions they were facing today and that didn’t hinder their motivation and ability to fight out for the stage.

As mentioned above, I was shocked that we didn’t get a team like Trek help Sky chase down the break so that Contador could go for the stage win. I guess in the long run it is a good tactic, as it will wear the current leader’s team-mates down; with the aim of hoping to benefit from it later in the race.

I also thought Sky would want Froome to get a stage win, but they seem fairly content at doing the bare minimum to retain the jersey to counter-act the tactics employed by the other teams (see above point). Maybe they’ll hope he’ll take the TT? We can’t have a Tour-Vuelta winner not take home a stage in either race!

Nonetheless, tomorrow will be probably be a rinse and repeat of today’s stage.

Big fight early on to get into the break -> assess who is there -> no one of real danger then Sky will let the gap grow -> no other team takes up the chase with them -> race on two fronts.

Time to play that game. Again.

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Break Candidates

The issue with tomorrow’s stage is that the first part of the race is conducive for a completely different rider to make the move compared to one who would excel on the final climb. Well, traditionally that’s how it is!

With the flat start we should see a lot of strong men in the peloton make the move, with a few more natural climbers littered in the mix too.

Tactics will then important as there are almost 40kms from the summit of the first passage until the foot slopes of the final assault. We could well see a situation where someone attacks from further out and holds on a la Lutsenko.

So once again I’ll throw a few darts into the mix…

Jaime Roson.

Strong in Burgos recently, the Caja rider was somewhat in GC contention a few stages earlier so would never have been allowed much freedom to go on the attack. However, he now sits at 5 minutes down and should be given a lot more leeway. A punchy climber who should be able to cope with this type of ascent. He packs a fast sprint at the top of a climb which could see him take the win!

Luis Leon Sanchez.

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The term “pissed off” was probably an understatement as to how the Astana rider was feeling after his complete miscalculation on Stage 6. The legs are clearly there but he’ll have to more astute this time around. A rider who fits the bill of “good rouleur but strong on the climbs” perfectly, I’d be surprised not to see him up the road tomorrow.

Jack Haig.

He was Orica’s 4th rider in the top 16 at the close of yesterday’s stage, but an untimely puncture at the bottom of the final climb today saw him drop way out of contention. Orica have been relatively conservative in terms of their tactics so far, not even making it in the break yet. But with their triple threat not firing on all cylinders, they might have to change things up.

Marc Soler.

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Arguably the strongest rider in the break on the final climb Stage 5, it is a shame he started so far behind Lutsenko. He’s stuck with the GC group the past few days and he even put in a couple of digs early on the climb today. His form seems to be on the up and if he comes to the climb in a group then he will be tough to beat on the ascent!

Vuelta Picks

Safe Pick – Aru (Any GC rider)

Same logic as for today’s stage, pick someone who will be finishing near the front of the GC riders and forgot about a possible break win. This also applies to those who are hoping to play it more conservatively for the KOM competition.

Wongshot – Soler (Any Break rider)

Once again, same as today. Be bold, chase those stage wins and let me win that KOM prize 😉

Lanterne Rouge Pick – Vanbilsen

Name in a hat.

Prediction

Orica to be attacking and Haig to take the win!

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With the way that Orica are riding just now, they are on course for a bit of a “close but no cigar” Vuelta. Chaves/Yates/Yates aren’t cuasing Froome too much concern at the moment. The Colombian is doing well sitting in second place, but he seems to almost be content with a podium and I can’t see him taking any leaps forward tomorrow. Hunting for a stage win and getting it will take the pressure off the team and the confidence could help their leaders. Haig himself was very impressive in Poland, taking his first ever pro win. He was an exceptionally talented junior and it seems to have now translated into his professional career. Will his first win soon be followed up by his first GT stage?!

Betting

Soler and LLS are too short for my liking with an unpredictable stage so I’m going to change them out for a couple of longer shots…It’s also the weekend so yolo…

0.8pt EW Haig @ 150/1

0.4pt EW Roson @ 150/1 

0.3pt EW Ludvigsson @ 400/1

0.5pt EW Bennett @ 125/1

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow? Will we once again see a break make it all the way? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.