Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 14 Preview

A relatively tame day by Vuelta standards saw a rare bunch sprint on the streets of Tomares. Matteo Trentin bested Gianni Moscon to take his third stage win of the race. Tomorrow sees the riders return to the mountains, a pivotal GC day on the cards…

Trentin takes his third, and Quickstep’s fifth, stage win of the race. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

Stage Thirteen Review

After a hectic past couple of stages, the peloton were more than content with rolling over the first half of the day’s route. An elite quintet did form a breakaway, including the likes of De Marchi, Gougeard and De Gendt , but struggled to gain any momentum on the flatter roads.

A Quickstep lead bunch kept the escape on a tight leash, not allowing the elite rouleurs any breathing room. Coming into the finale, only De Gendt and De Marchi remained, a 40 second buffer on the group behind the only advantage they could possibly stretch out.

De Gendt soon succumbed to cramp and left the Italian forging ahead alone. De Marchi put in a spirited effort, but he proved no match to the rampaging peloton, flying straight out of the back of the group at the 8km mark.

Multiple teams mobbed the head of the bunch going into the final 5km, the numerous roundabouts proving pivotal in deciding the outcome of the stage. As the peloton hit the climb, Bob Jungels soared to the front and set a fierce tempo, preventing any real attacks from launching.

Alexey Lutsenko attempted a late move but was soon hindered by an accidental gear change. Jungels roped him back into the peloton and soon gave way to Alaphilippe who lead the way for Trentin behind.

Kragh Anderesen opened up the sprint but was soon overhauled by Trentin nearing the line. The Dane went onto claim third on the stage, the second spot stolen by a late charging Gianni Moscon, the Sky rider proving that he can mix it in both the mountains and the bunch sprints.

Trentin does the triple. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

Trentin took his third stage win of the race and Quickstep’s fifth, taking their Grand Tour tally up to an impressive 15 for the 2017 season.

Froome finished safely in the front group, actually crossing the line seventh among the other sprinters. A few GC contenders lost a few seconds to the Brit in splits further down the road, Zakarin and De La Cruz both losing 7 seconds at the finish line.

Stage Fourteen Preview

After the ‘relative’ relaxation of today’s stage, the riders will once again be thrust straight back into the mountains tomorrow; a HC summit finish poised and ready to blow up the GC race…

The Route: Ecija –> La Pandera (175km)

Stage 14 Profile. CREDIT:

A profile that seems to climb right from the word ‘go’, this is going to be one tough stage for each and every rider in the bunch.

A rolling start should catalyse a large breakaway, climbers eager to hold off the peloton up the testing final climb. The Cat 3 ascent just after the 75km mark will slowly ease the riders into what they’re still to face later in the day; 9km at 3.8% is a long slog however and could see a few riders suffer if the pace is high.

The roads then gradually climb all the way to the base of the next categorised climb, bad news for any single team trying to control the whole race. Multiple teams will need to take up the pacemaking if they’re to catch any escaping breakaway group…

Another lengthy climb stands in the way of the riders and the final ascent of the day, an 8.5km climb averaging around 4.8% all the way to the summit. From there, it’s a swift descent and 5km of rolling roads before the bunch reaches the foot of the infamous La Pandera climb.

The infamous La Pandera… CREDIT:

The giant is a relatively new climb on La Vuelta, making it’s first appearance in 2002. Since then it’s revisited a further 4 times, each stage winner regarded as pure mountain goats of their times. Tomorrow should see a similar type of rider conquer the hellish slopes, with double digit gradients just before the summit, only a small selection of riders will be able to survive.

The climb stretches for 12km at an average of 7.8%, a true Spanish brute. The GC contenders will rely on their teammates on the lower slopes, but once they near the finish it’ll likely come down to every man for himself.

At the summit, riders will be faced with a sharp descent before an 8% ramp to the finish. This should provide one entertaining finale, especially if a small group of riders reach the summit together; each will hope to hit the final ramps with enough momentum to propel them up and over the line, all energy will be gone by this point, gravity will be both their enemy and loyalest friend…

To chase or not to chase? That is the Team Sky question…

After being left to the majority of the pulling so far in this race, it comes as no surprise that Team Sky have allowed so many breakaways to steal a stage win. Chris Froome currently leads this race and doesn’t feel much need to really waste energy to tow back a futile breakaway, so there lies the question: why chase?

Orica and Trek are two of the GC teams that have attempted a few moves in this race, but after none of them managed to really dislodge Froome’s position in the overall, they’ve been left thinking of alternative ways of attack.

Moscon leads the charge. CREDIT:

This all leaves one massive ultimatum, Team Sky can’t chase a breakaway alone, but then again other teams are unwilling to help out as they don’t want to tow Froome all the way to the finish with teammates still in abundance…

As expected, this plays perfectly into the hands of the breakaway, tomorrow looking like another day for the opportunists to snatch a stage win.

The break may be tough to join, giving the rolling nature of the first half of the route and the fast pace likely laid down on the flatter roads; but if they can use the Cat 3 climb to good effect, they may just stretch out a race winning gap. If a couple of strong climbers can team up with the resilient rouleurs, you have yourself one race winning breakaway group…

They’ll need at least five minutes at the foot of the final climb to be certain of a stage win however, the GC fight will inevitably erupt at the lower slopes and rage right until the summit.

In terms of the GC battle, this is yet another pivotal day on the race, a HC summit finish the perfect recipe for monumental mountain showdowns. Contador has proven himself over the past couple of stages and looks in stellar form to launch yet another stellar attack, expect Trek to fly into the final climb at pace.

Contador sets the race alight with a surging attack on the Alto Xorret de Cati. CREDIT: BettiniPhoto

Nibali is another danger to Froome and a rider that may just try something tomorrow. The climb is a perfect length for the Italian and gives him multiple opportunities to forge away from the red jersey. Bahrain will be another team swamping the head of the peloton come the run in to La Pandera.

With the true giants of the sport, Froome, Contador and Nibali battling it out at the front of affairs, the GC will inevitably be decimated behind, expect the top ten to see a lot of chop and changing come the finish…

The Contenders

With a HC summit finish on the menu tomorrow, it comes as no surprise that the main favourites are synonymous with the strongest GC contenders.

One rider on stellar climbing form is race leader himself, Chris Froome. The Brit conquered the summit finish on stage 9 and finished second to Miguel Angel Lopez on stage 11’s uphill finale. His climbing form is clear for all to see, but after two hard crashes on stage 12, will he go into tomorrow’s ascent ready to compete for the win?

A lot will lie with his team, despite being one of the greatest grand tour riders in a generation, Froome arguably needs an elite team of riders behind him to account for his mishaps and moments of fatigue. Moscon, Poels and Nieve have proved pivotal in this race and should continue to provide a similar service tomorrow.

Froome conquers the steep summit finish on stage 9. CREDIT:

However, they can only get so far up La Pandera; as the ramps climb to double digits around 3km before the finish, Froome will likely be left alone and vulnerable to attacks from the other GC contenders…

Alberto Contador will either prove to be Froome’s greatest friend, or fiercest enemy tomorrow. The two have partnered up in the past to distance riders close to Froome in the GC; but with Vincenzo Nibali the one looking to take the fight to Froome tomorrow, will Contador jump ship and follow the Italian’s attack?

With this being the final race of his career, there is simply nothing to lose for the veteran Spaniard. He’s a rider that wears his heart on his sleeve and will attack at any moment, the double digit gradients likely providing the launchpad for a classic ‘El Pistolero’ attack.

The ‘Shark of Messina’ is a rider who will be looking to latch onto such an attack and could just usurp the red jersey come the finish line. He lies 59 seconds off Froome and is the only rider within the pivotal ‘two minute gap’. If Froome encounters a bad patch, or Nibali is on a flyer, we could just see a different wearer of the leader’s jersey tomorrow.

Nibali is slowly working his way into some strong form in this race. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

Orica Scott have probed in this race but are yet to really set the race alight with their wacky tactics. Their roster is crammed full of talent but at the moment, the Aussie team look like they don’t quite know how to wield their superior weapon.

Jack Haig will be their man for an early breakaway or attack on the lower slopes, a perfect bridge for Esteban Chaves later on. The Yates twins will try their utmost to act as foils, but with Simon visibly fatigued and Adam currently having a hard time sticking with the other GC men, the British pair may just fall silent once again tomorrow.

Wilco Kelderman is a silent threat for tomorrow’s stage win; the Dutchman has been lingering all race and is slowly working his way into a provisional podium position. He’s matched Chris Froome on the summit finishes and has consistently come home in front of all the decisive splits.

His ability on ascents like these is relatively unknown, especially in the position of team leader. This unknown ability could play right into his hands, if Froome, Nibali and Contador don’t know how to gauge his effort, Kelderman may just disappear out of sight.

A consistent finisher, time for a stage win? CREDIT:

Aside from the GC contenders, a few of the peloton’s top opportunists go into tomorrow’s stage as top favourites. Darwin Atapuma and Romain Bardet were away together on stage 11 before they were swiftly caught before the summit. The pair could try again tomorrow, praying that the GC contenders give them enough time to play with at the base of the final climb.

Bardet is out of the GC fight and is purely riding for a stage win, hoping to salvage something from this race for AG2R after Pozzovivo was forced to abandon. Atapuma is on the hunt for mountain points and a haul at the summit should take him within touching distance of the KOM jersey; perfect motivation to ride for the stage win.

Other possible breakaway candidates include Enric Mas, Rui Costa, Rafal Majka and Richard Carapaz. All have been off the front at some point in this race but have yet to really stamp their authority on the race. Mas will be riding the way Quickstep ride best, aggressively. Costa will play the silent assassain as Majka attempts to haul himself up the steepest of gradients.

The real wildcard among the group is Carapaz. The Ecuadorian is a relatively new name on the pro cycling scene and his ability against top WT professionals on HC climbs is unknown; he’s a diminutive rider and should excel on the steepest gradients, just watch this space…

Race Prediction

The big GC teams will wage war going into the lower slopes of the final climb but this will come at an inevitable cost. That cost will be a slow start during the first half of the stage which should inevitably give the breakaway a chance to build an unassailable lead.

Carapaz to breakthrough for Movistar. CREDIT: Movistar-Team

One rider hoping to infiltrate the race winning break, or late attack move, will be Movistar rider, Richard Carapaz. The Spanish team are eager to regain their team classification prize and will be flooding each and every move.

Carapaz to solo to victory on La Pandera!

Who do you think will take tomorrow’s stage? Agree with our prediction? If you enjoyed this stage preview, make sure you’re following InsideThePeloton on Twitter for all further updates on this year’s Vuelta! Any feedback, as always, is greatly appreciated…