Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 15 Preview

Yet another profitable day for the breakaway, Rafal Majka surviving to the summit of the infamous La Pandera to claim an illusive stage victory. The GC battle lit up behind, the three giants of Froome, Nibali and Contador punishing the rest…

Majka finally takes his stage win, redemption for his crash in the Tour de France. CREDIT: EurosportUK

Stage Fourteen Review

Despite the rolling nature at the start of the day, an elite escape group managed to form and soon took out a commanding lead, touching the magical eight minute mark. The ten man group contained some serious climbing talent, David Villella on the hunt for KOM points and Bora teammates, Konrad and Majka, eager to claim a stage win for their German team.

The trio lead the breakaway for much of the day, but as they reached the foot of the penultimate climb of the day, the gap swiftly came tumbling down. Bahrain, Trek, Orica and Sky all committed men to the chase to bring back the dangerous escape, spelling the doom for each and every rider in the escape.

An elite trio lead onto the foot of the infamous La Pandera climb, Majka, De Clerq and Costa. The Pole lead the other two and always looked the stronger; as soon as the gap to the peloton behind ducked under 1:30, he accelerated out of sight.

As Kirby (Eurosport Commentator) continued to describe the various ways he would eat his hat post stage, Majka continued to plow up the steep ramps, actually extending his lead on the chasing peloton behind.

Froome continues the chase alone. CREDIT: TeamSky

A flurry of attacks soon saw the lead in question, Contador, Nibali, Bardet and Chaves all putting in digs off the front. But as the groups came back together and the pace slowed, Majka once again pulled out the gap; much to the despair of Kirby’s hat…

The high pace and continuous attacks put many GC riders into difficulty, Aru, Woods and De La Cruz all losing vital time. Angel Lopez was the final rider to put in an attack and due to his lower place on GC, he was allowed a little rope.

The Colombian accelerated after Majka but could only place second behind him on the line, the Pole taking the win in emphatic fashion after being the sole surivor of the early breakaway.

Nibali lead home the sprint for third as he finished alongside Froome and Kelderman, keeping the fight for the podium positions alive and well.

Froome retains red but conceeds a handful of seconds to Nibali on the line. CREDIT: TeamSky

Tomorrow sees the riders head to an arguably tougher summit finish, the climb of Sierra Nevada will certainly be feared by each and every rider on the startline tomorrow…

Stage Fifteen Preview

It’s as if the race organisers have taken the exact recipe from today’s stage and simply doubled it, cruelly placing a Cat 1 climb (with no following descent) directly before a HC ascent; true torture…

Stage 15 Profile. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

At only 130km in length, this is set to be an aggressive stage with many GC upsets; the racing will start from the gun, especially if enough teams band together to take the fight to Chris Froome and Team Sky.

After 57km of relatively flat roads, the peloton will stare down the first climb of the day, a Cat 1 ascent up the Alto de Hazallanas. 16.3km at 5.5% will be tough, but what sets this climb apart is it’s final, brutal 7km to the summit. This section of the ascent averages around 10% and some ramps even top out at 22%.

The irregular Alto de Hazallanas. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

A long descent then takes the riders to the exciting finale, a duo of truly tortuous climbs. The Alto de Purche and final climb to Sierra Nevada are intrinsically linked, just as the Galibier and Telegraphe are in the Tour de France. This duet is the Spanish equivalent, albeit a whole lot steeper…

Taken separately, the Purche climbs for 8.5km at an average gradient of 8%. The gradient remains relatively constant throughout and doesn’t ramp up to the 20s, allowing for the climbers to settle into some sort of rhythm. Once they make the ascent however, there will be no descent to regain their strengths; straight onto the final climb of the day!

Consistent all the way up, the Alto del Purche. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

The climb to Sierra Nevada is an incredibly tough climb alone, but when coupled with the Purche, the behemoth tops out at 28.4km at an average of 5.9%…someone hold my bidon.

The steepest ramps come at the base of the final ascent, 10% ramps providing perfect launchpads for any daring attackers. Aside from the steeper lower slopes, the rest of the climb is relatively constant, averaging around 6.5% to the summit.

The final climb of the day… CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

As the riders enter the final few kilometres, the percentages will shallow and could allow a few riders to rejoin the back of the GC group. Any decisive attacks will need to be made before this flatter section, if a rider wants to take time, it will require an ‘all in’ attack on the steepest slopes…

The percentages aren’t exaclty what will break the riders tomorrow, more the sheer distance and time climbing in the saddle. The purer climbers are going to have to try their hardest to break the rhythms of the other GC contenders tomorrow, only then will they be able to take time.

A Royal GC Rumble

Whilst today did light the embers of a big GC battle, it didn’t exactly catch alight and cascade many riders out of the red jersey fight. Nibali, Contador, Froome, Kelderman and Lopez all finished around the same time, failing to put any significant gaps between themselves.

Tomorrow should be a different story; this is the stage that many teams have been waiting for and could be an explanation as to why some teams were a little reserved on today’s stage, despite the summit finish.

We should be in for a treat tomorrow… CREDIT: InsideThePeloton

With it being such a short stage, there will be a lot of motivation from many teams to break the race early on. It may seem as though the Alto de Hazallanas comes midway through the stage, but with only 60km or so remaining after the summit, it isn’t a totally unrealistic place to attack from.

The climb is also the steepest that the peloton will face all day and there will be added pressure for the purer climbers to use the ramps to their advantage. Contador, Chaves, even De La Cruz, will all fancy an early attack on these steeper slopes, possibly catching the likes of Froome, Nibali and Kelderman off guard.

Sky will inevitably do as Sky do, ride tempo. The ownness to explode the race therefore befalls the other GC teams, Orica, Trek, Astana and Movistar all key players in igniting tomorrow’s GC showdown.

Each will try to place a man in the early escape and flood it with climbing talent, Haig, Soler, Hernandez and Bilbao all likely to feature. Even though the break will inevitably be doomed, the advantage of having a man up the road to bridge to will be a massive help come the finale.

Attacks from the GC men will fly left right and centre, up all three of tomorrow’s major climbs. The real dangerous moves will be those that go on the Purche. If a rider can get a sizeable gap coming onto the final climb, it won’t be difficult for them to settle into a rhythm and slowly chip away more seconds from those riders behind.

Contador’s already exploited the chinks in the armor of Team Sky, will he try again tomorrow? CREDIT: BettiniPhoto

The victor at the summit will likely be one of these opportunistic GC riders, not only will they have to be strong, but they’ll also have to be brave; it’s a long way to the top…(if you want to rock and roll (Dewey Finn et al. 2003))

With the race nearing it’s climax, all teams are against Sky; if there is a time to rip the jersey from Chris Froome’s shoulders, it’s now. Expect many to form partnerships tomorrow to try and isolate the Brit before the final climb. Team Sky have been found out on short stages like this in the past, will their kryptonite rear it’s ugly head once again tomorrow?

The Contenders

As they did yesterday, it’s the top GC contenders that fill the list of main favourites for tomorrow’s stage victory. With many missing out on the chance of a win today, there will surely be extra motivation to chase down any breakaway stragglers up the final 28.4km double climb…

Race leader, Chris Froome, wasn’t as animated on today’s summit finish, rather choosing to follow wheels all the way to the top of the climb. He never appeared in too much difficulty but may have just been hiding a few aches and pains, especially after his stage 12 crash.

The Brit will relish the final double ascent, a long climb with a relatively consistent gradient is perfect for his skillset. Whilst many of the purer climbers will attack on the steeper earlier slopes, Froome can just bide his time and wait until the final climb before simply riding every other rider off his wheel.

Froome concedes a handful of seconds at the finish due to his duo of crashes in the finale. CREDIT: Eurosport

Third on today’s stage, Vincenzo Nibali is slowly riding himself into an extremely strong period of form. A time bonus for third place now edges him slightly closer to Froome’s red jersey; a well timed attack tomorrow could potentially be enough to usurp the leader’s position.

Bahrain, like Nibali, have slowly ramped up their efforts in this race and now appear to be one of the key players in the overall GC battle. Pellizotti and Agnoli will prove to be vital assets on tomorrow’s stage and may just be two of the riders that make the early move.

Nibali doesn’t need much team support around him, his team will be of much better use further up the road…

The third GC giant, Alberto Contador, isn’t exactly the biggest threat to red, or even the podium positions; but with his notoriety as one of the classiest GT riders of a generation, he just cannot ever be discounted. Today he followed Nibali’s attacks but never came through to take a turn, flashes of fatigue? Or was he in fact saving himself for tomorrow’s, arguably, tougher stage?

He’s already called on the likes of Theuns and Hernandez on previous stages to act as bridges to attack to and will surely use them in a similar way tomorrow. If he wants to claw back enough time to contend for the podium, he’ll have to go wild and attack on the first climb.

Time to ignite the race and end his career on a high. CREDIT: DiarioAS

The Astana team camp will find themselves with some re-thinking to do after today’s exploits in the saddle. As Fabio Aru seemingly goes backwards, Miguel Angel Lopez has shot to the fore and dragged the Kazakh team out of the dirt.

The diminutive Colombian took stage 11 in spectacular fashion, launching a devastating attack on the steepest ramps near the summit. He replicated this move on today’s stage, the prospect of a second stage win within grasping distance. Unfortunately the attack just came a little too late and he missed the catch to Majka by 27 seconds, gaining 4 seconds on the small GC group behind.

Now lying at 10th overall, the Astana rider has a GC position to defend as well as hunting stage wins. Astana would be wise to give him free reign tomorrow, there’s no point in using him to protect an already faltering Aru…

Another top GC rider that rode to an impressive result today was Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman. The young Dutchman is on the form of his life and his shadowing his way to a possible podium position come Madrid. Whilst he hasn’t launched any real attacks of his own, he has been able to match the attacks of others, particularly on the steepest ramps.

Kelderman is looking to learn from Dumoulin’s Giro win and apply it to this year’s Vuelta. CREDIT: Nos

Following wheels may just serve the Dutchman well tomorrow; as long as he can stick with the purer climbers on the tougher gradients, he shouldn’t struggle too much with the consistent ramps of the final climb. Kelderman is biding all of his time for Monday’s ITT and won’t risk expending all of his energy tomorrow.

One rider who has silently ridden away his poor form of the first week is Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin. The Russian rider finished among the Froome group on today’s stage and has managed to work his way up to fourth place overall, only 8 seconds away from a provisional podium position.

The prospect of a podium should motivate Zakarin to attack tomorrow; he doesn’t have much in the way of team support, but if he can replicate some of his Giro form, he may just prove dangerous for the stage win.

After losing a sizable amount of time on today’s stage, a number of GC contenders will be praying for some stronger legs tomorrow. The only way they’re going to claw this lost time back is to attack, expect the likes of Michael Woods, David de La Cruz and Esteban Chaves to be animated tomorrow.

Chaves will be praying for some stronger legs tomorrow. CREDIT: CyclingTips

Whilst tomorrow’s stage looks set to become a battle between the GC giants, it is possible that an early attacker reaps the rewards at the finish. The breakaway will be large, filled with climbing domestiques from all the big GC teams; if a climber with no larger team objectives can sneak into the move, they may just go undetected until the finish.

Riders who may just infiltrate the break and be strong enough to survive until the finish include, Igor Anton, Stephen Kruisjwijk, Stefan Denifl, Marc Soler and Jan Polanc. All of them are eager to claim a stage win and none will be hampered by waiting for their team leader tomorrow.

Race Prediction

The racing will explode from the gun, a selection of GC contenders attempting to jump into the early move. If it works, Sky are caught off guard and lose many riders on the chase, if it fails, Sky still expend some energy to pull the dangerous move back; win win!

Movistar, Bahrain, Trek and Orica will hit the first climb at pace, each one of them eager to isolate Froome on the steeper ramps. By the time the race reaches the base of the Purche, the GC group will be shattered and no more than 15 riders strong.

The shark will resurface tomorrow and take another stage victory. CREDIT: Cyclist.co.uk

With little assistance to call upon, Froome will make himself vulnerable to attacks. One rider looking to take some big ‘bites’ out of his lead tomorrow will be Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian prefers a lengthy continuous climb and will relish the opportunity to lay down a fierce tempo and shed each and every GC rider off his wheel.

Nibali for the stage win and possible leader’s jersey atop Sierra Nevada!

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…