Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 16 Preview

With Miguel ‘Superman’ Lopez taking yet another mountain stage win, there’s one rider slowly affirming himself as the top climber in this race. Elsewhere, Froome heads into his favoured territory, a 40.2km ITT test…

Lopez taking his second stage win of the race in emphatic fashion. CREDIT: GettyImages

Stage Fifteen Review

Despite being billed as the Queen stage of this year’s Vuelta, the 15th stage never really got the ball rolling. An elite breakaway formed early on with the likes of Trentin and Theuns some of the big names. A lack of climbing talent really hindered the breakaway and soon it was only Lotto Soudal’s Sander Armee left.

As the Belgian crested the first significant climb of the day, the Alto de Hazallanas, a small group of riders attacked from the head of the Astana lead peloton behind. Among them were Adam Yates, Romain Bardet and Steven Kruisjwijk.

As Astana lifted the pace, a few of the GC contenders soon became stragglers, falling out of the back of the bunch. Irishman, Nicolas Roche was the first to feel the pinch and fell away from his GC rivals with 58km still left to race.

The Alto del Purche came next and provided the launchpad for a traditional Alberto Contador move. The Spaniard attacked, followed by Miguel Angel Lopez, and soon caught the duo of Kruiskwijk and Bardet, Yates previously attacking and soloing on alone.

Yates peers behind as he slowly sees his lead slip away. CREDIT: CyclingNews

With 11km of the day left to race, and 1:30 in hand over the peloton behind, it appeared as though the Brit might have just made it, but an acceleration from the diminutive Colombian, Lopez, soon spelt the end for his stage win dreams. As soon as the Orica rider was passed he ceased pedaling, emphasising the effort he had just gone through.

As Lopez pulled more and more time out of those behind, the Froome lead peloton swiftly re-absorbed Bardet, Kruisjwijk and Contador. Going into the final kilometre, the Colombians victory was never in doubt and soon it became a squabble for second and third place on the line.

Zakarin put in a characteristic last minute attack to grab a handful of seconds and usurp the third step on the podium from Kelderman. The Dutchman then won the sprint for third but it proved a little too late as Zakarin managed to jump past him on the GC by virtue of a 3 second lead.

Contador fell away in the final 400m as Nibali became slightly distanced in the final sprint, music to the ears of Chris Froome who put more seconds into his fiercest rivals.

Today sees the riders head into Froome’s favoured territory; can he affirm his victory here? Or could another rider possibly throw a spanner into Team Sky’s works?

Stage Sixteen Preview

Stage 15’s killer ascent to Sierra Nevada was billed as the big chance for the pure climbers to take the fight to Chris Froome, hindering his lead before he could then add to it in the ITT. Instead, each one looked at one another as Froome gleefully rode on their wheels, content in the knowledge that he would stamp on each and every one come the ITT…

The Route: Los Arcos –> Logrono (40.2km ITT)

Stage 16 Profile. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

The riders will fly down the ramp onto perfect road conditions, the Circuito De Navarra F1 track providing the surface for the first couple of kilometres. The long sweeping bends and fast surfaces will allow the real specialists to gain some momentum going into the hillier middle section of the course.

The climbs aren’t too tough and no rider will be trading their TT machine for a road bike, but they certainly shouldn’t be underestimated. At kilometre 15.4, the riders will face a 500m climb of around 7% where it then flattens slightly to 4.5% up to the 17th kilometre. The percentages then get a little steeper as a few 10% ramps are thrown in to upset the rhythm of many riders.

After the 25th kilometre, the riders will stop ascending and make their way to the long descent to the finale. The downhill isn’t without it’s interruptions however, and a few riders may struggle to pick up the necessary speed in this section.

A lumpy run into the finish. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

The final 3km are played out on rolling terrain, a few 3% and 7% sections for the riders to deal with before they tackle the 200m 3% false flat to the finish line.

Weather wise, the conditions don’t look to differ too much from the first rider down the ramp to the last, aside from the wind slowly changing from a cross tail to a full on tail wind later in the day.

Whilst this will benefit the riders higher up on the GC, it certainly won’t impede those further behind and we could realistically see an early starter claim the win today…

Who will be licking their lips?

This is a proper powerhouse TT with a few sections for the technically gifted riders to shine. At 40.2km in length, riders will have to be very cosy with their TT bikes to post a good time, we won’t get many fast sprinters posting fast times today…

There are a handful of strong rouleurs in this race that have been waiting for this stage for the past two weeks, FDJ potentially saving this day as their stage to dominate. Whilst most of the eyes will be on the GC fight, someone like Tobias Ludvigsson may just be able to sneak in and set an unbeatable time.

Froome will look to take both the stage win and one further step into confirming the leader’s jersey. CREDIT: Graham Watson

In terms of the GC showdown, this is both Froome’s stage to win, but also to lose. Many expect him to take handfuls of time on his rivals, as does the Brit himself; but one wrong move, mechanical or crash, and Froome suddenly sees his advantage stripped away.

The course isn’t overly technical however, and even a rider as clumsy as Froome should find it relatively easy to get round safely. Riders looking to possibly come close include Kelderman, Nibali and Contador. Zakarin can put in a half decent TT on his day but nothing to match the likes of these TT specialists.

Unless your name is one of these riders, the ITT is going to be one horrific experience…

The Contenders

With Rohan Dennis abandoning the race on the eve of his favoured ITT discipline, the mantle of main favourite inevitably befalls the race leader, Chris Froome. His record in Grand Tour ITTs is simply incredible, seemingly choosing just the right moments to pull out an absolute flyer.

The Brit won last year’s Vuelta ITT as he went on to secure his second place overall. He’ll be looking to go one better today and use the ITT to confirm his lead in the red jersey. Whilst he may have wavered slightly over the past couple of stages, a few crashes and a slight spark lost from his climbing ability, he can never be discounted from a test against the clock.

In last year’s race he looked extremely fatigued going into the ITT and many expected him to crack under the workload; but he proved all the doubters wrong and crushed the previous fastest time of the day, taking the stage win in emphatic fashion. When Froome needs to step up and win a stage, that is exactly what Froome will do; he’s the most dangerous man tomorrow…

The newly crowned Belgian champion will be eager to show of his stripes. CREDIT: Wielerflits

One of his closest rivals for the stage win comes in the form of Quickstep rider and stage 2 winner, Yves Lampaert. The Belgian already has the confidence of a stage win under his belt and has also slowly been preparing for this stage all race.

In setting the pace at the head of the peloton for Matteo Trentin in the sprint stages, Lampaert has ridden himself into some amazing TT form. The course suits him down to a tee and he shouldn’t struggle on the gradients, he has a large enough engine that should easily haul him over.

One of the GC riders expected to push Froome close will be Dutchman, Wilco Kelderman. Before focussing on the GC, Kelderman was a proficient TTer, claiming the Dutch national title in 2015. His experience on the TT bike will be vital tomorrow, especially given the long nature of the course.

His main priority will be to re-take his provisional podium position, a three second margin over Zakarin all he needs. He won’t, and shouldn’t, stop there however; with Nibali only 1:10 ahead, this is one of his only chances to peg back time on the Italian and possibly take the runner up spot on the podium.

Kelderman is a proficient TTer with a touch of GC class. CREDIT: Wikipedia

Back in his day, this would have been a perfect ITT for Alberto Contador, the Spaniard excelling on long powerhouse courses despite the lack of uphill kilometres. However, if there was one thing that he would like tomorrow it would be a hill, he needs the tough gradients to really take time and punish the other riders around him.

Both Aru and Woods are within 40 seconds of the Spaniard, a deficit that Contador could soon turn into an advantage within the space of 40km. Depending on how Miguel Angel Lopez tackles tomorrow’s ITT test, Contador could just end the day in 6th place and within touching distance of the podium positions.

Vincenzo Nibali may just prove to be the fastest of the other GC contenders, with Ilnur Zakarin running him close. Neither will threaten for the stage win, but they will be the only GC men to possibly limit Froome to under two minutes.

Aside from the big GC names, a whole host of other riders, across many different disciplines, may just surprise tomorrow. Stef Clement has slowly ridden himself close to the top 20 in this race and has been quitely impressing with his mountain form.

After working all race for Froome, tomorrow is Moscon’s chance to shine. CREDIT: GettyImages

His legs are clearly there and should be ready for today’s ITT. A recent 2nd place in the national championships to none other than Tom Dumoulin clearly highlight the Dutchman’s ability. Lotto NL Jumbo may finally pull something out of the bag tomorrow…

Other outside contenders also include Bob JungelsNelson Oliviera, Gianni Moscon, Lennard Kamna and Tobias Ludvigsson. Each have spent their time working for their leaders in this race, today is their chance to ride for themselves and possibly take a prestigious GT stage win.

Race Prediction

Chris Froome may be the overwhelming favourite, and the Quickstep duo of Yves Lampart and Bob Jungels the only likely stage winning successors; but what about the Team Sky powerhouse Gianni Moscon?

After riding himself into the ground for his leader throughout this race, Moscon has showed us all a touch of class not exhibited by many riders. The Italian is a truly dynamic rider that can conquer any discipline. He recently took the Italian national ITT win and will be eager to show of his stripes today.

This is the once chance where Moscon won’t be held back, the once chance he gets to go all out and release all his pent up power.

Time for Moscon to release the inner tractor… CREDIT: FroomeyCyclist

Sky may want to save him for the upcoming mountain stages, but will Moscon listen? He’s a young rider and if there’s one quality that a lot of youngsters have, it’s confidence…

Moscon to power ahead and take the stage win from the grasps of his own teammate and leader.

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…