Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 17 Preview

Can anybody stop the Froome machine? The Brit takes his second stage win of the race and puts even more distance into the GC competition behind…

Froome powers to his second stage win of the race. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

Stage Sixteen Review

The first stage after a well deserved rest day saw many riders lineup on the start ramp fresh faced and itching to race. Of the early starters it was Daniel Oss who posted the fastest time, no rider coming close to the Italian aside from Belgian Champion, Yves Lampaert.

As the countdown to the GC riders began, Lennard Kamna, Kelderman’s loyal domestique, put in a blistering ride to take the hotseat from Oss. The young German wouldn’t stay for long however, Tobias Ludvigsson soon proving to be the usurper in Swedish livery.

With the GC riders all out on course, attention turned to the provisional time gaps between each one, Alberto Contador one of the early climbers. The Spaniard finished the final ITT of his career ahead of all the previous TT specialists and was only bettered by Froome, Kelderman, Nibali and Zakarin come the finish line.

Fabio Aru and Miguel Angel Lopez suffered on the open roads and conceeded time, as did Michael Woods and Esteban Chaves; all four of them tumbling places in the top ten.

Froome performs one almighty negative split to take the stage win and further his race lead. CREDIT: Team Sky

The young Dutchman, Wilco Kelderman was the fastest finisher until Chris Froome flew through the final kilometre, the Brit setting the fastest time at the finish, despite the early transponder readings. With 30 seconds on Kelderman, a minute on Zakarin, Contador and Nibali; Froome steps one pace closer to confirming his red leader’s jersey, only three mountainous stages standing in the way of him and the Vuelta 2017 title.

Stage Seventeen Preview

With only four ‘racing’ road stages remaining, time is very quickly running out for all the other GC contenders. After not taking advantage of stage 15’s brutish summit finish, they have allowed Froome to capitalise. The Brit is one move away from announcing checkmate…

The Route: Villadiego –> Los Machucos (180.5km)

Stage 17 Profile. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

Despite being classified as a major mountain stage and one of the most pivotal GC days of this race, tomorrow’s route from Villadiego to Los Machucos will finish at the exact same altitude that it starts at, 880m.

The riders will be treated to over 50km of relatively flat roads before they hit the first real pinch point of the day; a steep descent leading into the real start of the day’s racing.

If ridden with enough aggression, it is possible that the race could split up here, just think back to this year’s Giro where Tom Dumoulin came close to losing pink due to an unfortunate split early on in the stage.

30km of rolling roads will then take the riders to the foot of the first climb of the day, a Cat 2 ascent of 8.3km at an average of 5.8%. With the steepest ramps only topping out at 8.3%, the climb is very regular and should allow for the majority of riders to maintain a steady rhythm.

The Puerto de Alisas will sap the strength of many riders but shouldn’t see the big GC attacks. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com’

A long descent with a few lumpy interruptions then take the peloton into the first valley section of the day. Many riders won’t want to push through these roads, especially with the knowledge of what’s to come. The Cat 1 Puerto de Alisas is quite similar to the Cat 2 climb earlier in the day, just 1.7km longer and slightly steeper at 6% average.

Like the earlier climb, this Cat 1 ascent is quite regular, allowing for the GC riders to maintain a solid rhythm up it’s ramps. The real test comes just over the summit, a windy descent taking the riders to the foot of the final climb of the day, an ascent referred to by the locals as ‘rampas inhumanas’…

The climb has never been ascended on the Vuelta and many local to the region have likened it to the infamous Angliru. From the off, the riders will experience gradients of above 26% and will struggle to even stay on their bikes, let along settle into a constant cadence.

The leg breaker. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

Riders will weave and wind across the road as more ramps of hellish gradients greet them in the lower slopes. Not only will the riders struggle to assume a rhythm from the tortuous gradients, but also the short descent sections. This is a real ‘stop start’ climb that favours the purer climbers and punishes riders like Chris Froome and Team Sky.

Not only is the climb incredibly steep, but it’s also unusually narrow; in many areas no more than two riders in width. Added to that the crazy Spanish fans and you suddenly have a recipe for disaster. All it takes is one mechanical, and a rider may just see his race all over…

After 3.5km into the 7km climb, the steep ramps lessen off and the climb assumes an average gradient of 12%, still incredibly steep but just shallow enough for the riders to possibly sit back in the saddle.

The riders will actually pass the summit before they reach the finish, a quick dive down to a sweeping run in could provide an entertaining sprint if a selection of riders come to the finale together.

Time to punish Froome…

After allowing Team Sky to dictate the pace on stage 15, the rest of the GC contenders have let one of the few chances to take time on Froome slip through their fingers. Tomorrow’s tortuous ascent is one of their final chances to do so, and if they fail once again to attack him, they’ll effectively hand him the red jersey.

Team Sky will be manning the battlements tomorrow, ready for an onslaught of attacks. CREDIT: Cor Vos

At 180km in length, the stage is a little too long to be attacked from the start and not many teams will have the firepower, or courage to break it from so early on. The Cat 2 climb halfway through the day isn’t the best launchpad either and should be dominated by the boys in blue, tapping out a metronomic rhythm at the head of the bunch.

The first opportunity to start punishing Team Sky will be on the long descent to the first valley section. It’s still a way out, but the more effort the British team have to put into chase moves here, the less support Froome will have on the final two climbs.

AG2R lit up the descents on the Tour de France and came close to dislodging Froome, who will emulate that kind of attack tomorrow? Bahrain, Sunweb and Katusha the teams in dire need of doing something tomorrow…

The issue here is that none of these teams have much in the way of team depth, leaving Nibali, Kelderman and Zakarin at the mercy of whatever Team Sky choose to do with the race. Orica and potentially Trek are the only two teams that could back such a move, but with their riders a long way off Froome and not really challenging for the red jersey, would they risk such a tactic? I think not…

Time for a classic ‘El Pistolero’ attack? CREDIT: Cor Vos

The real GC fight won’t erupt until the lower slopes of the final climb. Riders will attempt to go on the penultimate Cat 1 climb, but with the ascent relatively steady all the way to the summit, they won’t be able to escape from the grasps of Team Sky.

It’ll come down to mano a mano on the 26% gradients and the weakest will soon emerge, instantly being shelled out of the back. An advantage of having these gradients at the base of a climb will mean that the GC contenders will be able to isolate Froome early on, an attack meaning he’ll have to react and chase.

Poels, Moscon and Nieve may be able to get up such a gradient, but they certainly won’t be able to commit to a spirited chase afterwards. After the 2km mark into the climb, it’s all down to Froome…

Breakaway Chances

One of the best chances in the whole race. After taking over half of the stage wins on this race so far, the breakaway should go into the race tomorrow with brimming confidence.

With the torture that lies in wait for the finale, Team Sky certainly won’t chase any move, even if riders just outside the top 10 make it into the move. Froome doesn’t need the bonus seconds, he’d much rather they be mopped up by a potential breakaway.

This has been one lucrative race for breakaway riders. CREDIT: Cor Vos

The only danger for the escape tomorrow lies in it’s composition. If a rider close to the top 10 manages to make it across, the teams of Woods and Chaves may just give chase to try and limit the gap. If not, we may even see riders like Adam Blythe making it to the finish in front of the GC riders…given he makes the break that is.

The Contenders

With the stage looking like yet another big breakaway day, the list of main favourites is awash with riders of varying disciplines. From pure climbers to top rouleurs, it all depends on who has conserved the most energy for the final climb that should take stage honours.

After taking today’s stage relatively easy, tomorrow’s break looks certain to be graced by Luis Leon Sanchez. He has tried already in this race from the escape but hasn’t managed to take that illusive stage win. Over the past few days, he’s been conscripted to the GC effort of Aru and Lopez, limiting his own chances of taking a victory.

Tomorrow, however, may see Astana return to their aggressive ways of 2015, placing riders in the breakaway whilst also attacking from the peloton behind. LL Sanchez will be there primarily to act as a bridge, but if the escape is given enough rope, he may just get the green light to go for it.

Rafal Majka survives the day’s chase to take a heroic stage 14 win. CREDIT: Cor Vos

Already a stage winner, but inevitably hungry for more, Rafal Majka will be eager to jump into tomorrow’s move. After overcoming some early race sickness, the Pole now looks back to his best and eager to challenge for more stage wins.

His final week Tour de France form has often proved incredible, taking the majority of his stage wins and KOM points in the third week of the race. He clearly prefers a late peak and will relish the ‘stop start’ nature of tomorrow’s final climb. If he can make it into the escape, he’ll surely be the biggest danger man.

Romain Bardet and Darwin Atapuma are two more riders that have shown their unshakeable desire to claim a stage win. Day after day they’ve attempted and ultimately failed, caught by the GC riders as they engaged in a war of their own. Tomorrow could potentially be their chance to avoid the crossfire and ride to a lucrative stage victory.

Bardet crashed on today’s stage but managed to remount looking relatively unscathed. Aside from stage 20’s Angliru finish, this is the final chance for the Frenchman to shine in this race. The same also applies for Atapuma, it’s now or never to take that stage win prize…

Time is running out for Bardet. CREDIT: CyclingNews.com

With Esteban Chaves conceeding over three minutes to Froome on today’s ITT, the Colombian now finds himself way down in 9th position with very little left to fight for. With the GC now out of the question, attention will turn to stage wins, Adam Yates and Jack Haig proving to be two likely candidates for tomorrow’s escape.

Yates tried on stage 15 but soon had his dreams dashed by a surging Colombian; Haig is yet to put his nose into the wind and could just be saving himself for one almighty move tomorrow.

Other names looking to possibly infiltrate tomorrow’s move include, Nicolas Roche, Enric Mas, Daniel Navarro and Thomas de Gendt. All are far enough down on GC to not trouble any of the top ten and should be given a relatively stress free ride.

Whilst the day looks almost certain to be taken by the breakaway, there will surely be a big GC showdown erupting further down the mountain.

Miguel Angel Lopez has proven to be the strongest climber in this race and will be licking his lips at the thought of 26% gradients. He’s looking to take back his 5th place from Alberto Contador and we may just see an entertaining battle wage between two climbing titans.

5th place won’t do for Contador, he has his eyes set on the podium. CREDIT: Cor Vos

Lopez’s teammate, Fabio Aru, will struggle to follow wheels and may just see his race all over tomorrow; these have been a difficult past three months for the Italian. Another Italian looking to not follow the same fate as Aru will be Vincenzo Nibali. He’s Froome’s closest challenger and will certainly be a marked man tomorrow.

He’s not the biggest fan of the 26% gradients, but once the climb makes it into the more regular ramps near the top, he may just see his chance to attack. He’ll find many allies on the slopes of the final climb and if Froome is isolated, he could potentially take back the gap he lost in today’s ITT.

Wilco Kelderman will surf wheels all the way to the top, content with protecting his podium position. Ilnur Zakarin will put in a characteristic final kilometre attack that won’t really amount to much and we may just see riders like Chaves, Woods and Van Garderen fall even further out of the top positions.

Race Prediction

No teams have the firepower to challenge Team Sky and once again we’ll see them sit in the wheels right up until the finale. Such a tactic will enable the breakaway to gain an insurmountable gap, gifting them yet another stage victory.

After losing their grip on the GC, Orica will now spend the third week of this race hunting stage wins. Step forward their young climbing talent, Jack Haig. The Aussie is fresh and ready to tackle the vicious percentages of the final climb.

Time for Haig to shine. CREDIT: CyclingNews.com

As long as he can drop the likes of Majka, Bardet or Atapuma, he should take the most prestigious victory of his career to date.

Jack Haig to put his nose into the wind and do what we’ve all been expecting of him in this race.

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…