As the Angliru continues to loom on the horizon, the breakaway once again took stage honours. Sander Armee proved to be the strongest of the 20 man group, shedding Alexey Lutsenko in the final few hundred metres.
Stage Eighteen Review
With weaknesses in the Team Sky camp highlighted on the ‘Wall of Machucos’, many expected that Froome’s GC rivals would attacks from the gun today in an effort to keep the race leader on the back foot. A long start to the day of none stop attacking never really did the job however and soon a 20 man breakaway group was allowed to gain an unassailable lead; perfect for Team Sky.
Action in both the breakaway and peloton didn’t really get going until the final 60km of the race, hositility in the escape group causing many opportunists to solo on off the front. None really managed to gain traction and instead, the weaker riders were shot out of the back of the group.
In the peloton, Katusha attempted a bizarre tactical move, placing most of their team on the front of the bunch to force a fierce pace for Ilnur Zakarin on the climb. Nothing came of the move aside from shelling most of the peloton behind, leaving a group of around 40 strong, all of the GC riders safely ensconced.
Aru was the next rider from the large GC group to try something, using his teammate Luis Leon Sanchez as a foil to bridge to. With the Italian more than 7 minutes off the pace of the red jersey, Team Sky were content with letting the move gain traction.
As Aru barreled down into the valley, he soon gained 1:30 on the group behind, looking likely to move up a few places in the top 10 as a result. Ahead, the breakaway ruptured and only the strongest five riders soldiered on, Soler, Gougeard, Alaphilippe, Lutsenko and Armee.
The latter three managed to drop the other two on the lumpy valley section and soon looked like the three certain to contend for the stage win. With Alaphilippe by far the stronger puncheur of the trio, Armee and Lutsenko commited to multiple accelerations at the front, the ‘stop start’ pace soon detaching the Frenchman.
Under the flamme rouge, it was then Armee who continued the string of attacks, laying the fatal blow to Lutsenko with around 750m still remaining. The Belgian took an impressive stage victory, a whole 7 minutes before the GC bunch finally rolled through.
Contador tried to distance the group and with help of Pantano soon gained a few bike lengths. But with the presence of Team Sky mobbing the bunch behind, he was soon reeled in by Gianni Moscon. It was then the turn of the race leader himself to attack, only the Spaniard and a re-surgent Michael Woods able to follow.
Despite his spirited attack with around 30km of the stage still remining, Aru only managed to gain 12 seconds on the Froome group come the finish, now level with Woods in the GC.
The trio of Froome, Woods and Contador lead the GC battle home as Nibali and Lopez became the biggest losers of the day, conceding 21 and 37 seconds respectively. With only two ‘competitive’ road stages left for Froome to defend his lead, the fight to take the red jersey from his shoulders has only increased in difficulty.
Stage Nineteen Preview
With only two ‘competitive’ road stages left to take the fight to Chris Froome and Team Sky, the pressure will certainly be on tomorrow. That being said, a similar narrative was construed for today’s stage and not much really came of the final lumpy 60km…
The Route: Parque Natural de Redes –> Gijon (149.7km)
With the first Cat 1 climb starting as early as the 22nd kilometre, the fight to get in the day’s breakaway will undoubtedly be fierce. So many escapes in this Vuelta have had to use the flat rolling roads to get away, climbers will be licking their lips at the prospect of tomorrow’s start.
The Alto de Colladona is a tough 7km long climb that should break the peloton right from the off, the 6.8% average gradient is also quite misleading, a step of 1% halfway up dramatically bringing down the steeper percentages.
Over the summit, the riders will then face a steep and technical 6km descent, one that could potentially create more gaps than the climb itself. Once the technical downhill has been tackled, it’s then a gradual decline all the way to the 58th kilometre and base of the next climb.
The duo of Cat 3 climbs found at the mid point of the day’s stage aren’t too difficult, 6.8km at 4.5% and 4.3km at 8.2% respectively. However, we’re now on stage 19 and well into this Vuelta a Espana, fatigue will certainly be running rife throughout the peloton, making these Cat 3 tests seem like brutes…
Whilst the second of the Cat 3’s resembles a perfect attacking launchpad, it’s still 60km remaining from the summit, ludicrous for a solo attack to the finish line. An opportunist may just find more luck on the lumpy section between the descent and the foot of the final climb of the day.
The uncategorised test that sees the location of the intermediate sprint may just prove to be the most decisive of the whole day. It isn’t too steep, but it’s certainly a slog. Any attack that gets clear here will become dangerous, especially given the fast descent and irregular climb still to come.
One final Cat 3 ascent to cap off the day should produce the fireworks expected for stage 19. The Alto de San Martin des Huencas isn’t the toughest of climbs, a false flat at the start then leading into a 10% average gradient for the final 3km. However, small ramps of 26% and 20% could throw off a lot of riders, especially those that have only seen the road book and not dabbled on Veloviewer…
The steep ramps will serve as perfect kickers for any rider in the breakaway, or peloton, looking to attack and gain time before the finish. Once over the top, it’s a plunge of 15.2km into the city of Gijon where the stage ends in a flat finish, one turning bend in the final kilometre the only technicality on an otherwise simple finale.
Last chance saloon for the breakaway…
Whilst Kenny Elissonde may have won from a breakaway on the infamous Angliru back in 2013, it looks highly unlikely that an opportunist will claim stage honours this Saturday. As a result, tomorrow is the final chance for any riders eyeing up a breakaway win; many teams are yet to score big and will likely mob tomorrow’s move.
The Cat 1 climb so early in the day is perfect for the escapees, especially the mountain men who have been waiting for a lumpy start to a stage for weeks. With climbs throughout the day, the purest of climbers shouldn’t struggle to hold their own in an escape move out front.
Such a lumpy stage will inevitably create nerves within the break, even if they are allowed a large gap by the peloton. There are countless places to attack, countless ways to win, but it’s more than likely going to come down to the final Cat 3 launchpad.
Only the strongest will be able to deal with the steep ramps and will then fight it out over the remaining 20km as to who will claim stage honours. The escapees will need a strong punch, savvy descending skills and a speedy kick if they wish to win in Gijon.
However, it is possible that breakaway dreams could be dashed before they’ve even really began. The Cat 1 climb is the only real chance on this stage to really shatter Team Sky, leading the likes of Bahrain, Katusha and possibly Astana to do so.
They have the strength in depth to really push the pace on this climb and instantly shatter the peloton, leaving it to Froome’s most loyal domestiques to try and control the race for the rest of the day. The pace will need to stay high however, the other GC contenders can’t afford to let the Sky helpers re-catch the front group…
If no gap can be created between Froome and his helpers, the GC riders will sit on their hands and wait to the final climb, there’s no point wasting energy with a big mountain stage still to come…unless your name is Alberto Contador.
The Spaniard will relish the steep ramps on the final Cat 3 kicker and may just try to emulate an Aru style attack to solo ahead of the GC group. Sky won’t chase him, Katusha and Bahrain will be forced to do so. Do they have the power? I’m not so sure…
Only Bahrain Merida, Trek and Katusha can control whether a breakaway wins tomorrow. Team Sky won’t chase and many of the other teams will lean on the big three GC squads to chase things. As long as a large selection of escapees can crest the first climb with a handful of minutes on the peloton behind, they should make it to the finish.
One rider that has kept his powder dry since stage 14 is UAE’s Rui Costa. Aside from Matej Mohoric‘s stage victory back in the first week, they’re yet to really set the race alight with their attack orientated team.
Tomorrow’s route resembles that somewhat of the World’s course that Costa won on back in 2013, a rolling route with a steep final climb before a plunge to a reduced sprint finish. The Portuguese rider is one of the most experienced escapees out there and is a savvy rider when it comes to breakaways, if he makes it into the move, he’ll be the most dangerous man for the win.
Whilst he may have graced the past two breakaways with his presence, Julian Alaphilippe certainly won’t shy away from jumping into the move again tomorrow. Today he was found out on the flatter roads near the finish, but with many a lumpy test tomorrow, he may just bite back with a huge redemption ride.
His teammate, Matteo Trentin will be another rider keen to make the move, he needs the intermediate sprint points to mount a late charge on Chris Froome’s lead. If he can get over the Cat 1, the Cat 3’s shouldn’t trouble him too much, he’ll be eager to keep the group together with his eyes set on a sprint in the finale.
Also of Quickstep are Bob Jungels and David de la Cruz, two dangerous men for the stage win tomorrow. Jungels tried to join today’s escape in the fierce melee at the start of the day but proved unsuccessful. The route tomorrow suits him perfectly; after animating a hilly Fleche Wallone earlier in the year, will he look to do the same on the lumpy route of stage nineteen?
De la Cruz was animated throughout today but payed for it on the final climb. With 5 seconds between him and a top ten position, he’ll certainly give it his all for a gap at tomorrow’s finish. His attack in the early season Tour of the Basque Country was exemplary, he’ll be eager to replicate it tomorrow…
One rider who’s shot to prominence on this year’s Vuelta after two breakaway wins is Lotto Soudal’s Tomasz Marczynski. He’s won one in a sprint, and the other solo, a man clearly of many talents. He loves a lumpy stage and with the confidence of two wins already behind him, he surely won’t pass up on a third opportunity tomorrow.
Despite being the biggest team in Spain, Movistar are still yet to claim a stage win. What’s worse is that a Spanish rider is still yet to reap stage honours; with 3 stages left on this year’s race, can they do it? One of their best hopes tomorrow will be the experienced Jose Joaquin Rojas.
He’s featured in many a breakaway in this race, so much so that he now lies in third place in the KOM competition. If David Villella doesn’t make it into tomorrow’s move, there is a chance that the Spaniard could take the lead in that classification.
As the Spaniard grows older, his climbing gets better and better. Nevertheless, he’s still a sprinter at heart and given the opportunity, he could potentially rival the likes of Matteo Trentin in a reduced kick.
Other than the most prominent opportunists of the peloton, other riders looking to break into tomorrow’s move include, Anthony Roux, Jack Haig, Jan Polanc, Alexis Gougeard and David Villella.
Whilst the breakaway looks likely to take yet another stage win, there is a chance that a late attack from the GC group could gain traction and possibly go onto take both the victory, and a handful of time at the line…Alberto Contador anyone?
The lumpy parcours and clearly favourable breakaway terrain will force one team to be animated straight from the off. Quickstep already have five wins but they’re itching for more, not only that but they’re also eager to mop up more sprint points with Trentin, the green jersey in Madrid his big end goal.
Every rider within Quickstep is geared for these kind of short, punchy stages and each have experience riding in a Grand Tour breakaway. Alaphilippe and Trentin may be a little too exerted from today’s efforts, leaving Bob Jungels as the likely candidate to jump into tomorrow’s move.
He can climb, he can TT and he can sprint, the perfect combination for tomorrow’s classic-esque stage.
Quickstep to blow up the race and Bob Jungels to take his second GT victory of the year!
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…