Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 20 Preview

Another day, and yet another breakaway victory. This time it was the escapee king, Thomas De Gendt who claimed stage honours, finally achieving his goal of a stage win in each GT…

De Gendt pulls back the leading quartet to win a nail-biting sprint finish. CREDIT: BettiniPhoto

Stage Nineteen Review

With a Cat 1 climb so early on in the day, a large breakaway group was inevitable. A flurry of attacks from some of the peloton’s most renowned opportunists soon saw an escape group 27 strong snap the elastic to the peloton behind.

Content with the composition of the group, the peloton sat up and quickly allowed the escapees to gain upwards of ten minutes, a breakaway win looking almost certain. A few big names managed to make the junction into the day’s break, Rui Costa, Nicolas Roche, Matteo Trentin, Bob Jungels, Romain Bardet and Thomas de Gendt just to name a few.

The first of the Cat 3 climbs was lit up by the KOM leader, David Villella, the Cannondale rider setting his eyes on the three points at the summit. The rest of the breakaway let the Italian have his fun, biding their time for the next climb.

As they reached the foot of the penultimate ascent, De Gendt hit the front of the group and created an elite selection of riders, the top climbers in the peloton making the junction. A lack of cooperation however soon brought the majority of the group back together on the descent, an attack by Garcia Cortina the only notable move on the way up to the final climb.

Garcia Cortina goes on the offensive. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

The Spaniard soon built up a minute advantage on the chasers behind, the group seemingly dismissive of the young riders talent on the flat roads. As the break made their way onto the final climb, the steep ramps soon brought out attacks from Romain Bardet, the Frenchman catching Garcia Cortina by the summit.

Costa and Roche set off in hot pursuit and soon caught the duo out front on the descent into Gijon. With around 3km left to race, a game of cat and mouse in the front quartet allowed a large group of chasers, lead by Jungels, to re-join the leaders at the head of the race.

With the group tripling in size, Roche panicked and launched an attack. The Irishman couldn’t force a gap and effectively lead out the final sprint. Garcia Cortina was the big surprise, opening up the dash for the line and actually gaining bike lengths with his initial acceleration.

De Gendt was wise to the jump and followed his slipstream before swinging out to carry his momentum forward to the line. The Belgian won the stage by around two bike lengths on a late surging Jarlinson Pantano.

De Gendt makes it three out of three and joins a list in cycling’s hall of fame. CREDIT: @Belga

In the peloton behind, Contador attacked on the steep ramps of the final climb, drawing Sunweb out of the peloton to mount a chase. At one point he had a minute on the GC contenders behind, but once they entered the flat roads on the outskirts of Gijon, Contador’s lead was quickly slashed.

With no time gaps between the big GC contenders, all will be decided on tomorrow’s short, but hellish day in the saddle. Step forward, the Alto de l’Angliru…

Stage Twenty Preview

After the ‘Wall of Machucos’, it was expected that Chris Froome would come under fire. The Brit has managed to sail through the past two stages unscathed, actually taking time out of the likes of Nibali and Kelderman on a Cat 3 summit finish. Can he hang on tomorrow? Only 117km lie in the way of Froome completing the Vuelta-Tour double…

The Route: Corvera –> Angliru (117.5km)

Stage 20 Profile. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

At only 117km in length, tomorrow’s stage is set to be an aggressive one. Unipublic, the Vuelta organisers, are very partial to a short attacking stage and have chosen to feature the infamous Angrilu among the route.

Whilst the catergorised climbs don’t appear until after the 70km mark, the run up isn’t exactly flat. The first 12.7km of the stage are wholly uphill, an ascent that on any other stage would have been classified as at least a Cat 3.

With no official profiles of this un-catergorised slog, many riders will be surprised at the testing gradients that it offers up. The teams that have done their homework will inevitably use this as a launchpad to start the flurry of attacks that are unlikely to cease until the summit of the Angliru.

The first lump of the day, an un-catergorised test. CREDIT: VeloViewer

At 3.2% average gradient, it isn’t exactly tough by ‘Vuelta’ standards, but the sharp kick ups of 8.1% and 10.4% could potentially intice some riders to attack. The final 2km of the climb average around 6% so any attacks that gain traction will have to sustain a strong rhythm to get away.

A long lumpy descent then take the riders into the only ‘flat’ section of the day. Even here, attacks will run rife, many teams either missing the breakaway, or GC teams eager to start shedding team Sky’s engine room early on.

From the 54th kilometre, to the base of the first Cat 1 climb, the road rises slightly. Around 20km of 2% false flat lies in wait for the riders, if this is ridden at pace, many will start the Alto de la Cobertoria already deep in the red.

The Alto de la Cobertoria. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

The official start of the Cobertoria doesn’t come until the 71st kilometre, but from there it climbs for 8.1km at an average of 8.4%. After the riders pass through the flat section in the first third of the climb, they’ll then face the most demanding percentages, 18% for the most part of a kilometre.

This provides a perfect launchpad to attack from, especially considering the 10% average gradient for the rest of the climb. Those that attack will prove difficult to reel in for the chasers behind.

From the summit until the climax of the stage, the riders will either ascend or descend, no flat roads for groups to get back together…

The peloton will plunge down the descent into Pola de Lena and have just 1.5km to sort themselves out before the next climb. The Alto del Cordal is similar in gradient to the Cobertoria, but at only 5.7km in length, it is the easier of the two ascents.

The Alto del Cordal. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

Also similar to the Cobertoria, the Cordal sees it’s toughest ramps near the summit, more 12% ramps that could potentially act as launchpads for attack.

Yet another valley plunge then brings the riders face to face with the climb that has been looming over them all race. It may have only first appeared on the Vuelta in 1999, but since then it’s built up a hellish reputation, David Millar staging a protest just 1.5m before it’s summit due to it’s ‘inhumane’ gradients.

Whilst the ‘Wall of Machucos’ had percentages touching the 25%, it was not nearly as long as the Angliru, nor maintained the gruesome average gradient. If that climb was a killer, this one is a world destroyer…

The ascent can be pictured in three separate sections, the first 5km ‘easing’ the riders into the devilish ascent with an 8% average gradient.

The infamous Angliru. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

The second part of the climb is cursed by an average gradient of 15% for the next 5km. It’s also this part of the climb that features the most grueling percentages, the 9th till the 10th kilometre touching the realms of 20-23.5%.

There will be no notions of attacks here, it’s impossible to accelerate on such a gradient. This is purely a matter of survival, only the strongest will forge on towards the summit…

The final 3km of the climb has a local nickname, Cueña les Cabres, which loosely translates to ‘Goat Path’. Aptly named for it will be only the true mountain goats that will be able to haul themselves over these 21% gradients.

Once the riders reach the peak, they’ll be treated to a gradual descent to the finish line. The finish very rarely sees more than one rider vying for the victory, the climb almost always weeding out the strongest rider of the peloton. We should see a similar thing happen tomorrow, one of the pure mountain men coming to the line with arms aloft…

Weather Watch!

The mountains in this region of Spain are notorious for their foggy summits and treacherous descents; even on a clear day, the Angliru is often shrouded in a blanket of thick mist.

Whilst mist may not wreak as much havoc on the uphill, it certainly will on the downhills; the peloton will need to be particularly cautious on the plunging descents between tomorrow’s climbs. Only the real risk takers of the bunch will be able to force a gap here.

Weather reports for tomorrow”s stage. CREDIT: @ammattipyoraily

These are conditions that were always expected for the penultimate stage of this year’s Vuelta; what wasn’t anticipated, however, was the recent weather reports that surround the Angliru stage.

With 100% chance of showers from dawn until dusk, the riders will have to endure both the forces of nature and gravity tomorrow; there will be no hiding on the Angliru…

Those riders that have already shown themselves to be susceptible to the wet weather will certainly be fearful tomorrow; not only because of what they will have to endure, but also the onslaught of attacks that they’ll receive as a result.

Who will be channeling Lance Armstrong’s infamous quote, ‘Love the rain because others hate it,’ tomorrow?

Froome’s Final Frontier

How will the stage play out? Who’s eyeing up a late attack on the red jersey and who will throw caution to the wind and take the ‘race-winning’ risks?

With talk of showers and grueling 20% gradients, Froome’s rivals will be licking their lips at the prospect of tomorrow’s stage. The Brit is weak in the wet and steep, the Angliru offering up the perfect terrain to attack his race lead…

The length of tomorrow’s stage will inevitably make it a wholly attacking affair, moves coming as early as the un-catergorised climb from kilometre 0. None of the GC contenders will forge away here, but they’ll look to place satellite riders into a potential breakaway move.

Who will leave Froome reeling on the slopes of L’Angliru? CREDIT:

Astana, Trek, Bahrain and possibly even Katusha will have their eyes set on breaking the race as they reach the first Cat 1 climb of the day. Better to start cracking Sky early than leaving it to the final climb.

Such an up and down finale to the stage will make a spirited chase difficult, bad news for Team Sky who rely on gradual, consistent gradients to reel in their rivals. Whilst we’ll see many try on the climbs, the most effective attacks may come on the downhills, especially if the fog plays it’s part and gives the risk takers a chance to attack.

Nibali, Contador and possibly Bardet will all be eyeing up a move on the descent. The first two are eager to advance in the GC but may find an ally in the Frenchman, a rider desperate for a stage win before the Vuelta ends.

Astana are another dangerous team and have two options to play with. Lopez remains their stronger rider in the GC but they’ll certainly use Aru to spark other teams into a nervy chase.

Aru attacks alone on the final climb and is allowed to re-ignite his battle in the GC. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

As mentioned above, the Angliru is simply a matter of survival; many riders will struggle to attack nearing the summit and may have to rely on gaps made earlier in the day. If they allow Froome to come onto the climb with Moscon, Nieve and Poels in tow, they’ll hand him the race; these riders need to be shed and Froome isolated.

When the Brit is left alone, he becomes a nervous wreck and will jump on each and every move. Riders will form mutual alliances tomorrow to try and distance him, attack after attack after attack; once distanced, there’s no clawing your way back on the Angliru…

Opinion time with Toms Skujins

In a special feature for such a monster preview, we’ve called on the expertise of Cannondale-Drapac pro, Toms Skujins, to shed some light on tomorrow’s stage. He’ll be riding the Angliru tomorrow, whether toe to toe with the red jersey, we’ll just have to wait and see…

Skujins’ opinion on tomorrow’s mammoth stage. CREDIT: @Tomashuuns

Thanks Toms for joining us on the preview! Best of luck tomorrow, wherever you finish, anyone that climbs the Angliru is a winner in their own right…

The Contenders

As Thomas De Gendt bluntly put it at the finish of today’s stage, the only riders winning tomorrow will be those ‘under 65kg’… In the past four iterations of the Angliru being used as the stage final, three winners have come from the day’s breakaway.

However, a breakaway win tomorrow looks highly unlikely, especially when considering the weather and short, sharp nature of the route. At only 117km in length, the GC boys are going to come out to play a lot earlier than usual, leading to a close to impossible chance of a breakaway group surviving.

That being said, there are a couple of riders, previously eyeing up the GC in this race, that are now on the hunt for stage wins. They don’t need to jump into an early move, in fact this could put them into a worse position than remaining in the peloton. A well timed attack near the summit of one of the Cat 1 climbs will give them the gap needed, the GC riders won’t chase, they’ll be too busy marking each other.

Majka is itching for another stage win, showing great final week form. CREDIT: CyclingToday

Rafal Majka and Romain Bardet are two riders that came to the Vuelta with overall ambitions that have now turned to stage hunting. Majka already has one stage to his name and is clearly riding into some stellar final week form.

Bardet narrowly missed out today and will be ruing a missed opportunity, tomorrow sees the race return to his favoured terrain, he’ll surely give it one last dig to try and win a stage.

Richard Carapaz is another rider who could potentially win from a late move tomorrow. His Movistar team are still devoid of a stage win and after having being threatened by their DS with a ‘burning table’ for not making the break today, they’ll surely be motivated to animate tomorrow’s stage.

Marc Soler would be their go to option, Spanish and having a great Grand Tour debut; but after having struggled in stage 18’s breakaway, he’s clearly fatiguing. Carapaz is a diminutive rider that should excel on the steep ramps tomorrow; similar in build to Kenny Elissonde, the Frenchman who won on this finish back in 2013, I wouldn’t put it past the Colombian to surprise tomorrow.

Of the GC contenders, Alberto Contador is the clear favourite to light up the final climb tomorrow. He won on this summit back in 2008 and will want to repeat that success on the final ‘competitive’ stage of his illustrious career.

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

The Spaniard tried once again to gain time today, but to no avail. Wilco Kelderman is the rider he’s aiming for to try and break onto the podium, the Dutchman appearing resilient with each of Contador’s assaults. Contador needs to pull back 1:17 to make it onto the podium, an attack on the final climb of the day looking the most likely plan of attack for ‘El Pistolero’.

Trek will flood any early move with a wealth of riders, Contador won’t want support in the bunch, he’ll want it up the road to bridge across to. Don’t be surprised to see Edward Theuns dragging Contador up 20% ramps tomorrow…

Whilst he may have been flagging over the past couple of stages, Miguel Angel Lopez remains a big danger for tomorrow’s stage win. He’s the strongest climber in this race and also one of the smallest, perfect for the hellish Angliru gradients.

He’ll be attempting a two pronged attack with teammate Fabio Aru, the Italian seemingly finding a second wind in this three week race. As Toms Skujins put it before, Astana will look to use Aru to draw out the other GC contenders before delivering the killer blow with Lopez.

The race leader himself, Chris Froome, may just have something to say on the final climb tomorrow. He suffered on stage 17 but has been allowed to rest and recuperate over the last two stages. If there’s one thing his rivals didn’t want, it was a 100% fresh Chris Froome.

Froome continues the chase alone. CREDIT: TeamSky

Even on the steepest of ramps, the gangly Brit can ride away from the purest of mountain goats, a danger for those riders hoping that he’ll be fatigued by the final climb. He’s been known for his poker performances and often bluffs by riding at the back of the group, will rain and the chance of losing all his teammates tomorrow wipe the smirk of his face?

Froome’s nearest competitor, Vincenzo Nibali, will be trying his all to rip the red jersey from the Brit’s shoulders. He isn’t known for climbs like tomorrow’s, but with two plunging descents to use, the route could soon turn into Nibali’s playground.

Like Contador, he’ll look to mob the early move with teammates, Pelizzoti and Agnoli two of his most loyal lieutenants. It’s then a question of how much time he can take on the descent, he’ll have to hold this gap and even extend it by the Angliru’s summit if he’s to pull on the leader’s jersey…

Out of the other GC contenders, Ilnur Zakarin looks like the only other rider strong enough to challenge. He’s ridden into form during the race and is matching the likes of Contador and Froome on the toughest inclines. Riders like Wilco Kelderman and Michael Woods will be looking to follow wheels tomorrow, eager to defend and limit their losses.

The Canadian is slowly shadowing his way to his best ever GC result. CREDIT: CorVos

Whilst they may be out of the GC fight, Orica Scott certainly won’t bow out of this Vuelta without a fight. Esteban Chaves and Jack Haig will try their utmost to upset proceedings tomorrow and possibly launch off the front in search of an illusive stage win.

Another party hoping to snatch a stage win before the end of this race is the home nation themselves. Spain are without a win in their biggest race of the year and may just look to their prodigal son, Alberto Contador to bring home the goods tomorrow. Other Spaniards to cheer for include, Igor Anton, Sergio Pardilla and Antonio Pedrero, each of them ‘light enough’ to make it to the summit of the Angliru alone…

Race Prediction

The GC showdown will ignite from kilometre zero, Team Sky being forced on the defensive from the foot of the un-catergorised climb. Things will quieten down on the flatter roads as a large move of climbers and GC team helpers forge ahead to the Cat 1 climb.

This is where things will erupt once more, second tier GC riders trying their hands as the rest just try to mark each other. The same will occur on the next climb with a few riders possibly eyeing up a move on the descent.

Pedrero to take the win, both Spain’s and Movistar’s first of the race! CREDIT: Movistar Team

Among this melee of attacks, Movistar will ride, relatively unnoticed, and place a selection of their riders in the front move. Richard Carapaz and Antonio Pedero look like the two most likely candidates.

Both Spain and Movistar need a stage win, time for Antonio Pedrero to deliver the victory on the grandest stage of them all…

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…