With one bullet left in the chamber, El Pistolero caps off an illustrious career with a heroic performance on the infamous Angliru. Froome hangs onto red as the podium shuffles around him…
Stage Twenty Review
Weather reports promised rain, and rain we sure got. Torrential downpours marred the opening of the stage and hindered many teams from attacking straight from the gun, rather choosing to keep their matches dry and sit in.
This allowed for a reasonably sized group to forge up the road, including both Yates twins, a strong Movistar representation and Frenchman, Romain Bardet. Trek and Astana kept the break on a tight leash, the escape never really breaking the 1:30 barrier.
As the escape group slowly thinned themselves down on the two Cat 1 ascents, the peloton remained calm with Team Sky ever present at the helm. The long range attacks that many had promised seemed none existent, the rain a likely reason for the tameness of the first 90km.
The descent of the penultimate climb suddenly threw the race into action, crashes in both the escape group and the peloton causing nerves to run rife. Nibali and De La Cruz came down heavily on the descent and soon threw the GC battle into question.
The Spaniard came off the worse and eventually retired the race from his injuries. Nibali soldiered on, shepherded by Pelizzotti all the way back to the Sky lead peloton.
As the race hit the foot of the Angliru, the escape group exploded and left riders all over the road, perfect news for Alberto Contador who had just attacked off the head of the main bunch, looking to claim a coveted stage win. The Spaniard soon gained traction as he found his teammate Jarlinson Pantano, and countryman, Enric Mas, the two helping him to forge out over a minute lead on the red jersey.
Contador maintained the gap for much of the climb as the GC riders struggled to mount a chase behind. With the Spaniard threatening the podium positions, both Zakarin and Kelderman were forced to chase, the former evidently the stronger as they reached the final, steeper, 3km.
As Kelderman went backwards, Froome and Poels soloed ahead with Zakarin yo yo-ing just behind. The Team Sky duo quickly slashed the gap to Contador, but with only 1.5km left to race and the majority of it downhill, the stage win was never in doubt for the Spaniard.
With his gun fingers raised to the TV cameras, Contador crossed the line with both a look of relief and sheer pain etched across his face. Froome and Poels crossed just 17 seconds in arears with Zakarin not far behind. The fast finish from Zakarin was just enough to usurp Kelderman to snatch the final podium position.
Nibali faltered on the final slopes but recovered well to retain his second place overall. The biggest losers of the day were the Astana duo, Lopez and Aru, the former losing 4 minutes and the latter a huge 16 minutes.
With the final stage through Madrid being merely a procession, Team Sky can sleep happily in the knowledge that their team leader has just conquered the double, an unheard of achievement in modern cycling…
Stage Twenty-One Preview
The victory parade, the Champs Elysees equivalent for La Vuelta a Espana. Will it be anything other than a bunch sprint? Probably not…
The Route: Arroyomolinos –> Madrid (117.6km)
A very simple 117km long criterium that is unlikely to end in anything other than a bunch sprint. The first 70km are relatively undulating, but with the victory champagne being thrown around the bunch, no rider will look to attack here.
The real race will begin as the riders make it onto the final circuit with 45km to the finish. 9 laps of a 5.9km city centre circuit is a dream for the fast men of the bunch, but with a few testing bends in the finale, it certainly won’t be handed to them on a plate.
The key bends are focused within the 5th, 4th and 3rd kilometres, three tight turns that could potentially throw some of the sprint trains into disarray. They shouldn’t struggle too much to re-assimilate however, the final 2km straighten out and effectively create one large drag race to the line.
With a 1.3km straight dash to the line, this is a pure power man’s sprint; a kind of finish that doesn’t necessarily suit too many riders currently at the race.
A surefire sprint or will Contador find one extra bullet?
The race enters Contador’s home city tomorrow and he’ll more than likely be out to impress his loyal supporters. He should be given the chance to have one victory lap before being re-absorbed into the bunch, a gesture of thanks from the peloton for having animated the race for much of the final week.
But this is El Pistolero, surely he won’t bow out without one more fight? Yes it may be ludicrous to suggest a late attack from the Trek rider, but with only 20 seconds separating him and Zakarin for the the third place on the podium, it is a possibility.
What’s more than likely to happen is that Trek mob the head of the peloton for the first lap around the Madrid circuit, showing off their prized rider in Alberto Contador. They will then man the battlements, ready to protect Edward Theuns for the bunch sprint.
All will come down to the final lap where it will boil down to the strength of a rider’s leadout train, Aqua Blue, UAE and Quickstep all eager to take control at the head of the race.
Quickstep have proven to be the most dominant in the bunch sprints thus far, but could a late surge in confidence from Aqua Blue see them propel Adam Blythe to their second stage win of the race?
As highlighted in many a preview before, this Vuelta isn’t exactly awash with top sprinting talent. Matteo Trentin has proven to be the fastest of the rest, but with no clear challengers to match his speed, will he go onto claim a fourth tomorrow?
For the past couple of stages he’s found his way into the daily breakaway in search of intermediate points. This can only point towards a positive race condition, the Italian clearly still holding his form late on into this race.
His leadout train is by far the strongest, Alaphilippe, Lampaert and Jungels three ideal engines for tomorrow’s Madrid circuit, and when it comes down to a flat out sprint, who is faster? Not many…
The Italian’s closest challenger tomorrow will come in the form of Trek rider, Edward Theuns. The Belgian was extremely strong in the first few stages but seemed to fade away in the second week sprints. A third week resurgence then saw him sacrifice everything for Alberto Contador, towing him along both the flat lands and the climbs.
He’s clearly on some stellar form and after having given so much for the Spaniard’s GC ambitions, they’ll surely reward him with a nine man sprint train tomorrow. For flat out speed, he’s one of the only riders in the race that could challenge Trentin.
With the Spanish finally snatching their stage win today, the pressure will be off slightly for Juan Jose Lobato tomorrow. The Lotto NL Jumbo rider has ridden to some strong podium results in this race but hasn’t been able to convert the big win, could tomorrow be his chance?
He prefers a slightly uphill sprint, and with Lotto NL Jumbo weak in the leadout department, he’ll have to surf wheels tomorrow. If he can catch the others on the jump however, he has the top end speed to possibly hold it to the line.
The only other team that may challenge Quickstep in the leadout department are Aqua Blue Sport. With Hansen and Kreder at the service of Adam Blythe, the former British Champion has a wealth of experience and speed ahead of him. He took a few podium results early in the race but will have his eyes firmly set on the top prize tomorrow.
Whilst they may rival the top teams on some sprint stages, UAE will struggle to exert dominance at the head of the race tomorrow. Their accustomed to messy sprints with their divebomb tactics, perfect for their burly sprinter Sacha Modolo. But with such a straight line finish, there won’t be many opportunities for them to disrupt the other trains, leaving it down to mano a mano in the final 200m.
Other riders looking to challenge tomorrow include Michael Schwarzmann, Tom Van Asbroeck, Magnus Cort Nielsen and Juan Sebastian Molano. Each are strong sprinters in their own right, but with Trentin, Blythe and Theuns to contend with, they’ll more than likely be left squabbling for top ten positions…
After a win earlier in the week and the confidence surrounding the whole team, Aqua Blue Sport will hit tomorrow’s finishing circuit at pace. They have left a lot of strong men in reserve for this very stage and as all other teams fatigue around them, they should shoot through to dictate the whole finale.
On a flat finish, Blythe can challenge some of the best in the world, he just needs to be delivered in the right position. The Brit also has a childhood background of racing traditionally British criteriums and will relish tomorrow’s circuit.
Adam Blythe to take the win and double Aqua Blue Sport’s GT stage victory tally!
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 your cycling updates! Thank you so much for visiting the site, day in, day out over this race, it’s been a pleasure to hear your comments and interact with you all! Until next time…