Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 3 Preview

For what was one of the only opportunities for the sprinters, they sure did squander their chances on the run in to Gruissan. Quickstep lit up the final 3km to propel their leadout man, Yves Lampaert, into a winning position. Tomorrow sees the riders head straight into the mountains, no sort of easing in for this Grand Tour…

A late burst with 800m to go sealed the win for Lampaert. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

Stage Two Review

With mutters of crosswinds running rife through the peloton at the early part of today’s stage, nerves were understandably high. No break was allowed to escape and instead the peloton proceeded cautiously through the southern french countryside.

A few nervy crashes spelt the end for a couple of riders, pinch points in the road proving their eventual downfalls. The crosswinds probed throughout the day but no team really put the hammer down to break the race.

The bunch came into the final 7km en masse, a bunch sprint looking almost inevitable. With around 4km left to race, Quickstep hit the front with Terpstra, Alaphilippe, Lampaert and Trentin in tow. The Dutchman pulled an unbelievable turn on the front to soften those riders behind, gaps beginning to rupture open as the peloton was strung out.

Alaphilippe then furthered Terpstra’s work and split the front of the race even further, leaving a select group of only 8-10 riders out front. Oss and Blythe lingered dangerously at the rear, but some tactical moves by Quickstep soon got them to the front to do a turn.

Lampaert thanks Terpstra after his mega turn on the front seals another Quickstep victory. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

As they leaned on the boys in blue to carry them through the final kilometre, Trentin allowed the gap between him and Lampaert to grow. Bike lengths soon trebled and the Belgian was set loose, accelerating into the final 800m.

An incredible turn of speed saw Lampaert cruise to the victory, the win never looking in doubt despite the calibre of sprinters behind. Trentin won the reduced bunch sprint for second to make it a Quickstep one two as Adam Blythe snatched himself a spot on a grand tour stage podium.

With ten bonus seconds for the win, Lampaert moves into the leader’s red jersey with his teammate, Trentin, behind him in second place by a single second.

Tomorrow sees the riders head into mountainous territory, Cat 1 climbs already featuring in this year’s Vuelta a Espana. Just if you had to be reminded, this ain’t no Tour de France…

Stage Three Preview

With key climbs starting as early as stage three, how will the GC contenders approach tomorrow’s stage? Is it still too early to make any big moves, or will a few outsiders dip their toes in the water and stir the pot a little.

The Route: Prades Conflent Canigo –> Andorra La Vella (158.5km)

Stage 3 Profile. The climbs are already here… CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

No slow ease into this race, no long sprint stages to get the legs spinning, no. This is La Vuelta, not the ‘Tour de Farce’.

The climbing starts as soon as the riders leave the neutral zone, a lengthy 31.5km to the summit of the Col de la Perche. The climb isn’t too testing at the start and the peloton should be allowed to ease themselves slightly into the tough day of racing ahead.

12km from the summit, the climb averages 3.7%, again, nothing too difficult but it will certainly start to sap the strength from the majority of the riders. Such a long grinding climb could potentially spark a large breakaway, especially given the nature of tomorrow’s route. With two large categorised climbs in the final 50km, this stage looks perfect for a late attack…

A long gradual descent towards the final 50km will give riders the opportunity to gather both their minds and legs, this is the only chance to sit and contemplate the none stop action that should ensue in the finale.

The Col de la Rabassa. Two climbs into this race and we’re already in Cat 1 territory… CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

With 50km left to race, the riders hit the Col de la Rabassa, a climb that punishes straight from the off. Grueling percentages touching 15% in the first kilometre will have riders instantly out the back. Such steep ramps should also catalyse some preliminary moves, nothing from the big GC contenders, but possibly from the second tier climbers and breakaway artists.

Any early breakaway may find themselves in danger here, attackers will smell blood all the way up the Rabassa and make it their mission to catch any straggling escapees before the summit.

A fast descent will then take the riders into a short valley section before they start the final climb of the day, a 4.3km test at 8.3%. The Alto de la Comella ramps up to 12% in the final 800m and will give any escapees one last chance to go solo before the descent to the finish line.

7.1km of downhill then separates the riders from the summit and the finish line in Andorra la Vella.

A twisting, turning final 5km. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

The descent into the finale is twisting, a number of hairpins providing fresh danger for riders who make it over the final climb in poll position.

A long straight from 2.5km to 500m to go will mean any potential escape will be in full view of the group behind; this is only going to work in favour of the bunch…

Two right hand bends in the final kilometre will make for an interesting sprint and could produce some interesting tactics from the fastmen, some even choosing to launch early.

A Tactical Breakdown

A lucrative day for the breakaway, but where to form it? Is the first climb just too far away or is the Rabassa just a little too steep? These are questions that any potential escapees are going to have to ask themselves pre-stage…

In my own, humble opinion, an attack on the foot of the Rabassa may just prove the more successful. The first climb is going to be a nervy ascent for everyone, the big GC contenders looking to gauge the form of their rivals. A cagey pace won’t allow the break to gain much time and by the foot of the Rabassa, their lead could be very minimal.

We might just see a controlled ride up the first ascent of the day. CREDIT: Tim De Waele

The final 50km is where the race will really come into it’s own, most teams looking to blow the race apart. The real dangers tomorrow will be the likes of Movistar, Quickstep and Orica; none have top tier GC contenders, but each have climbing talent in abundance that they will want to use to punishing effect.

A Yates double act with youthful appearances from Soler and Fernandez could prove dangerous, especially if they’re allowed to get out of sight. Any riders that go with them will be put into an incredible position, a solo attack over the final Cat 2 climb could just seal them a stage win.

The likes of Nibali, Froome and Aru will want a controlled race all the way to the line, they can’t afford to expend too much energy now on the attack.

The Contenders

Another Grand Tour stage win for Quickstep today just exemplified the success that the team is experiencing this year. They’ve been animating every kind of race since the start of the season and almost certainly won’t shy away from doing the same tomorrow.

The parcour screams Julian Alaphilippe, a rider that can stay with some of the purest climbers before taking the final sprint with a punchy acceleration. The Frenchman is also strong on the escape and may just be tempted by the launchpad that comes in the form of the final Cat 2 climb.

Marred by a knee injury, Alaphilippe has had to wait until the Vuelta to make his GT debut for 2017. CREDIT: TheBikeComesFirst

However, aside from his performance on today’s stage, we haven’t seen the youngster race at WT level since the Tour of the Basque Country. He went well in Burgos, registering two third place positions, but is his knee injury truly healed?

With this in mind, Quickstep may just hold back in releasing their pocket rocket tomorrow and put their eggs in a certain Spanish basket, David de la Cruz. The Spaniard has started this race as their main GC contender and possible outsider for a top ten position come Madrid.

He had a startling early season, with stage wins in both Paris Nice and the Tour of the Basque Country. Both came from late escapes, but the latter in the Basque Country was won on a finish almost identical to that of tomorrow’s stage; a final steep climb before a fast descent and flat finish.

After skipping both the Giro and Tour, De la Cruz’s Grand Tour form remained a mystery, but a podium in the recent Vuelta Burgos highlight that the Spaniard has peaked at just the right time. A win tomorrow to add to his team’s strong position in the TTT could just be the start of a long assault on the leader’s red jersey…

David de la Cruz takes a deserved stage win after outwitting the puncheurs in Donostia. CREDIT: Tim De Waele

Quickstep will face fierce competition from BMC tomorrow, the American team slightly dismayed after losing the red jersey on today’s stage. Their line up is filled with talent for day’s such as tomorrow’s, Nicolas Roche and Alessandro de Marchi their two probable candidates.

The Irishman is an experienced climber and will undoubtedly be inspired by the KOM jersey on his shoulders. Whilst this may not be his end goal in the race, it wouldn’t hurt to accumulate a few more points whilst on the escape… His last big win came in the Vuelta, a stage win in 2015 after a two man attack with Haimar Zubeldia on a stage very similar to tomorrow’s.

With Roche looking to make moves later in the stage, De Marchi will likely be BMC’s man for the early move. The Italian loves this race and has taken most of his WT wins in the Spanish Grand Tour. He thrives on the escape and loves the rolling Spanish roads, a climb or two perfect for his aggressive riding style.

The Italian looked super strong in the TTT and towed the team for much of the 13.7km route. Both him and Roche sit very close to the leader’s red jersey and a win tomorrow should more than likely propel the American team back into the lead. They don’t have any real long term GC ambitions in this race, allowing Roche and De Marchi the kind of freedom they need to really light up this stage…

Roche takes a deserved stage win in favoured terrain at the 2015 Vuelta a Espana. CREDIT: StickyBottle

Barring a late attack on one of the final two climbs, we will inevitably be looking at a sprint match up between the GC contenders and any puncheurs that manage to hang on. One of these riders with a strong kick in the finale will be Cannondale’s Michael Woods.

The Canadian was on some strong form at the Giro and managed to record a handful of top ten placings. He’ll have one eye on the GC in this race but his real ambitions will lie with a stage win. Tomorrow could be his best chance, especially if the front group stay together coming into the finale.

Other riders that may challenge in a reduced sprint for the line include the Yates twins, Bob Jungels, Wilco Kelderman and Jarlinson Pantano. One final rider worthy of a mention is dutch rider, Jetse Bol. The Manzana Postobon rider started his career off as a sprinter before recently targeting the GC in small stage races.

He placed 10th in the recent Vuelta Burgos with consistent placings on each stage. If a reduced group do come to the finish tomorrow, the Manzana Postobon rider could just be an outsider to take the win, he packs a punchy sprint and will certainly not be on the radar of most riders…

Race Prediction

The race will be hard from the off, a cagey pace set by the GC teams as they attempt to monitor the break whilst also gauging the form of their strongest rivals. Any potential move won’t be given much leeway and may even be caught before they reach the Col de la Rabassa.

Jetse Bol to take a GT win for Manzana Postobon and shock the rest of the WT teams. CREDIT: Wielerflits

Attacks will fly on the lower ramps, Quickstep and BMC eager to duke it out for ownership of the leader’s jersey. David de la Cruz and Nicolas Roche will be big dangers, but a lack of cooperation with the knowledge that either could go into the leader’s jersey by the finish, the attack will crumble.

A select group of around 40 riders should come to the finish together, a sprint for the line inevitable. Manzana Postobon will put in a strong leadout to deliver Jetse Bol into the best position. The Dutchman will then take an impressive GT stage win!

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…