Another day, another Quickstep rider taking the victory. So far, the boys in blue haven’t gone a stage without placing a rider outside the second place position, will they repeat this feat today?
Stage Four Review
The day began under searing sun, many teams unwilling to exert themselves too much in the opening few kilometres. Four riders made the escape but hostility on the only climb of the day soon slashed the group down to two, Rossetto and Rubio the final riders standing.
The pair waged a fierce fight with the peloton and managed to hold them to two minutes going into the final 20km. The catch was always inevitable however and the duo soon crumbled under the pressure from the group behind.
Several teams swamped the front, leapfrogging each other to lead through the pivotal roundabouts that lined the final 5km of the route. Bora Hansgrohe appeared the strongest but were soon swamped by AG2R, eager to keep Romain Bardet out of danger.
Such an infernal pace with teams all over the road soon caused crashes behind, Pozzovivo and Moreno crashing at the 3.1km mark, disastrous for their individual GC ambitions. Quickstep emerged from the dust and lead the group into the final kilometre, Alaphilippe putting in a strong turn to propel Trentin into the best position.
Lobato opened up the sprint on the slight drag to the finish but was soon overhauled by Trentin, the Italian heads above the rest in terms of sprinting power. His victory ensured that he became the 100th rider in history to take a stage in each Grand Tour, an impressive feat for a rider with no clear favoured discipline.
Stage Five Preview
Back to back sprint stages at La Vuelta would be a purely scandalous notion, so, back to the mountains!
The Route: Benicassim –> Ermita Santa Lucia (175.7km)
Climbing begins in earnest today, once the riders pass the 16th kilometre they’ll be met with the foot of the Alto del Desierto, a tough little test that will set the tone for the rest of the day’s racing.
A trio of intermediate climbs are still to come before the riders can even begin thinking about the final test. The Alto de Cabanes stretches for 7.3km at an average of 4.4%, nothing too difficult but it will start to sap the strength from many riders legs.
The Coll de la Bandereta and Alto de la Serratella come next, a duo of Cat 2 climbs that may see some riders in the bunch start to be distanced.
As they descend from the Serratella, the riders will be treated to a brief section of respite before they encounter the ‘wall’ finish lying in wait.
With 3.5km to go, riders will be thrown upwards as the road rises to the finish line at an average of 9.7%. The gradient isn’t constant however, the ascent actually rising in steps with some touching double figures. These steeper sections will be ideal for a stinging attack; any distance forged will mean time gaps at the finish.
Not only will the riders have to compete with grueling percentages tomorrow, but also the soaring temperatures. Both will combine to create a truly hellish day in the saddle, expect the natives to cope best and punish the rest of the bunch…
A lucrative breakaway day?
Given the repeated ascents throughout tomorrow’s stage, the profile certainly screams breakaway day. However, we’re still only four days into this three week race with no clear disparity between the GC contenders and climbers ‘who like to attack’.
Any rider that stands a chance of conquering tomorrow’s finish will need to be a strong climber, but with the gaps on GC still tight, many won’t be allowed the chance to make the escape. This looks like it’s going to be another day for the GC contenders to stretch their legs, especially on the final summit finish to the line…
Orica Scott and Movistar are two teams that will be eyeing up tomorrow’s finish, each squad filled with at least three riders that could take the stage win. Both also have GC threats and could potentially make inroads into Chris Froome’s red jersey lead, particularly Esteban Chaves.
This is a perfect finish for the Colombian and a chance for him to ride straight into the leader’s red jersey. Orica will be wise to this and will look to chase down, or even prevent a high quality breakaway from escaping early in the day.
It’s unclear as to how Sky will approach tomorrow’s stage. As race leaders, it may be expected of them to chase down any potential breakaway, but with Froome not exactly excelling on finishes like today’s it may be safer to let the breakaway take the spoils and prevent any riders from snatching swathes of bonus seconds at the finish.
All this points to a cagey affair from the moment the flag drops tomorrow, every team having a different plan of how they’re going to approach tomorrow’s finish.
Aside from the Cat 2 climb before the finish of stage 2, we have had little to go by to indicate the climbing form of each and every rider. We’ve seen glimmers of brilliance from some, but also seeds of doubt in others; may we be treated to a more level playing field on tomorrow’s steep summit finish?
Orica’s Esteban Chaves heads the list of stage favourites, the Colombian’s form seemingly coming on leaps and bounds since a disastrous Tour de France debut. Chaves was the only rider to match Froome’s infernal pace on Monday’s mountainous finale and looks set to do the same today.
The finish is tailor made for the diminutive Colombian and out of the list of GC favourites, this is his playground to start gaining time. Both Froome and Nibali need longer climbs to really compete, this is a chance for Chaves to take time and set out his plan for the long game to Madrid.
He’ll have loyal support from both Simon and Adam Yates, the two Brits possibly acting as foils before the real stinging attack comes from Chaves.
Another Brit possibly hunting for stage glory today will be race leader himself, Chris Froome. After a relatively lacklustre Tour, by his standards, he has finally started to show some of the aggressive climbing tendencies that originally paved his way to cycling stardom.
Steep summit finishes aren’t his kryptonite, but he certainly wouldn’t back himself tomorrow in the company of Chaves and Daniel Moreno. Unless Team Sky can isolate riders like Chaves, Froome will have an incredibly tough time taking tomorrow’s stage win.
The Movistar rider, on the other hand, could just be Chaves’ biggest competitor for the stage victory. In his Katusha days, this type of finish was his bread and butter; if Moreno didn’t win, he teammate and loyal friend, ‘Purito’ Rodriguez sure did. He may have crashed on today’s stage, but his motivation to finish and salvage time indicated that the pain may have only been temporary.
Movistar have come to this race with no clear GC ambitions, a rare situation for a team that often competes with the likes of Team Sky for Grand Tour success. With riders such as Marc Soler, Ruben Fernandez and Carlos Betancur, they have a wealth of talent that could really dominate today’s summit finish.
If Moreno isn’t quite feeling it come the final 20km, there’s no doubt that one of these young Movistar riders will snatch at the mantle and assume leadership…
Another GC contender with one eye on tomorrow’s steep summit finish will be Frenchman, Romain Bardet. He took out a similar stage on the recent Tour de France on the summit of the infamous Peyragudes climb, beating the likes of both Froome and Aru.
On stage 2’s final climb and descent to the finish, he showed great strength and placed fourth on the stage, evidence that Tour de France form was still with him. AG2R demonstrated that they have clear GC ambitions for Bardet today, mobbing the front in the final sprint to keep him safe; could this be the start of a Bardet quest for red?
Whilst it looks likely that it will be the big GC guns firing in tomorrow’s finale, we could potentially get a situation where the strongest climbers from the initial break survive to contest the finish. Nicolas Roche is a strong candidate for such a situation; he may be sitting close to Froome on GC, but Sky won’t be worried about lending the jersey out for a few stages.
The Irishman has found great success in this race, all from breakaway exploits. He won’t take the win from the group of main favourites tomorrow, but if he can find himself within a select escape group, he may just spring a surprise. He possess a punchy acceleration and shouldn’t be underestimated as the climb begins to flatten in the final few hundred metres.
A number of other riders may just play their cards tomorrow, Rui Costa, Michael Woods, Luis Leon Sanchez and Darwin Atapuma all potential candidates for the stage victory.
Orica Scott have the strength and depth to do what they please with today’s stage, whether that is to smoothly control it, or shatter it altogether.
No matter how they approach, their end goal will be to get Chaves into the best position to take the stage win, grab a ten second bonus and pull on the red jersey.
Mano a Mano, the Colombian is the strongest rider on these kind of steep uphill finishes, not many riders will be able to stop him today.
Esteban Chaves to take a stage win and find another reason to show off the peloton’s most ‘award winning smile’…
Who do you think will take today’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…