Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 8 Preview

Yet another breakaway day on this 2017 Vuelta a Espana, Matej Mohoric proving the strongest of the 14 man escape group come the finale. Tomorrow sees the riders head into a pivotal GC day, who will prosper, and which of the contenders will falter?

Mohoric wins solo in Cuenca, dropping his breakaway compatriots on the final climb. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

Stage 7 Review

Despite the stage being billed as a flat affair, the GC battle raged as soon as the starting flag was dropped. Wilco Kelderman tried to sneak away, but with the ever present sentinels of Team Sky mobbing the front, the Sunweb rider never got very far.

Eventually 14 riders managed to breakaway, the group containing Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Richard Carapaz, Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar), Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale), Floris De Tier (LottoNL-Jumbo), Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Arnaud Courteille (FDJ), Luis Angel Mate, Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Rafael Reis (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Aldemar Reyes and Jetse Bol (Manzana-Postobon).

With such an elite selection of riders, the breakaway soon took an unassailable lead on the peloton behind. Crosswinds just before the feed-zone split the peloton in two and soon shot nerves around the bunch, many of the GC contenders worried about splits come the finale.

The echelons came to nothing however and the groups smoothly came back together, no love lost for those riders pressing on the front. A gruesome crash in the middle of the bunch soon saw Larry Warbasse and Merhawi Kudus abandon the race, terrible news for both Dimension Data and Aqua Blue sport.

Team Sky lead the peloton for yet another day. CREDIT: Team Sky

De Gendt was the first of the breakaway riders to put in a decsive move, followed by BMC’s Alessandro De Marchi. Neither managed to snap the elastic, stringing the group out on the final ascent. Gougeard and Mohoric gained a little more traction with their attack, but were followed by the more experienced members of the day’s break.

A masterclass in descending from Mohoric then saw him solo away on the downhill into Cuenca, his revolutionary style inspiring the likes of both Chris Froome and Peter Sagan. No one could catch the Slovenian as he rode into Cuenca, claiming a grand tour stage win and the biggest victory to date in his short career.

The peloton came in over 8 minutes down, Jetse Bol the rider in the breakaway to profit most from the time gaps at the finish, moving into 7th place overall. Chris Froome holds onto the leaders jersey, but with only 11 seconds on his nearest rival, Esteban Chaves, will he reach tomorrow’s finish still in red?

Stage Eight Preview 

After allowing the breakaways to run rife over the previous couple of stages, tomorrow sees an opportunity for the GC riders to light up the race before going into the first rest day. To attack the final climb or wait till the sprint finish? That is the key question tomorrow…

The Route: Hellin –> Xorret de Cati (199.5km)

Stage 8 Profile. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

Climbing will begin as soon as the 13th kilometre tomorrow, despite the ascent not being catergorised, it is made up of a series of small rolling hills; perfect breakaway country.

A long descent to the mid way point of the stage should give any potential move the opportunity to really get their escape in motion, taking upwards of 6-7 minutes on the group behind.

Two Cat 3 climbs then come in quick succession, both climb at an average of 4.2%, the first 6km in length and the second 7km. Individually, they aren’t too difficult to worry the peloton, but coming in quick succession they may just start to dislodge a few riders.

The route then continues to roll up towards the final climb of the day; such a rolling route will make it difficult for one team to keep tabs on the race and attacks may start to fly. Team Sky will have a difficult job on the run in, each and every team in the race looking to isolate Froome before the finale.

The infamous Alto Xorret de Catí. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

The Alto Xorret de Catí is only 5km long, but at an average of 9%, this is one tortuous ascent. The first 1.5km are relatively simple, gradients of 2% should allow for the GC contenders to start mobbing the front of the bunch.

As soon as the riders hit the second kilometre, percentages shoot up into the double digits and should leave the majority of the peloton reeling, wishing they had never started the climb in the first place.

Double digit percentages remain the norm throughout and even ramp up to a grueling 18% just after the 3km mark. The climb does shallow over the summit, but not enough to allow any detached riders back on. Any attack that goes on this climb won’t be seen again until the finish.

No summit finish, just a plummeting descent to the finish. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

The descent isn’t too technical and the riders should be able to build up some insane speeds on the straight kilometre downhill.

They’ll need to carry a little speed under the flamme rouge, this isn’t exactly a flat finish. It climbs in steps and chicanes before the riders hit the finish line, a run in that should provide an exciting sprint.

The first significant GC day?

Despite the race still being in it’s early embers, we’ve already seen a fierce battle wage between the top GC contenders. None of the stages so far have been particularly decisive, but they have managed to sift through the competition to leave the real contenders remaining.

Tomorrow marks the first real testing climb of this year’s race, one sure to create big time gaps at the finish. The whole stage will effectively be reduced to one long drag to the final climb, many teams unwilling to light things up on the climbs beforehand.

The opportunists will take advantage of this and hope to form a large enough escape group to contend for the finish. Any breakaway move will need to start the final ascent with at least two minutes on those behind; the GC riders will surely hit this climb at full whack.

Half of Orica’s squad could realistically contend tomorrow. CREDIT: Greenedge Cycling

Team Sky, Orica and BMC will look to control any large breakaway move; each of their GC contenders will want a stage win here, a 10 second bonus going into the first rest day a big advantage with the second week just around the corner.

Chaves lies only 11 seconds off the lead of Froome and is clearly eager to take the red jersey at some point in this race. Better now than later will be the philosophy that Orica will employ, they need to take as much time now on the Brit to give Chaves the biggest chance going into the final week TT.

Expect the Aussie based team to be the ones lighting up tomorrow’s finale; they may even look to place a few names in the initial escape group, Jack Haig the principal choice for such a situation.

The Yates twins will then shepherd Chaves up the steep ascent before releasing the Colombian on the steepest ramps. This is where Froome is weak, perfect time to deliver a masterclass in climbing talent…

The Contenders

Orica Scott go into tomorrow’s stage with an eclectic mix of riders, half of which have the potential to claim the victory. Esteban Chaves is the principal rider, the little Colombian eager to gain a 10 second time bonus and snatch the red jersey off the shoulders of Chris Froome.

Chaves has re-found his 2016 form. CREDIT: BettiniPhoto

The Colombian is on some stellar form in this race and has peaked at the perfect moment; aside from Froome, he appears to be the biggest challenger for the final red jersey in Madrid. In terms of team support, he arguably has a greater depth in strength than Team Sky and shouldn’t struggle for assistance on tomorrow’s steep ascent.

One of the brothers, Adam Yates, could possibly act as a foil tomorrow for Chaves, attacking near the base of the final climb to force the other GC contenders to play their hands. Adam looks to be on a little stronger form than his brother and will love the opportunity to put even further time into his twin come the finish.

Even if the GC group find themselves arriving at the stage finish en masse, the young Brit is one of the punchiest sprinters of the group and should be up near the podium on the line.

Yet another rider from Orica Scott that may threaten tomorrow is young, lanky climber, Jack Haig. The Aussie has had an impressive month, taking a stage win and top 10 placing in the recent Tour de Pologne. He doesn’t have much experience riding Grand Tours and may just start to tire come the second week; if Orica want to use his strengths, they need to launch him now…

One to watch for the future of GT racing, Jack Haig. CREDIT: RDS.ca

Trek Segafredo set the final climb of stage 6 on fire, all in a bid to get their man Alberto Contador in the best position to launch one of his trademark moves. The Spaniard faded on stage 3’s significant climb, but since then, he appears to have uncovered some strong climbing form.

The longer climbs have been troubling him, but tomorrow’s short sharp ascent may just cater to his current needs. There’s no hiding the fact that he’s growing older, he simply can’t mix it with the best on the true mountain passes. Tomorrow is his chance to take a little time on the GC contenders around him, possibly moving himself onto the provisional podium.

Another rider that may look to commit to a similar Contador-esque attack on the final climb, is Frenchman, Romain Bardet. The AG2R rider is yet to make any serious statements on his GC ambitions, but a big result tomorrow may finally see him end his silence on the matter.

He’s clearly hiding how he truly feels, formwise; whether this is a good thing, or just mitigating his losses, we’ll surely find out tomorrow.

Bardet conquers the Peyragudes and affirms his dominance on the 2017 Tour. CREDIT: CorVos

After being overlooked for many stages so far in this race, race leader himself, Chris Froome, goes into tomorrow’s stage as one of the big favourites. He’s climbing better than he was in the Tour, actually launching killer attacks of his own.

He may shudder at the percentages tomorrow, but with riders like Chaves eager to attack, he’s going to have to dig in and follow. All he needs to do is mark the purer climbers all the way to the base of the descent, before overhauling them in the final sprint, a move guaranteed to infuriate the GC contenders around him.

David de la Cruz has had a relatively unlucky race so far, but despite his misfortunes, he still lies firmly in the top 10 overall, dangerously threatening the leader’s red jersey. The Spaniard excels on finishes like tomorrow’s and is known to be a demon descender.

If he can make a gap over the summit, no one will catch him before the finish. Another stage win for Quickstep will further their impressive record of a top ten on every stage (bar today) so far on this race.

Whilst tomorrow looks likely to see the return of the GC contenders vying for the stage win, it is possible that a strong breakaway may survive until the finish. Sky have made it clear that they would allow a breakaway rider to take the red jersey before the first rest day, taking some of the pressure off them for the rest of the race.

Navarro will need to infiltrate tomorrow’s move to stand a chance of taking stage victory. CREDIT: Tim De Waele

Two riders looking to infiltrate tomorrow’s move will be Jetse Bol and Daniel Navarro. The Dutch rider now finds himself lying in 7th overall after his breakaway exploits over the past couple of days. If he has enough energy to jump into tomorrow’s escape, he could just take the red jersey at the finish.

Cofidis climber, Navarro, will be eager to perform once again on this infamous climb. He was second to Wout Poels up the ascent in the 2016 Volta a la Communitat and clearly loves the grueling percentages. He won’t win from the GC group tomorrow and will need to infiltrate the day’s escape to give him a large enough buffer come the finale…

Race Prediction

So far, the Vuelta has become a real breakaway affair, the escapees profiting on three of the six road stages so far. Whilst tomorrow may be billed as the return of the GC contenders, Team Sky have made it clear that they won’t be chasing any breakaway moves.

Who does that leave to chase? Orica? Trek? Will they really chase down a move and give Froome the chance of snapping more bonus seconds at the finish line?

I don’t think so…time for the breakaway to take yet another win!

Navarro will be looking to replicate his stage win from the 2014 Vuelta. CREDIT: CyclingQuotes.com

David Moncoutie was the last rider to win on this finish, in the 2010 Vuelta. Only right for a Cofidis rider to succeed him. Step forward, Daniel Navarro!

The Spaniard is no longer fighting for a ‘lucrative’ top 20 spot and is focussing all of his efforts on taking a final stage win before retirement. Tomorrow is the first of his chances to do so…

That being said, I bet the GC men make a real stab at tomorrow and foil any breakaway chances, just my luck.

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…