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11.09.2015 @ 15:55 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tom Dumoulin proved that he is probably the strongest rider in the race by staying glued to Fabio Aru’s wheel and even launching his own counterattack in the finale of today’s stage. The Italian now only has two chances left, with tomorrow’s classic stage to Avila offering the first of those opportunities even though the terrain is unlikely to be hard enough to make the Dutchman crack.

 

The course

The city of Avila on the northern outskirts of Madrid has often welcomed the national grand tour late in the race and has often been a place for escapees to shine in the lumpy terrain. For some reason, the city hasn’t been visited since 2009 and so it will be a welcome return when the race arrives here at the end of stage 19. The terrain is selective and it has never given any room for the sprinters but it has never really given much room for the GC riders to shine either and it is unlikely to be any different in 2015.

 

The stage brings the riders over 185.5km from Medina del Camp to Avila and mainly consists of a long southerly run as the riders continue their journey towards Madrid. The starting city is located in a part of the country that is almost entirely flat so there will be no major challenges in the first part that is only very slightly ascending.

 

After 86.6km of racing, the riders get to Avila for the first time and then it is time to venture into the hills on the southern outskirts of the city. At the 92km mark, the riders hit the bottom of the category 3 Alto de Valdavia (13km, 2.7%) which is a typical Spanish uphill drag with no steep parts. The summit comes with 80.8km to go and leads straight onto a long descending section.

 

At the southernmost point of the course, the riders will turn around to head back towards Avila and that naturally means that the roads are gradually ascending. With 27.8km to go, they will contest the intermediate sprint and then it is straight onto the lower slopes of the main challenge, the category 2 Alto de la Paramera (8.7km, 4.5%). It is a long gradual uphill drag that gradually gets steeper. The steepest section comes near the top where it averages 6.2% for two kilometres.

 

The summit is located just 19.5km from the finish and from here the roads are mainly slightly descending as the riders head back north to Avila. There’s a small uncategorized climb with 10km to go and then it’s a short descent and a flat section that leads to the well-known finale on the cobbled wall in the city centre. The gradient hovers around 4-6% for around one kilometre. The climb starts just before the 2km to go mark and ends at the flamme rouge from where the road is only slightly ascending at around 2%. There are several roundabouts inside the final 5 kilometres. The riders will turn left with 2.5km to go and turn left in a roundabout at the flamme rouge. From there, the riders only have to tackle some sweeping bends.

 

Avila last hosted a stage in 2009 when Philip Deignan turned out to be the strongest from a breakaway, beating Roman Kreuziger in a two-rider sprint on the cobbled wall. In 2008, it was Luis Perez Rodriguez who took a solo win on a day when the GC riders battled for the stage win after a harder stage. In 2005, Nicki Sørensen won from a breakaway while Javier Pascal Rodriguez won a two-rider sprint in 2004. Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta took a solo win in 2002 while Mariano Piccoli won a reduced bunch sprint in 2000. In 1999, the city hosted two stage finishes. First Frank Vandenbroucke took a solo win while Jan Ullrich confirmed his overall victory one day later when he crushed the opposition in the time trial on the penultimate stage one day later.

 

 

 

 

 

The weather

Today the riders had another day in the sun and that is not expected to change. Friday is forecasted to be sunny and with a maximum temperature in Avila, it will be warmer than it has been for a few days.

 

It will be slightly windier, with a moderate wind blowing from a southerly direction. This means that it will be a long day in the headwind until the riders have descended from the first climb. Then they will turn into a tailwind for the final climb while there will be a cross-tailwind on the way back to Avila. In the final 2500m, there will be a cross-headwind.

 

The favourites

If anyone thought that it would be easy to beat Tom Dumoulin, the Dutchman firmly proved them wrong in today’s stage. Fabio Aru definitely didn’t hold anything back during his many attacks but Dumoulin never gave him an inch. In fact, the pair were so strong that they briefly dropped the rest but still the race leader never looked like he was under pressure.

 

After the stage, Dumoulin has clearly gained a lot of confidence and his post-race comments suggest that he now feels pretty comfortable that he can win the race. He looked like the strongest rider in the race and confirmed that assessment when he even went on the attack in the finale.

 

It is hard to say why Dumoulin is suddenly climbing better than everybody else in this race but there is no doubt that freshness plays a big role. The Dutchman has barely raced all year and while all his rivals are fatigued, he still has a lot of reserves left. Furthermore, he has proved that he is recovering very well and even though it is untested territory for him to ride full gas every day for three weeks, it is not a major surprise that he gets stronger compared to many of his rivals. Furthermore, the climbs in today’s stage suited him extremely well as they were long, gradual uphill stretches where a powerful guy like Dumoulin can easily match the climbers.

 

Finally, the new situation has forced him to change his strategy. In the first part of the race, he used his usual tactic of time trialling his way up the climb without going into the red. That cost him some time in stage 15 where he felt that he could have stayed with the best much longer. Now he knows that he has to respond to Aru’s many attacks and he has surprised himself by being able to follow all accelerations.

 

Aru now has two chances left and there is no doubt that he will do his best in both stage 19 and 20. However, tomorrow’s stage doesn’t really suit a skinny climber like the Astana captain as it is much more like a classic. That makes it perfect for Dumoulin and it will be a big surprise if Dumoulin loses any ground tomorrow. Of course Aru has to give it a go on the final climb and again Astana are likely to make things hard. However, the main goal is probably to make Dumoulin tired ahead of Saturday’s stage which is where the real battle will take place.

 

In fact, tomorrow’s stage could turn out to be an advantage for Dumoulin. The cobbled climb in Avila is really perfect for Dumoulin. Today it was evident that Aru doesn’t have the power when the explosive guys like Daniel Moreno, Alejandro Valverde and Dumoulin go full gas. If Dumoulin drops the hammer on the climb with 2km, it may not be impossible for him to distance Aru and then time trial his way to the finish to gain a few seconds on his main rivals. Hence, it will probably be a good idea for Astana not to go too crazy early in the stage as a few domestiques could be crucial in the finale.

 

Dumoulin’s team also deserves a mention. Much has been said about the lack of support for the Dutchman but today fast riders like John Degenkolb, Luka Mezgec and Koen De Kort really stepped up and stayed with their leader for a long time. Tomorrow’s terrain is perfect for these riders so it won’t be possible for Aru to isolate Dumoulin before they get to the final climb. Tactics will only come into play in stage 20 where he could find himself alone pretty early in the stage.

 

While we should have another battle between the GC riders, the stage is likely to be won by a breakaway. As we said yesterday, no one really has an interest in chasing down the break. Aru knows that Dumoulin is the fastest so he needs to drop Dumoulin to get the red jersey. Hence, he prefers the bonus seconds to be taken out of the game. Dumoulin carefully has to gauge the efforts of his team so he won’t do anything. Only Movistar have a real interest in bringing things back together as this stage is a good one for Valverde. However, they probably have their eyes in a final assault on the podium in Saturday’s stage so they will prefer to save their energy, especially if they get a rider in the early break.

 

Nonetheless, the break was nearly caught in today’s stage. That was mainly due to the fact that MTN-Qhubeka chased hard to defend their 10th place. When Astana wanted to make the race tough, the break nearly came back but it was never really the intention for anyone to shut it down. Tomorrow there is a chance that we will have a similar scenario but it is less likely. The riders who are still in GC contention will probably save some energy for Saturday so the break is less likely to be dangerous. Secondly, Astana will probably not ride as hard as they did in today’s stage.

 

This means that it should be another war in the first part of the stage. Everybody knows that the break is likely to stay away and as stage 20 is for climbers and stage 21 for sprinters, this is the final chance for a lot of riders. Hence, they will all be very motivated and it won’t be easy for anyone to get clear. When the elastic finally snaps, it is likely to be a very big group as teams that have missed out will always try to bring smaller groups back.

 

When the break has gone clear, Giant-Alpecin will hit the front and unless Movistar decide that they want to go for the stage win or an unsuccessful team that has missed the break, decides to chase, it will be a relatively calm day until Astana probably up the pace in the finale. Hence, we should again get two races: one for the stage win and one between the GC riders.

 

With a flat start, it is always a bit of a lottery to hit the break but at this point in a grand tour, freshness is extremely important, especially in what is likely to be a very fast start. This means that the usual suspects are likely to come to the fore. Furthermore, the easier finale means that the stage win is within reach for a much wider range of riders as much bigger and more powerful guys will be able to survive the final climb. Finally, the tricky finale in Avila is perfectly suited to punchy classics riders who can finish it off on this kind of short wall.

 

Yesterday we already put Giovanni Visconti on top of our list of favourites and we will do so again in today’s stage. The Italian was chasing behind the early break in today’s stage but failed to make the junction. In the finale, he again proved his excellent condition as he made it back to the 11 best riders alongside Gianluca Brambilla and Fabrice Jeandesboz. There is no doubt that he is one of the in-form riders at the moment.

 

Furthermore, Movistar want to have a rider in the early break. They virtually won the teams classification in today’s stage but they still need to follow Sky closely. Those teams will either both miss out or both hit the break and there is a big chance that they will both be there. Visconti is one of the best Movistar cards to play and he will be extremely strong in a finale that suits him well. He is climbing well, a great descender and most importantly he is very explosive in this kind of uphill finale. Hence, he is our favourite to win the stage.

 

Another rider that is perfectly suited to this kind of stage is Daryl Impey. The South African was short on form when he started this race but he is gradually getting better and better. In the second half of the race, he has been climbing really well and he is hard to drop on climbs that never get very steep. He has the power on the flats to join the break and he is fast in an uphill sprint. The main issue is whether Orica-GreenEDGE are too focused on Chaves to give him a chance to attack.

 

Jose Goncalves was already in the break in today’s stage where he missed the boat and had to settle for third. One would expect him to take it easier in tomorrow’s stage but that is unlikely to happen. Caja Rural are still chasing a stage win and this one is the best chance for the Portuguese. At this point, it is all about freshness and his recent performances prove that he is one of the freshest. Tomorrow’s easier climbing is more suited to the Caja Rural strong man who is virtually impossible to beat in this kind of finale.

 

Nelson Oliveira has already won a stage in this race and even though he claims to be tired, he is still riding very well. He was 8th in the time trial and was again among the best in today’s stage. There is no doubt that he will do his best to join the early break. The finale is not tailor-made for him but it is very similar to the one that saw him take a victory. He needs to drop his rivals but with his current power, that certainly won’t be impossible for the in-form Portuguese.

 

Jose Joaquin Rojas was in the break in today’s stage but like Oliveira, he has no reason not to try again tomorrow, especially as Movistar are focusing on the teams classification. He has already been in the break twice in a row earlier in the race and as he is still fresh, he can do it again. The climbs are easier in this stage which should suit him well and he has the explosiveness to do well in the finale.

 

As said, there is a chance that it will all come down to a battle between the favourites. In that case, it will be hard for anyone to beat Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard is clearly tired and he is unable to follow the best climbers when it gets very tough. That won’t be the case in tomorrow’s stage and no one will be able to drop the Spanish champion. Movistar have a strong team that should be able to control the late attacks and then Valverde just has to finish it off in an uphill sprint that suits him down to the ground.

 

As said, we won’t be surprised if Tom Dumoulin gains a few seconds on Aru in the finale. In fact, he may win the stage if it comes back together for a battle between the favourites. He is very fast in a sprint, especially if it is slightly uphill. He was second in the GP Quebec last year so it won’t be impossible for him to beat Valverde. With bonus seconds on the line, there is no doubt that he will give it a try.

 

The other threat to Valverde in a sprint is Daniel Moreno. The Katusha rider is faster than his captain Joaquim Rodriguez in this kind of sprint so he will probably be given his chance. Today he was on the attack in the finale and he is clearly still riding well. It won’t be easy to beat Valverde but it won’t be impossible.

 

Sky won a stage in today’s stage but they will definitely be hungry for more. They have lots of riders that can win this kind of stage. Nicolas Roche is likely to take a rest and instead Geraint Thomas, Salvatore Puccio, Vasil Kiryienka and Sergio Henao will be ready. Thomas, Puccio and Kiryienka have the form and firepower to escape on the flats and the former two have the explosiveness to finish it off in the finale. Kiryienka is very strong on a climb like the one he will face in the finale and it won’t be easy for anyone to keep up with him if he goes full gas in the tailwind.

 

Etixx-QuickStep are still desperately searching for that stage win. Today it was Pieter Serry who got close and tomorrow they will try again. Their best cards for this kind of stage are Serry and Maxime Bouet who are both still riding really well. They are strong on the flats, climb well and are fast in a sprint.

 

It has been a disastrous race for Cannondale-Garmin who have been fairly anonymous. They have no sprinter so they have two chances left. Their best card is definitely Moreno Moser who has been riding discreetly. However, his third place in the very hard stage 16 proves that his form is not too bad. This stage suits him really well as he is both a good climber and very strong in an uphill sprint.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo still aim for the podium with Rafal Majka. However, they are also riding aggressively. Today Daniele Bennati and Pawel Poljanski were in the break. Tomorrow it could be a chance for Jay McCarthy. The Australian seems to be a bit tired but his punchy climbing skills make him suited to this finale.

 

Ruben Plaza, Jerome Coppel, Stephen Cummings and Alessandro De Marchi are breakaway specialists who are still riding strongly. They have the power on the flats to join the break but they all miss the sprint to finish it off. However, the climbs in the finale offer them a chance to make a difference and it they get a gap, they have the firepower to finish it off.

 

Finally, Simon Gerrans deserves a mention. We haven’t seen much from him in this race as he has mostly been supporting Esteban Chaves. However, it is about time that he tests himself for the Worlds and he claims to be riding pretty well. The finale has his name written all over its place so it should be a good opportunity if he is given the chance to play his own card.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Giovanni Visconti (breakaway)

Other winner candidates: Daryl Impey (breakaway), Jose Goncalves (breakaway)

Outsiders: Nelson Oliveira (breakaway), Jose Joaquin Rojas (breakaway), Simon Gerrans (breakaway), Alejandro Valverde, Tom Dumoulin, Daniel Moreno

Jokers: Geraint Thomas, Salvatore Puccio, Vasil Kiryienka, Sergio Henao, Maxime Bouet, Pieter Serry, Moreno Moser, Jay McCarthy, Ruben Plaza, Jerome Coppel, Stephen Cummings, Alessandro De Marchi (all from a breakaway)

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