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Photo: Sirotti






12.09.2015 @ 21:41 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tom Dumoulin had a bad day in the worst possible stage and saw three weeks of excellent riding end with a disappointing sixth place. Instead, Fabio Aru will be celebrated when the race reaches Madrid tomorrow but first Giant-Alpecin will look to strike back with an elusive win for John Degenkolb in the Spanish capital.


The course

While the Giro d’Italia has changed its finishing city on several occasions and have alternated a bit between sprint stages and time trials for the final day, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana have been a lot more conservative. Since 1990, the French race has always finished with a flat road stage in Paris, with the Champs-Elysees being the most famous cycling avenue due to its role in the biggest race in the world. The Vuelta organizers have experimented a bit more but in recent years they have almost always had a flat sprint stage in Madrid on the final day. Last year their desire to celebrate the 800th anniversary visit of St Francis of Assisi’s visit to Santiago de Compostela saw them change things by having a short time trial in that city but before that the race hadn’t had a final time trial since 2002 and not finished outside Madrid since 1993.


Already last year the organizers promised to return to tradition for the 2015 edition and so it is no surprise that the race ends with a flat stage to the capital. Like in the Tour, it is always a mostly ceremonial affair and the organizers have made the wise decision to make it relatively short. At 98.8km, it is the shortest road stage of the race and brings the riders from the eastern suburb of Alcala de Henares to Madrid.


Like ASO did for this year’s Tour de France, Unipublic have also shortened the first part of the course which is where the riders celebrate their achievements by riding at a slow pace. Hence, they will head directly towards the city centre along completely flat roads and already after 39.8km of racing, they will cross the finish line for the first time. The final part of the stage is made up of 10 laps of a 5.9km finishing circuit that is completely flat. It is the same circuit that has been used in the past and is well-known by most of the riders. It is T-shaped and includes three U-turns and two 90-degree turns but otherwise is held on wide and straight roads. The final turn comes at the flamme rouge and then it is a straight, very slightly ascending road to the finish on Plaza Cibeles in the heart of Madrid.


As said, the race skipped its usual finish in Madrid in 2014 but apart from that it has finished in the capital every year since 1993. Michael Matthews was the last rider to win in the city in 2013 while John Degenkolb completed a memorable race by taking the win in 2012. Peter Sagan won the final stage of his debut grand tour in 2011 while Tyler Farrar beat Mark Cavendish in 2010. André Greipel came out on top in 2009 and Matti Breschel was the surprise winner in 2008. Daniele Bennati continued a great Vuelta by winning the stage in 2007 while Erik Zabel took the win in 2006. Alessandro Petacchi and the Italians practiced their lead-out for the Worlds in 2005 to deliver the fastman to another victory and Santiago Perez was the last rider to win a TT in 2004. Petacchi was again the fastest in 2003 and Aitor Gonzalez took the overall victory by winning a TT in 2002. In 2001, Santiago Botero won a TT and it was Santos Gonzalez who came out on top in race against the clock in 2000. In 1999, Jeroen Blijlevens took a sprint win.





The weather

Little wind, no rain and lots of sunshine have been the ingredients for the 2015 Vuelta and it will be more of the same in the final stage. After a cloudy morning, Sunday will be a day of beautiful sunshine and the same goes for the evening when the riders will be racing. The maximum temperature will be 26 degrees but when the stage is held, it is likely to have dropped to a pleasant 24 degrees.


It will be the windiest day of the entire race as a relatively strong wind will be blowing from a southwesterly direction. This means that it will be a headwind in the first part of the stage until the riders get to the circuit. Here they will mainly have a cross-headwind in the first part of the circuit until they turn into a cross-tailwind when the hit the finishing straight just before the flamme rouge.


The favourites

It was heart-breaking to see Tom Dumoulin lose it all on what seemed to be his only bad day of the entire race. Until today, he had shown much sign of weakness, was recovering well and even seemed to be confident that he would be able to keep up with the climbers. However, already early in the stage he felt that this could be the jour sans of his race and as things panned out, there was no way he could have defended the lead. Of course he wasn’t benefited by a relatively weak team for this kind of stage but in the end he lost the race to a stronger rider.


At the same time, Astana did everything right. Placing two of their strongest riders for the flats in the early break was the obvious strategy and Giant-Alpecin didn’t have the team to prevent it. Furthermore, Mikel Landa really showed his loyalty to Aru by setting the brutal pace that ultimately made Dumoulin crack. If Aru had lost the Vuelta, the Basque was likely to have left the team on a bitter not after he took away important bonus seconds in Andorra but today there is no doubt that Landa played a key role in Aru’s win.


At the same time, the fight for the podium places turned out to be very exciting. Since the time trial, it has been evident the Rafal Majka and Nairo Quintana have been on the up while Joaquim Rodriguez was no longer as strong as he was in the second week. That nearly cost the Spaniard his spot on the podium but despite showing clear signs of weakness, he now ended the day as one of the winners as he moved into second. After the TT, he claimed to be more disappointed than he was in 2012 but now he is likely to admit that he would not have won the race anyway. Hence, it was not a surprise that he was extremely pleased at the end of the stage. At the same time, Quintana must regret his illness as it is hard to imagine that he wouldn’t have been the winner of the race if he hadn’t paid the price for his health issues in Andorra.


Aru now just have to survive around 100 flat kilometres before he will be able to savour the proudest moment of his sporting career. At the same time, Giant-Alpecin will hope to strike back in the best possible by way by winning the final stage in Madrid. 9-time stage winner in the Vuelta John Degenkolb won the Madrid sprint when he last did it in 2012 and in what has been a very unsuccessful Vuelta for him until now, he hopes to continue his winning trend in the capital.


Final stages in grand tour can either be a time trial or a sprint stage. In the former case, the GC comes into play right until the end but in the latter case, the overall race is decided. Hence, tomorrow’s stage will follow the well-known pattern.


The organizers have made the wise decision to make the stage very short, thus following the pattern of the Tour de France of shortening the ceremonial part and having more exciting in the end. We will have the usual ceremonial ride in the first part where the riders will celebrate their achievements, enjoy a bit of champagne and get photos taken. Astana will gradually up the speed as we get closer to Madrid and then the race will start for real when the riders cross the finish line for the first time.


From this point, the race will be extremely fast. Usually a small group gets clear in the first two or three laps but they rarely get much of an advantage. In such a short stage, it is important not to let the situation get out of control so we can expect Giant-Alpecin and Trek to come to the fore very early. The gap will probably stay between 30 and 60 seconds for most of the stage.


In the Giro, the breakaway created a big surprise but this is not the kind of circuit where it is possible to stay away. It’s a non-technical, high-speed circuit that clearly favours a big peloton and a final road stage in Madrid hasn’t been won by a breakaway for more than a decade. There aren’t many sprinters left in this race but Giant-Alpecin and Trek will go all in for a bunch sprint so it won’t be possible for anyone to stay away.


One interesting battle is the one for the points jersey. Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde are separated by just two points. In 2012, Rodriguez also went into the final stage as the leader in that classification but Valverde decided to mix it up in the bunch sprint to take the jersey off the shoulders of his compatriot. Tomorrow he will probably try to do so again. He could get a first chance already in the intermediate sprint at the second passage of the line if the break has not gone clear at that point. Otherwise he may want to do the bunch sprint like he did in 2012 where he finished sixth. If that’s the case, there’s not for Rodriguez can do as he doesn’t have a chance in this kind of finish. As opposed to this, Valverde has even won sprints in the past and even though he is not fast enough to win this kind of sprint, he is very likely to take green if he wants to go for it.


The finishing straight is very long and wide and as there will be a cross-tailwind, it will be very fast. This is one for the really fast power sprinters and this makes John Degenkolb the obvious favourite. The German hasn’t had much success in this race as he has been boxed in in the recent bunch sprints but he has proved his status as clearly the fastest rider in the bunch.


When Kristian Sbaragli beat him in stage 10, Degenkolb was left isolated as his teammates had had to chase hard. In stage 12, the team completely messed up the lead-out. However, they clearly have the best train to set up a sprinter as they proved in the early sprint stages of the race. Koen De Kort, Luka Mezgec and Zico Waeytens are all sprinters in their own right and the former two have lots of lead-out experience. Furthermore, Dumoulin is now free to play his usual role in the lead-out as he no longer has to focus too much on avoiding any splits – Valverde is far behind on GC – so Giant-Alpecin should be able to dominate the finale.


The main issue is of course whether the riders on the German team are too tired. They have had to dig much deeper than planned in the last few stages due to Dumoulin’s GC position. However, Degenkolb, Mezgec and De Kort have really impressed on the climbs and this proves that they are in excellent condition. Degenkolb recovers better than most sprinters and is always very strong at the end of a three-week race. With the form he has shown recently, he will be very hard to beat in a power sprint that suits his down to the ground.


His biggest rival will undoubtedly be Danny van Poppel. With the withdrawal of most of the fastest sprinters, the Dutchman is clearly number two in the hierarchy when it comes to pure speed. He proved that by winning stage 12. Furthermore, he has a solid team to support him. Unfortunately, he has lost lots of lead-out firepower with the abandonment of Jasper Stuyven and Fabian Cancellara but he can still rely on his usual lead-out man Boy van Poppel who is on the mend after having suffered from illness. He loves sprints that are slightly uphill and most importantly he still seems to be fresh at the end of three weeks of hard racing. Trek don’t have the firepower to match Giant-Alpecin but if Boy can drop Danny off in a good position, he may be able to beat Degenkolb.


One team that has firepower for the flats is LottoNL-Jumbo. They did a really good lead-out for Tom Van Asbroeck in stage 12 but the uphill finishing straight was a bit too much for the Belgian. Since then they have lost Maarten Tjallingii and Maarten Wynants but Van Asbroeck will still be supported by fast riders like Dennis van Winder and Mike Teunissen. There is no doubt that Van Asbroeck is not as fast as Degenkolb or van Poppel but with this kind of team support, he may be able to start his sprint from the perfect position. He likes uphill sprints and this time the finishing straight seems to be very good for him.


Etixx-QuickStep are here without their big-name sprinters and this has given Nikolas Maes the chance to test himself in the bunch kicks. Some of the sprints have been a bit too much uphill to suit the big Belgian but he has still been able to do well, most notably with a fourth place in Lleida. This stage is definitely the one that suits him best. He has been riding aggressively in the breaks and still seems to be relatively fresh and he has some fast guys in the team to lead him out, most notably Iljo Keisse. There are faster riders like him in this race but he has the team to deliver a good result.


Unlike Maes, Jempy Drucker doesn’t have much team support. Nonetheless, the Luxembourger has been one of the most consistent sprinters in this race, finishing in the top 6 in almost every sprint he has done. He is not a pure sprinter but he is excellent at positioning himself and his performances in the Vuelta just confirm what he had already done in the Eneco Tour. Unlike many sprinters, he should still be fresh at this point even though it is his first grand tour. He is probably not fast enough to win but he should be up there.


Maximilano Richeze was hoping to show the same kind of consistency in this race as he did in 2013 but he has not had much luck. The uphill finishes have not suited him well but in the only flat sprint he was up there in fifth. Two years ago he was fifth in Madrid and on paper he is one of the fastest riders in this field. The main problem is that he doesn’t have much team support. However, he has tons of experience and is very good at positioning himself.


Kristian Sbaragli has already won a stage in this race. However, it will be hard for him to repeat that feat in Madrid as he usually needs a much harder stage to shine. On the other hand, fatigue plays a big role at the end of a grand tour and this may be beneficial for a good climber like Sbaragli. He can rely on some solid firepower in his team and most importantly he has Youcef Reguigui for the lead-out.


Daryl Impey is not a pure sprinter. Nonetheless, he was second in the latest bunch sprint and he is likely to give it a go again tomorrow. While he usually doesn’t have the speed to win this kind of sprint, he can rely on a strong team to support him. Jens Keukeleire and Simon Gerrans are both very fast and that’s what made the difference in Lleida last week. Now he misses Mitchell Docker but if his team can again deliver him near the front, another good result may be in store.


As said, Valverde may have his eyes on the points jersey and this means that Movistar have to decide if they want to support their captain in the sprint. This means that Jose Joaquin Rojas may be forced into a lead-out role. If not, he should be up there as he is very good at positioning himself. At the end of a grand tour, he is usually much fresher than the pure sprinters but he probably doesn’t have the speed to win this kind of easy stage.


Tosh van der Sande is not a pure sprinter either but he has been sprinting consistently well in this race. In fact, he was third in Lleida in a stage that should have been much too easy for him. With Jasper de Buyst and Adam Hansen, he has some serious firepower for the lead-out and this may make up for his lack of speed.


Finally, Daniele Bennati deserves a mention. The Italian is a former winner of this stage but nowadays he rarely mixes it up in the sprints. However, there is no doubt that he will give it a go in tomorrow’s stage and with Jay McCarthy and Pavel Brutt for the lead-out, he has a solid team at his side. He is no longer as good at positioning as once was and he may decide to sit up if it gets too risky. On the other hand, he has lots of experience and is usually strong at the end of a grand tour, especially as he hasn’t done much racing this year.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: John Degenkolb

Other winner candidates: Danny van Poppel, Tom Van Asbroeck

Outsiders: Nikolas Maes, Jempy Drucker, Maximilano Richeze, Kristian Sbaragli

Jokers: Daryl Impey, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Alejandro Valverde, Tosh van der Sande, Daniele Bennati, Vicente Reynes, Kevin Reza



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