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Photo: Sirotti






27.08.2015 @ 15:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Hopefully, the GC riders enjoyed their easy day in today’s stage as they now go into two big battles with uphill finishes. With a short climb to the finish, tomorrow’s sixth stage is a bit of a warm-up to the first big mountain stage and could either come down to another battle between the punchy climbers or give the first chance for a breakaway to decide the stage


The course

The Vuelta is usually the grand tour that is most suited to puncheurs who have plenty of room to shine in a race that is usually loaded with finishes on short, steep climbs. This year it is no different but the many uphill finishes are slightly different from what we have seen in the past. This year there are no excessive gradients on brutal walls and instead the uphill finishes are open to a wider range of riders. One of those uphill sprints comes on the sixth day when the riders will tackle a stage that is very similar to the first road stage.


At 200.3km, it is another long Vuelta stage that brings the riders from the city of Cordoba to the uphill finish in Sierra de Cazorla. After five days spent in the same tiny area, it is time to head east and approach the province of Murcia. Hence, the stage is a typical transitional stage that brings the riders in an easterly direction all day. The roads are slightly lumpy with a few smaller climbs but there are no major climbs along the way.


After 132.7km of flat racing, the riders will get a chance to warm up their climbing legs when they hit the category 3 Alto de Baeza (11.8km, 3.9%) which is a typical Spanish uphill drag that never gets very steep. The summit is located 55.8km from the finish and is followed by a mostly downhill section. It ends with 20km to go and from there it is slightly uphill all the way to the finish. However, the first part never gets steep as the gradient hovers between 0% and 5% and stays around 2-3% for most of the time.As usual, the intermediate sprint comes late in the race with 14.8km to go.


Just before the start of the final climb, there is a short descent and then the final 3.3km are all uphill with an average gradient of 6.3%. However, the category 3 climb is a very irregular as the first kilometre mostly has gradient of 8-10%. The penultimate kilometre is easier with gradients around 5%and then the road ramps up at the flamme rouge where the gradients reach 10%, 11% and 13% in certain sections. There are a few turns in the first part of the climb but the peloton gets back onto a bigger toad with 1.5km to go. There’s a sharp right-hand turn with to 260m to go from where the road is descending over 100m with as much as 10% and includes a few sweeping turns before the riders turn left with 50m to go from where the road is uphill.


Sierra de Czorla has not hosted a finish of a major bike race for more than a decade and never hosted the Vuelta before.





The weather

Until now, the riders have been pleased that the feared Andalusian heat has not been too extreme but now it seems that the relatively nice conditions will change. Tomorrow is set to be another very sunny day and with a maximum temperature in the finishing city of 34 degrees, it will be the hottest day yet.


Again there will only be a light wind from a northwesterly direction which means that the riders will have a cross-tailwind almost all day. This should make it a fast stage. In the finale, the will be a tailwind on the lower slopes of the final climb and then there will be a crosswind for the final 1500m.


The favourites

Stage 5 will be remembered as a very strange day for two of the teams that specialize in developing young talents. Giant-Alpecin was beaten into second in the stage as John Degenkolb was unable to match the impressive speed of Caleb Ewan from Orica-GreenEDGE who again confirmed that he is the future top sprinter by taking a maiden grand tour win in the first sprint he has ever contested in a three-week race. While the German team were still coming to terms with their defeat, news broke that a split in the field had given Tom Dumoulin the red jersey – at the expense of Orica-GreenEDGE’s Esteban Chaves. Hence, both teams will have very mixed feelings at the dinner table tonight.


The split saw Dumoulin get the chance to wear the leader’s jersey that he so narrowly missed out on in the Tour. Meanwhile, Chaves can find consolation in the fact that he is not the first rider to lose the jersey in a tricky Vuelta finale. When it last happened in the 2013 edition of the race, it was Chris Horner who lost the red tunic after just a single day. People were laughing when the unfazed American said that the important thing was to have the jersey in Madrid, not in the first week, as no one really regarded him as a potential winner. However, the American ended up creating a huge surprise a little more than two weeks later. There is no doubt that Chaves would love history to repeat itself.


For now, it is Dumoulin who will try to savour the moment and he won’t get much time to rest on the laurels. The next two stages offer uphill finishes and while his punchy climbing skills make him suited to tomorrow’s puncheur stage, Friday’s first big mountain stage looms as a serious challenge. Luckily the gradients are not very steep and this should favour the Dutchman.


First he has to survive tomorrow’s stage. It’s a big thing for Giant-Alpecin and Dumoulin to lead a grand tour so there is no chance that they will lose the jersey deliberately. They will do their utmost to keep hold on the coveted tunic and it should be possible. They don’t have the best team for this kind of finish but most of the stage is relatively easy so they should be able to control the situation.


However, they will have their work cut out in the first part of the stage. Most teams will be keen to save some energy for Friday’s big stage and they regard tomorrow’s stage more as a transitional stage. This means that they are probably not willing to spend too much energy in reeling the break in and this means that we could very well have the first winning escape.


Many teams know this so it should be a very fast start with many attacks. The terrain is not too difficult though so it should be possible for Giant-Alpecin to control the situation. The German team would actually be pleased to see the bonus seconds disappear so their mission will be to make sure that the early break doesn’t contain any dangerous riders. If they can accomplish that mission, they can just ride tempo on the front for the rest of the day and allow the break to decide the stage.


It will be up to other teams to bring it back together. We doubt that Movistar will do anything. The finale suits Alejandro Valverde very well but he has already won a stage. Furthermore, history shows that Movistar are often riding relatively conservatively, rarely chasing much behind the early escapees. That has cost them a lot of stage wins but with a victory already in the books and an important stage coming up, they are likely to continue that tradition.


Katusha and Cannondale-Garmin have the key to the stage. It is another very good finish for both Joaquim Rodriguez and Daniel Moreno and there is a chance that the Russian team will take control. On the other hand, they will also have an eye on Friday’s stage and may prefer to save their energy. Instead, it could be left to Cannondale-Garmin to do the work. It’s a perfect finale for Daniel Martin who was hugely frustrated to miss out due to a crash in yesterday’s stage. The American team have proved that they are never afraid of working in the Martin stages. With Andrew Talansky out of the GC battle and Martin being uncertain about his GC chances, they have to go for a stage win in the first week that offers lots of opportunities for their Irish captain. They have already missed out twice so they cannot allow themselves to miss this one. We expect the American team to make sure that it all comes back together for the final climb.


The ascent is similar to the Caminito del Rey climb which proved to be harder than expected at the end of stage 2. It is a bit shorter but less regular and it has some pretty steep ramps inside the final kilometre. With the hardest part coming at the bottom, then a relatively easy middle section and a very technical and irregular finale it may actually be a bit more comparable by the finish of stage 4. However, this time there is no flat sections and this makes it more of a real climb.


The difference can be made in the steep section at the bottom but the best moment to attack may actually be in the penultimate kilometre. The steep part will have taken its toll and as Samuel Sanchez and Nicolas Roche nearly proved in stage 4, a flatter section is always hard to control. It won’t be easy for anyone to keep things together and it won’t necessarily come down to a sprint in the steeper final kilometre.


In the final kilometre, the race will probably be decided in the turn with 260 when the riders hit the final descent. The one who gets through that turn in first position will be very difficult to pass and as the speed from the descent will almost carry him up the final ramp, he is likely to take the win.


After his impressive showing in stage 5, it is hard not to regard Alejandro Valverde as the man to beat. He was below his usual level in stage 2 but just like last year it seems that he needs a few days to get back into the rhythm after his post-Tour break. Last year he was also slightly disappointing in the Arcos de la Frontera stage but delivered a demonstration of power in stage 6 where he took a beautiful stage win on a day when he had been working for Nairo Quintana.


This year the situation is pretty similar – with the important addition that he has generally been stronger than he was 12 months ago. The finale is tailor-made for him as he is both technically impressive and has the best kick in this kind of uphill sprint. The main challenge for Valverde will be to keep things together on the final climb. Movistar have clearly been vulnerable and he will probably only have Quintana at his side. The Colombian will do nothing to help his teammate so he will rely on others to control the situation. Katusha could be an ally and with a strong Alberto Losada and one of the two captains finally sacrificing himself for the other, Valverde could very well be the one to benefit.


Daniel Martin was left hugely frustrated yesterday. The finale suited him down to the ground but a crash from a Colombia rider took him out of contention. Now he will be eager to make amends and as said we expect Cannondale-Garmin to work hard for their captain. Martin has been pleasantly surprised by his form and as he proved in stage 2, he is riding really strongly.


Martin is fast in a sprint and may have a chance to beat Valverde. However, his best option will be to attack like he did in stage 2 and in the Mur de Bretagne stage in the Tour. In stage 2, he regretted that he had waited a bit too long. Tomorrow he won’t hesitate and if he gets a gap, he will be hard to bring back on such a punchy climb.


Katusha have been left frustrated in the first two uphill finishes even though Daniel Moreno and Joaquim Rodriguez are both riding well. There is no doubt that Rodriguez is the stronger of the pair but and tomorrow’s stage should suit him better than stage 4. The relatively flat finale meant that Vejers de la Frontera was more for the faster riders while tomorrow’s harder climb should suit him better. In stage 2, nobody was able to follow him when he attacked on the finale climb and this time the final kilometre is hard enough for him to make a difference. An in-form Rodriguez needs to pick up as many bonus seconds as possible and this finale is one for him.


Daniel Moreno is the second Katusha card. The lieutenant is faster than his captain and so was the better option in stage 4. Tomorrow’s harder finale again tips the balance towards Rodriguez. On the other hand, the gradients never get very steep in the final kilometre and it may be a bit too easy for Rodriguez to make a difference and in a sprint, Moreno is the better card. Yesterday the plan for Katusha was for Moreno to follow moves while Rodriguez would wait for the finale. There is no doubt that Moreno will be less marked than his captain so he could be one of the riders to attack on the final climb. If he gets clear with a small group, he will be hard to beat.


As already said, there is a big chance that a breakaway will make it to the finish. If that’s the case, it could be a perfect day for Alessandro De Marchi to take a second stage win in the Vuelta almost one year after he took the first one. The Italian has missed most of the season due to injury but has now gradually ridden himself into form. He is free to chase some personal success and has been saving energy at the back of the field until now. He is brutally strong in this hilly terrain and has proved that he is a master in hitting the right breakaway. His condition is still not at his best but he seems to have the form to give it a try.


Ruben Plaza has been known as a strong domestique for most of his career but in the Tour de France he turned into a very successful stage hunter. In fact, he was strong enough to mix it up with the best in some of the summit finishes and was riding better than ever before. He is not at the same level now but he did relatively well in yesterday’s stage which didn’t suit him. He has the power of the flats to join the break and is climbing well enough to finish it off.




Another very good breakaway candidate is Pello Bilbao. The Spaniard loves these short, punchy climbs and his strong attack yesterday proves that he is in good condition. He can take his chance by attacking the favourites in the finale but his best chance will be to join the early move. He is not GC danger and will be hard to beat on that kind of ascent.


Romain Hardy finds himself in a similar position. The Frenchman lost a lot of time due to the crash in stage 2 and so he is no GC danger. However, he is very strong on short, punchy climbs as he proved by finishing 11th yesterday. Cofidis will be keen to join the break in tomorrow’s stage and Hardy is definitely one of their best cards.


Jose Goncales was very impressive in the Volta a Portugal where he won a stage and rode strongly throughout the entire race. The performance earned him selection for the Vuelta and by taking fifth yesterday, he confirmed his potential. He is strong on the flats and can handle short climbs well. Furthermore, he is fast in an uphill sprint. He is an obvious breakaway candidate but he may be a bit too close on GC as he is less than 5 minutes behind.


Joe Dombrowski is making his grand tour debut on the back of a Tour of Utah victory but he has already lost a bit of time and is no longer a GC danger. This means that he is free to chase success from breakaways. As said, Cannondale-Garmin will probably work for Martin but Dombrowski may be given his chance to join a break. If he makes it, he won’t be easy to beat on the final climb.


Thomas De Gendt narrowly missed out on a stage win on Cuito Negru three years ago. There is no doubt that he will ride a very aggressive race and that we will see him in lots of breakaways. This stage could be his first big chance as he has the strength on the flats and on the climbs.


Pieter Serry is another in-form breakaway candidate. He likes short climbs and has a fast sprint. Unfortunately, he crashed in stage 2 and since then he has been licking his wounds. This stage may come a bit too early for him but as he is showing signs of progress, it may be time for him to show his cards.


We will also point to Fabio Duarte. Colombia will do their utmost to join the break and Duarte could be their best card as Torres and Rubiano are too close on GC. Duarte is an excellent climber but he has had a horrible season and is extremely inconsistent. However, he has shown signs of progress and on this kind of short climb, he is usually difficult to beat.


Finally, we will point to a few jokers from a battle between the favourites. As said, there is a big chance that riders can take off in the easier penultimate kilometre and ride away to victory. Nicolas Roche has already been close twice and he likes these finales. There is no doubt that he will try again. The same goes for his teammate Sergio Henao who is strong in these finales and is getting better after his crash in stage 2.


Rafal Majka and Domenico Pozzovivo both got the race off to a bad start in stage 2 but are now riding a lot better. They are both not too heavily marked and have the right aggressive mindset to attack in the finale. The same goes for Samuel Sanchez, Louis Meintjes and Gianluca Brambilla who are all riding well.


Tom Dumoulin also deserves a mention. The Dutchman is very strong in these finales. Yesterday the climb was too steep for him but tomorrow the gradients are a lot easier. That should make it better for the big Dutchman. Of course he won’t be allowed to attack in the finale but he is actually fast in a sprint and may be strong enough to come out on top.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Alejandro Valverde

Other winner candidates: Daniel Martin, Joaquim Rodriguez

Outsiders: Daniel Moreno, Alessandro De Marchi, Ruben Plaza (breakaway), Pello Bilbao (breakaway), Romain Hardy (breakaway)

Jokers: Jose Goncalves (breakaway), Joe Dombrowski (breakaway), Thomas De Gendt (breakaway), Pieter Serry (breakaway), Fabio Duarte (breakaway), Julien Simon (breakaway), Esteban Chaves, Nicolas Roche, Sergio Henao, Rafal Majka, Domenico Pozzovivo, Samuel Sanchez, Louis Meintjes, Gianluca Brambilla, Tom Dumoulin



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