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Will Alejandro Valverde come out on top in the second summit finish of the Vuelta a Espana?

Photo: Sirotti

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22.08.2016 @ 18:38 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Another perfect effort confirmed Chris Froome’s status as the top favourite for the Vuelta a Espana as the Brit finds himself in a perfect position after the first big battle among the favourites. However, there will be no chance to rest for the Brit and the rest of the contenders as they will have to be on the top of their games already in stage 4 where another summit finish awaits the peloton. However, easier gradients make it a far less testing affair and it could be another day for a breakaway.

 

The course

There will be very little chance to recover for the GC riders in this year’s race as they face the second uphill finish already on the fourth day. As usual, the Vuelta organizers have spread the summit finishes throughout all three weeks of the race and so it will be important to be ready right from the gun. The Galician adventure continues with a tough finish at the Mirado Vixia de Herbeira climb but it is a completely different finale compared to the explosive affair in the previous stage. A rather gentle final climb means that it will be a less selective battle and the main goal for the key contenders could be to avoid time losses.

 

At 163.5,,, it is another very short stage that will bring the riders from Betanzos to the top of Mirador Vixia de Herbeira in San Andres de Teixedo. The riders will follow the flat coastal road for the first 21.5km before they will turn inland to go up the category 3 Alto da Serra Capela (6.5km, 4.6%). As they continue their way through the lumpy interior of the Galicia region, they will climb to the top of the category 3 Alto Monte Caxado (7.3km, 4.5%) before they will take a long descent back to the coast.

 

Back at the sea, the riders will turn around to head back inlands but this time the terrain is less hilly, with just a few small climbs along the way before they are back at the coast. Then they will follow the mainly flat coastal road for 17km until they will get to the intermediate sprint in Cedeira with 14.5km to go. That’s the signal to leave the coast again to go up the final category 2 climb. It averages 4.8% over 11.2km and even includes a small descent at the midpoint. The final 4km are again uphill and they are pretty hard as the average gradient is 7.3%. The road is winding but the final 2km are completely straight, with the final 1000m averaging 7%.

 

San Andrés de Teixido has not hosted the finish of a major bike race for more than a decade.

 

 

 

 

The weather

The riders have had hot conditions since the start but tomorrow the heat will be more bearable. Tuesday will be sunny but there will be more clouds and the maximum temperature at the bottom of the final climb will only be 24 degrees.

 

There will be a light wind from a northerly direction and this means that the riders will have a headwind and a crosswind in the first half. A short cross-tailwind section will lead to a cross-headwind for the final third of the stage. There will be a cross-headwind on the final climb.

 

The favourites

Mirador del Ezaro never disappoints! It may only have been climbed twice in the history of the Vuelta but it has already established itself as a bit of a classic. Today’s show was no less spectacular than the one we witnessed in 2012 and even though it was a short effort, it gave another clear indication of who’s on form for the Vuelta a Espana.

 

The big winner was of course Chris Froome. It is hard not to admire his ability to gauge his effort. Every year he has done the Vuelta since 2014 he has always been dropped on the lower slopes of the climbs. Knowing that he is not in Tour de France condition, he refuses to go with the attacks and just time trials his way to the top. That allowed him to gain time on all his biggest rivals, with Esteban Chaves being the notable exception. Alejandro Valverde scored four bonus seconds but it is hard to believe that the Spaniard will be a real contender for the victory in what is the third grand tour of the year. The signs are promising for Froome who didn’t expect to be at his best in the early part of the race and based on his performances in previous Vueltas, he is likely to become stronger towards the end of the race.

 

The other big winner was Nairo Quintana who did very well on a climb that didn’t really suit him. At the same time, he can be pleased with the fact that Movistar were incredibly strong. Valverde showed that he is not too bad and even though he is clearly not at the top of his game, the veteran will be a key ally for the Colombian. However, the big surprise was Ruben Fernandez. The former Tour de l’Avenir winner has had a troubled and very inconsistent start to his pro career but at the Tour de Pologne and the Vuelta a Burgos, he showed that he had taken another step. However, his performance in today’s stage was nothing but outstanding and he was clearly the best rider in the race. He is likely to suffer a bit more on the longer climbs but he will be a key asset for Movistar in their attempt to put Sky and Froome under pressure.

 

The two big losers were of course Alberto Contador and Steven Kruijswijk and the signs are worrying. For Contador, the poor ride comes at the end of 18 months where he hasn’t really been at his best, and it is hard not to be left with the impression that Father Age is catching up with him. He still has the benefit of the freshness which could make a difference in the third week but his general performance throughout the year added to a significant time loss must be worrying in the Tinkoff camp. Kruijswijk did even worse. He may be paying the price for his pre-race illness but the performance comes on the back of a poor ride in Rio and San Sebastian. The Dutchman doesn’t seem to be at the top of his game even though this explosive finish didn’t suit him at all.

 

Movistar now find themselves with the leader’s jersey on Fernandez’ shoulders and it is interesting to see how they will handle that. There’s another summit finish tomorrow and it is even tailor-made for Valverde. However, they didn’t really do anything to catch the break in today’s stage where Valverde was also one of the favourites and where they had the red jersey within reach. They are always very cautious when it comes to spending energy in the first two weeks of a grand tour and as their main goal is overall victory for Quintana, they are likely to sacrifice Fernandez’ stint in red.

 

This opens the door for another breakaway win in tomorrow’s stage. The final climb is not hard enough to make a big difference, especially with a cross-headwind, so it’s unlikely that the GC teams will make a big push. Sky won’t do anything after having spent the entire day on the front on stage 3 and Tinkoff are suffering. It’s not a great stage for Chaves either so it all depends on whether Movistar want to win the stage with Valverde and defend the lead.

 

Many riders will be inspired by Geniez’s win today and they know that there is a big chance on stage 4 too. Hence, we can expect a very fast start with numerous attacks. As there’s a climb already after 21.5km of racing, it will be very hard to get into the break and this means that only the strong guys have a chance to make it. This makes it much easier to predict who’ll ultimately be there and with an uphill finish, you need to be a very good climber to win here.

 

When the break has formed, Movistar will hit the front and we expect them to spend the entire stage there. As said, we don’t think that they will go for the stage win so if there’s no dangerous rider in the break, they will probably stay away. They may be a bit keener on keeping the leader’s jersey so if there’s a rider within reasonable distance of red, they may chase it down. However, we doubt it and we expect the escapees to fight for the stage win.

 

At the Giro d’Italia, Gianluca Brambilla won a stage and rode himself into the red jersey in the process. He would love to repeat that performance here and tomorrow’s stage is a perfect opportunity for the strong Italian who is enjoying a bit of a breakthrough season. He is sitting in the top 10 overall but Movistar won’t be too concerned with him in the long term. This means that they won’t do an awful lot to chase him down and Brambilla knows that.

 

The tough start is ideal for the in-form Brambilla to make it into the break and the final climb suits him well. It is not overly tough so he should be able to hang onto the best, especially with this kind of headwind. He was impressive in Burgos and San Sebastian and was up there in today’s stage too. His form is excellent and he is very hard to beat in an uphill sprint. We will put our money on Brambilla to repeat what he did in the Giro by claiming both the stage win and the leader’s jersey.

 

BMC are here for the GC with Sanchez but they also want to win a stage. Ben Hermans has had a difficult start to the year but he has returned to his best. In the Vuelta a Burgos, he nearly beat Contador in the queen stage with what was his best ever climbing performance and today he proved that he is still strong. He is close on GC but nobody will be too concerned with him in the long term and BMC know that. They got the leader’s jersey with Van Avermaet in the Tour and it would be a great idea to try something similar with an in-form Hermans.

 

Today’s stage was a bit of a disaster for Astana as Miguel Angel Lopez crashed hard. They will be keen to bounce back with a stage win and they have one of the best candidates for this kind of stage. After a few poor years, Luis Leon Sanchez has been riding really well right from the start and if he is not too tired yet, this stage suits him really well. The climbs never get very steep and he is a master in finishing things off from a breakaway. He is strong on gentle climbs, strong on the flats and has a fast sprint.

 

Thomas De Gendt won the Mont Ventoux stage in the Tour and now only misses a stage win in the Vuelta to have a full plate. He has been saving energy until now but will be ready to give it a go tomorrow. The climbs are ideal for him as they are never too steep and this is the kind of terrain where De Gendt really excels. It remains to be seen whether he still has his Tour condition but if he has, this is the perfect stage for him.

 

Caja Rural have numerous cards to play but their best option is Jose Goncalves who was so close on several occasions in 2015. He is close on GC so he even has the chance to take it all. He is not a rider for the big mountains but this kind of terrain really suits him well and he showed in Portugal that he is getting close to his best form. He would have preferred the final climb to be shorter but with the headwind and his fast sprint, it is not too bad for him.

 

Astana have more cards than Sanchez. Dario Cataldo is a former stage winner here and with Lopez’ bad luck, he has the freedom to go for the win. He is a very aggressive rider and he showed pretty good form in Poland. He prefers these climbs that aren’t too steep and his fast sprint makes him had to beat on a headwind climb.

 

BMC have more cards to play. Tejay van Garderen is not here for the GC and he wants to win a stage. He mainly has his eyes on the second half where he hopes to have ridden himself into form. However, he looked very strong in the team time trial and in the last two stages he has been saving energy. The tough start is good for him and if he joins the right break, he is likely to be the best climber.

 

Trek are here for the stage wins and they have two good candidates for this one. Fabio Felline is back to his best after his crash at the Amstel Gold Race and he rode really well at the Tour de Pologne. He is not a real climber but his performance in Poland and last year’s Criterium International shows that he can be up there in this kind of terrain. He will benefit from the headwind on the final climb and no one is going to beat him in an uphill sprint. Riccardo Zoidl is the second option. The Austrian looked strong in today’s stage and at the end of the Giro, he seemed to have taken another step. He won’t win a sprint but he could very well be the best climbers in a breakaway.

 

Brambilla is the Best Etixx card but they also have David de la Cruz. The Spaniard crashed out of the Giro but now he is better than ever. He was up there with the best in today’s stage and he impressed the entire world in Wallonia. He knows that he has a big chance to take the lead in his home race so he will be very keen to join the break where he could very well be the best climber.

 

Louis Vervaeke is a huge climbing talent but he is very inconsistent. He is clearly not at the level he had in the spring but in Ain he showed signs of improvement. He is not here for the GC so he has deliberately lost some time. He will pick his days and this one could be the first one that he has red-circled.

 

Philippe Gilbert has not been at his best recently but he is clearly showing signs of improvement. He claims that his good legs have returned and if so he will be a candidate in a stage like this. He has his eyes on the red jersey and this is a good chance to take it. The climbs are a bit too long to suit him well but he will benefit from the headwind.

 

If it comes down to a battle between the favourites, it is hard to look past Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard is clearly the fastest in an uphill sprint and this climb is probably not hard enough for the best climbers to make a difference, especially due to the headwind. Valverde is not at his best but if he should be good enough to hang on. As usual, the big challenge will be to prevent any attacks but today Movistar showed how strong they are. A headwind won’t make it easy for the escapees.

 

Esteban Chaves is probably the only rider with the punch to challenge Valverde. The Colombian was up there in today’s stage and looked pretty good. It won’t be easy to beat the Spaniard but if the can get rid of the veteran, he is likely to be the fastest.

 

The final rider with a real shot at a win from a GC battle is Chris Froome. The Brit is clearly riding well and he is obviously the best climber in the world. Of course this climb is not ideal for him but if he is feeling good, he may give it a shot. It won’t be easy to drop everybody in a headwind but you can never rule out a strong Froome in an uphill finish.

 

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Gianluca Brambilla (breakaway)

Other winner candidates: Ben Hermans, Luis Leon Sanchez (both from a breakaway)

Outsiders: Alejandro Valverde, Esteban Chaves, Chris Froome

Jokers: Thomas De Gendt, Jose Goncalves, Dario Cataldo, Tejay van Garderen, David de la Cruz, Louis Vervaeke, Fabio Felline, Riccardo Zoidl, Philippe Gilbert (all from a breakaway)

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