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Will Alejandro Valverde finally get it right on the lumpy stage 7?

Photo: Sirotti

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25.08.2016 @ 19:37 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Stage 6 turned out to be just as unpredictable and exciting as expected and there will be more room for aggression, attacks and surprises on stage 7. Another very lumpy route with barely a single metre of flat means that there will be lots of hungry and motivated riders at the start of a stage that has multiple different potential outcomes.

 

The course

Last year there were numerous uphill finishes in the first week but this year the GC riders will spend most of the first third of the race in survival mode. Instead, the sprinters will have a few more opportunities than usual but the organizers haven’t turned the opening week into a sprint festival. In fact, there aren’t many flat roads in the interior of the Galicia region and this makes the first part of the race a very unpredictable and open affair that suits classics riders, strong sprinters and escapees. After the lumpy stage 6, the seventh stage is another prime example of such a course and offers several possible outcomes.

 

At just 158.5km, stage 7 is another very short one that will bring the riders from Maceda to Puebla de Sanabria. Almost all day, the riders will travel in an easterly direction as they start their journey towards the mountains in Asturias. After a flat start, the riders will tackle the category 3 Puerto de Allariz (6.8km, 4.4%) whose top comes at the 25.3km mark. Then it’s back into relatively flat terrain until a descent leads to the bottom of the hardest climb of the day, the category 3 Alto de Fumaces (11.2km, 4.3%).

 

Having crested the summit with 78km to go, the riders won’t get to a descent. Instead, the next 60km are almost all slightly uphill, with just a few descents along the way. The riders will contest the intermediate sprint at the 104km mark before the climbing comes to an end at the top of the category 3 Alto de Padornelo (7km, 3.2%). The top comes with 18.5km to go and is followed by a descent until the roads flatten out for the final 10km. In the final 5km, the riders will follow a mostly straight and flat road until they get to the flamme rouge. From here the road bends to the right before the riders will take a sharp turn to cross the river. Three sweeping turns in quick succession then leads to the final turn with 325m to go. The final 550m are uphill at 5.5% after a tough day with a total amount of climbing of 2595m.

 

Puebla de Sanabria has not hosted the finish of a major bike race for more than a decade.

 

 

 

 

The weather

It was another brutally hot day in Spain but luckily the conditions are expected to be slightly colder on Friday. After a cloudy morning with a risk of thunderstorms, the sun will come out and there will only be a 20% risk of rain. The temperature will reach a maximum of 29 degrees.

 

Again there won’t be much wind, just a light breeze from a southerly direction. This means that the riders will have a cross-headwind for the first half of the stage and then a crosswind for the rest of the day. Hat will also be the case for the final 5km.

 

The favourites

One of the aspects that make the Vuelta a Espana, is the host of lumpy stages in the many hilly parts of Spain. Those areas barely have a single metre of flat road and are tailor-made for exciting bike racing. Today’s stage was a prime example as the stage still had multiple possible outcomes right until the end. Yesterday we said that the stage could only be won by an early attacker, a late move or in a sprint. With 5km to go, all those scenarios were still possible and in the end it was the late attack that turned out to be the right strategy.

 

One has to give Orica-BikeExchange credit for their win. Honestly, we were shaking our heads when they hit the front on the first descent. The team didn’t chase when Esteban Chaves had a great chance to win on stage 3 so it seemed strange for them to go for victory on a day when neither the Colombian nor Simon Yates looked like real winners. With the veteran riding on the front, it was not for Simon Gerrans so it was hard to see what the plan was. In the end, their efforts paid off and Yates bounced back from a disappointing start to again establish himself as a solid GC contender and back-up plan for Chaves.

 

Movistar’s tactic was equally strange. The team rarely works for stage wins in the grand tours and Alejandro Valverde has missed out so many times because of their reluctance to chase. Today they took the race on on a day that was not tailor-made for the Spaniard and then they destroyed everything by sending Daniel Moreno on the attack. Valverde claims that it was their only chance as they could never control the race with just Moreno and Fernandez in the finale but it was very strange not to give it a try after they had been chasing do hard in the final part of the stage. There were still a few fast guys with teammates in the group so they would possible have received some help.

 

Now they have another chance to make things right as tomorrow’s stage is very similar. The stage is easier in the finale as it is more of a long, gradual uphill section than a real climb and there is no short, explosive ascent close to the finish. However, the start is much harder as there is a climb already after 18.5km of racing and this will make it much more difficult to get into the right break. However, the easier finale means that more riders will be able to survive the climbs and it will be harder for a late attack to stick.

 

The climbs are very similar to those that featured in today’s stage. They are never very steep so a big group will always have a big advantage and they are not really suited to attacks. This terrain is more suited to gradual elimination than big moves, just like we saw in today’s stage.

 

The similarities between the two stages mean that we again have three possible outcomes. The break has a very good chance, a late attack may work and it can come down to an uphill sprint from a reduced group. However, the late attack scenario is less probably here as the move has to be made from the distance on a relatively easy climb.

 

This means that we expect it to be a sprint or a day for a breakaway. Everybody knows that and so we will have another very, very fast start. Today it took almost an hour for the break to be formed and we should see something similar tomorrow.

 

Everything will depend on the composition of the break. If there are no riders that are close to Atapuma, BMC will happily let them go to save energy for later. However, if there’s a rider that’s not far behind, they will be doing their utmost to control the situation. For the American team, it’s a huge thing to be leading the race and they want to keep the red jersey for as long as possible.

 

The tough start is very important. The early climb means that the break is likely to be big and strong as the best climbers can make a difference in this terrain. This means that it is very unlikely that there won’t be a single dangerous rider in the group and this means that BMC have to ride hard just like they did today. This makes it much more difficult for the escapees to stay away.

 

With BMC probably holding them on a tight leash, there are a few teams that should be motivated to try to bring them back. If Dimension Data. Trek, Cofidis, Lotto Soudal and Cannondale have no rider in the break, they will all be motivated to go for a sprint. Trek must be especially keen to benefit from Felline’s good form and with the likes of Haimar Zubeldia and Riccardo Zoidl, they have some good riders to control such a hard stage. The same goes for Cofidis and Cannondale and if all those teams combine forces, we expect it to be decided in an uphill sprint. However, if there is no GC rider in the break, we will put our money on the escape.

 

If it comes down to a sprint, Alejandro Valverde is our favourite. In a flat sprint, there are faster riders than him but in a 500m sprint at 5.5%, he is very hard to beat. He has shown great form in this race and doesn’t seem to be tired yet. This kind of technical finale also suits him down to the ground as he is a master in positioning and he has a great team to support him.

 

As said, we don’t expect Movistar to work for a sprint but Valverde will definitely take his chance if it comes down to a battle between the fast guys. If they haven’t been riding on the front, he will have Jose Joaquin Rojas and Daniel Moreno to lead him out. He was already the fastest in the uphill sprint today and tomorrow’s finish suits him even more. Furthermore, he is a better climber than the others fast finishers and this means that should benefit from what will be a hard grueling race.

 

Fabio Felline has been on the podium twice in a row and he must be keen to finally get things right. This is another very good finish for him and he seems to be back on form after his bad crash at Amstel Gold Race. He is a great climber and even has GC ambitions in this race so he should easily make the selection and he likes a technical finish like.

 

In a flat sprint, Felline is probably faster than Valverde but in an uphill battle, the Spaniard has the upper hand. However, Felline is not far off the mark and he will probably take a few more risks than he Spanish rival. Felline definitely has a great chance to complete is collection of podium places with a victory.

 

We already pointed to Simon Clarke in yesterday’s stage and he lived up to our expectations. The Australian is obviously in great form and tomorrow is another stage that suits him really well. He was third in the sprint today and he should be up there again in tomorrow’s stage. However, his best chance probably comes from a breakaway and he must be motivated to give it a go. With a harder finale, he has a pretty good chance of making it.

 

The same goes for Zdenek Stybar who also showed his good form in today’s stage. Just like Clarke, Valverde and Felline, he can try his hand in a sprint but he is not as fast as those three riders. However, the finale is steeper and this should give him more of a chance. His best chance will be to try to join the break and just like Clarke he should benefit from the harder start to make it happen.

 

Yesterday we said that Luis Leon Sanchez has returned to his best level in 2016. Today he showed it again with a strong second place. He must be very motivated to benefit from his good form as soon as possible and this stage is simply ideal for him. He is a master in going in the breaks but he may be too close on GC to be given any kind of freedom. Hence, he may have to wait for the sprint. He is not fast enough in a flat sprint but when it comes to brute force in an uphill battle, he will be competitive.

 

An uphill sprint is perfect for Philippe Gilbert but we are not totally convinced that he will be competitive. He wasn’t in great form in the first weeks of August and today it looked like he suffered massively on the climbs. To make things worse, he crashed in the finale. However, he is always a contender in a stage like this as he can both go on the attack and take his chance in a sprint. However, with Atapuma in the lead, his best option is to wait for the sprint.

 

Today was a big disappointment for Caja Rural. Jose Goncalves was far off the pace and Pello Bilbao crashed in the finale. However, the latter showed that he is returning to form after a difficult start so he must be motivated to show himself tomorrow. He is a great climber and very fast in an uphill sprint so this stage suits him ideally as he can win in all possible scenarios.

 

Jose Goncalves is another candidate. On paper, the stage suits him ideally as he is very strong on climbs that are not too steep and is one of the best in the uphill sprints. However, his poor performance in today’s stage makes us a bit concerned. On the other hand, he was strong on stage 3 and his good form cannot have disappeared completely.

 

Today Tosh van der Sande climbed better than ever and this must make him confident that he can go for the win tomorrow. The finale is less hard so he should definitely make the selection and he may even be strong enough to join the breaks. In a flat sprint, he would have been one of the favourites but this kind of uphill finale may be a bit too much for him as he is up against great puncheurs.

 

Another solid candidate is Romain Hardy. The Frenchman has always been a fast finisher after hard days but in this race he is riding better than ever. Unfortunately, he is too close to the best on GC to be given any room to attack but he will be keen to grab is chance in a sprint.

 

We were a bit surprised not to see Nathan Haas up there in today’s stage. The Australian was far off the pace which is a bit worrying. However, he was riding so extremely well on stage 5 and won a similar uphill sprint in Burgos. He must be motivated to take his chance here so he should be going for both the breaks and the sprint.

 

His teammate Kristian Sbaragli showed good form buy hanging onto the best for a long time in today’s stage. This was no big surprise as he is the best climber of the sprinters. Tomorrow he has a better chance to survive but the harder uphill finish is less ideal for him.

 

Thomas De Gendt didn’t hit the break in today’s stage and then decided to take it easy. Tomorrow he has a much better chance as the start is harder. This is the kind of stage that suits him down to the ground as the climbs are never flat but never very steep either. He was very strong in stage 4 so the form is there and this time the stage is not too hard for him in the end. He won’t be easy to follow on the final climb.

 

Finally, we will point to Magnus Cort and Gianni Meersman. Both will try to hang on and may take their chance in a sprint. Both like this kind of uphill finish which is one of their specialties. The stage may be too hard for both of them and Cort also has team duties to take care of. However, if they are there, they will definitely give it a shot.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Alejandro Valverde (sprint)

Other winner candidates: Fabio Felline (sprint), Simon Clarke (sprint or breakaway)

Outsiders: Zdenek Stybar (sprint or breakaway), Luis Leon Sanchez (sprint or breakaway), Philippe Gilbert (sprint or breakaway), Thomas De Gendt (breakaway), Pello Bilbao (sprint or breakaway)

Jokers: Jose Goncalves (sprint or breakaway), Romain Hardy (sprint), Tosh van der Sande (sprint), Nathan Haas (sprint or breakaway), Kristian Sbaragli (sprint), Gianni Meersman (sprint), Magnus Cort (sprint)

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