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Vuelta a Espana stage 19 preview

Starting at 15.45 CEST you can follow the lumpy stage 19 on


12.09.2014 @ 16:04 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

For most riders, there is only one opportunity left in this year’s Vuelta a Espana. Stage 19 is too hard for most of the sprinters and too easy for the GC riders which means that it is tailor-made for a strong breakaway. However, Michal Matthews has set his sights on this stage too and so it could turn into a very fast battle between the chasing Orica-GreenEDGE team and the many attackers.


The course

While the Tour de France is usually a pretty controlled affair dominated by sprinters or GC riders, the Vuelta a Espana usually have lots of opportunities for the attackers. The 2014 edition is no exception and there should be a few ones for them in the final week too.


One of them comes in stage 19 which is another typical Galician stage that mainly has the riders riding along the coast. It brings them over 180.5km from Salvaterra de Miño to Cangas de Onis and the first part consists of a flat run from the starting city to the sea where the riders will contest the first intermediate sprint after 59km of racing.


Instead of following the coastal road, the riders will go up the category 2 Alto de Monte da Groba (12km, 4.2%) which played a key role in last year’s race as it was the first summit finish already in stage 2. This time, however, it won’t be the final climb and after the top, the riders will descend back to the coast where they will ride along the seafront for most of the final part of the stage, contesting the final intermediate sprint at the 124.7km mark.


However, the riders will make a small digression in the finale. Instead of continuing all the way to the finish in Cangas do Morrazo, they will go up the category 2 Alto Monte Faro (4.7km, 7%). The summit comes just 15.5km from the finish and they consist of a fast descent back to the coast and then a rolling run along the seafront to the finish. There’s a small uncategorized climb in the finale, summiting just 2.5km from the line from and then a short descent leads to the final 1.5km that are only very slightly descending. With 5km to go, the road is a bit twisty with 5km to go but the final 2km are mostly straight with just a few very slight bends.


Cangas do Morazzo hosted a stage of the Vuelta a Galicia in 1999 when Marcel Wüst beat Angel Edo in a bunch sprint.





The weather

With wind and rain, the Galician weather can be pretty tricky and it seems the riders won’t be spared any of it in the next few days. Tomorrow will be a cloudy day with a maximum temperature of 23 degrees. There may be a bit of sunshine but there is a risk of showers too.


There will be a moderate wind from a southerly direction which means that the riders will first have a tailwind, then a short section with crosswinds and then predominantly a headwind. At the first intermediate sprint, they turn into a tailwind which will be assisting the riders for most of the day but when they reach the coast, it will become more of a cross-tailwind which could make things tricky. In the run-in to the final climb, they will turn into a headwind and there will be a cross-tailwind on the ascent itself. Things could get tricky in the finale as there will be a crosswind in the final flat section.


The favourites

Lots of teams don’t have a top climber that can win stage 20 or a top time triallists that can win the final stage in Santiago de Compostela. For those teams, tomorrow’s stage is the final opportunity to take that elusive win and lots of squads are still empty-handed at this late point of the grand tour.


This means that tomorrow’s stage will be one of the most hotly contested of the entire race. With two big GC days coming up, the favourites all want an easy day but they can’t expect any kind of calmness in tomorrow’s stage. This is one of those days that are not tailor-made for climbers or sprinters and this means that a breakaway has a very good chance of making it to the finish. Hence, almost all teams have been told that it will be totally unacceptable to miss the early move.


Hence, we can expect a very fast start with lots of attacks. In such stages, it usually takes a very long time for the early break to get formed. Whenever a group goes clear, a few teams have missed out and they will be keen to shut it down. The elastic won’t snap before the riders are so tired that they can no longer jump into moves or bring the breaks back and that’s when the race will settle into a rhythm.


As the first part of the stage is flat, it is a bit of a lottery to get into the right move but at this point in a grand tour, fatigue is very important. With a very fast start, only pretty strong riders that are still fresh, will be good enough to make it and this makes it a bit easier to predict who will have a chance of prevailing from a breakaway.


The first climb comes at the 75km mark and so the break will probably have gone clear by the time the riders reach this point of the stage. In such a stage, however, it is a possibility that things will still be together at this point. If that’s the case, the dynamics will change as it will now require very strong climbing legs to join the move.


When the elastic has snapped, it will be time to take stock of the situation and try to organize a chase. The key team to the outcome is Orica-GreenEDGE. Michael Matthews has done nothing to hide that he has set his sights on this stage which suits him pretty well. As Esteban Chaves is fatigued, the team has skipped its GC ambitions and their only remaining goal is to win another stage. When Matthews was defeated in stage 17, he made it clear that he still had two opportunities left and the best of those is tomorrow’s stage.


Orica-GreenEDGE had a similar plan in stage 13 but that day the team didn’t get any help and completely blew up. Only a late reaction from FDJ brought the break back but the finale ended up being too hard for Matthews. Tomorrow’s stage is a lot flatter which should make it easier for the Australian team to control the situation but it will still be a massive task to avoid a big, strong break and bring it back.


Their only chance is that they will get some assistance from other teams. It will be interesting to see how Giant-Shimano handle the stage. John Degenkolb still hopes to win the points jersey and his only chance to score more points is today’s stage. The final climb could be too hard for him but it may be worth giving it a try. However, the team is down to just 7 riders and also has to keep something in reserve for stage 20 which is important for Warren Barguil and they may be unwilling to blow up their team on a stage that could be too tough for Degenkolb.


Orica-GreenEDGE may also get some help from some of the teams that miss the early break. As said, this is the final chance for a lot of teams and if they miss the early break, they have nothing to lose by bringing the break back even though they don’t have an obvious finale. Hence, there is a chance that the break will be caught but the most likely scenario is that it will stay away.


Even if Orica-GreenEDGE bring things back together, they face a dangerous situation in the finale. The final climb is the perfect launch pad for a late attack and if the Australian team has been chasing all day, it may be hard to keep the situation under control. However, they may be assisted by the GC teams that all want to be in a good position for the descent. It will be no surprise to see Sky ride tempo on the climb to keep Chris Froome near the front. Furthermore, there will be a crosswind in the flat run-in to the finish and this will make things very nervous and cause the pace to go up. If things are together at the bottom of the final climb, the nervousness of the peloton may be enough to set up a sprint finish.


Orica-GreenEDGE seem to be pretty determined and with the assistance from a few teams that have missed the break, they may be able to bring it down to a sprint. If that’s the case, the challenge for Matthews will be the final climb which could be a bit too tough for him. On paper, he should be able to handle the strains and he still seems to be riding well at this late point of the race. If teams like Sky and Movistar ride hard, however, the Australian may get dropped as it nearly happened on the final climb in the stage to Cordoba.


Among the sprinters, Matthews is usually the best climber and if he is still there at the finish, he is very likely to be the fastest rider in the bunch. He excels in sprints that come at the end of hard days and so he is the obvious favourite in that scenario. However, it will be very important to be in a good position at the top of the final climb. The descent is tricky and things may split when they hit the crosswinds at the bottom. Hence, Matthews doesn’t only need to survive the climb, he also needs to be comfortable enough to stay near the front. If he manages to do so, he will be very hard to beat.


Another rider that has definitely red-circled this stage is Philippe Gilbert. The BMC rider is still searching for the elusive stage win that would prove to Belgian national coach Carlo Bomans that he deserves to be the undisputed leader at the World Championships. In tomorrow’s stage he has several options as he can both excel in a sprint and join an early breakaway.


At the moment, Gilbert is clearly not at 100% which was evidenced in stage 13 where he was unable to follow the best in a stage that was tailor-made for his characteristics. Yesterday he did a pretty poor sprint and he still seems to be searching for his best condition. However, he is a very classy bike rider and he should be able to handle the final climb.


On paper, Gilbert is a better climber than Matthews and if the Australian is dropped, Gilbert could still be there. Usually, he is unable to beat Matthews in a sprint but if the Orica-GreenEDGE rider is not there, he is likely to be one of the fastest riders. Even if Matthews is still there, he still has a chance as he beat him in a flat sprint in the Brabantse Pijl. At the end of a hard race, the usual sprint hierarchy may have changed. If he joins the right break, he has to dig deep on the final climb and if he is still there at the finish, he will be hard to beat.


The big joker is John Degenkolb who has been climbing pretty inconsistently in this race. In some stages, he has seemed to be stronger than Matthews while on other days he has been one of the first riders to get dropped. On paper, the final climb should be a bit too tough for the German but he seems to be riding well at the moment. He is gradually recovering from the injuries he sustained in a crash and which slowed him down in the second week. He excels in sprints at the end of hard stages and if he is still there at the finish, he is very unlikely to get beaten.


If a break makes it, Rohan Dennis is a very good pick. The Australian is riding his second grand tour and after starting the race far from 100%, he is getting better and better. Yesterday he rode really strongly in the break and he will be keen to give it a try. He is a strong rouleur who will have a good chance of joining the break in the early part and with a solid sprint and great climbing legs, he is a great winner candidate in the finale.


Alejandro Valverde won’t start the stage with the intention of going for the win but things may change along the way. If Orica-GreenEDGE have brought things together for the final climb, he may see a chance to score 10 important bonus seconds and then Movistar may try to create a selection on the finale climb. Valverde is very fast in a flat sprint – usually faster than Gilbert – but he won’t take too many risks if the group is still too big. In a sprint finish from a small group, however, he is one of the favourites.


In the queen stage, Alessandro De Marchi proved that he is currently one of the strongest riders in the race and the Cannondale rider will be keen to chase another stage win. Stage 20 may be a bit more prestigious but he will probably also give it a try tomorrow. He knows how to pick the right breakaway and he is one of the best riders in the peloton. If he is in the right move, it will be very hard to keep up with him on the final climb.


Dominik Nerz has been riding really well in this race and is another great BMC candidate for the stage win. The German is one of the best climbers in the race and so will be very hard to drop on the final climb. Furthermore, he has a fast sprint and so has all the skills to shine in this stage. He may be asked to save some energy for Saturday which is a big day for Samuel Sanchez but if he is given carte blanche, he is a great winner candidate.


Finally, we will select our jokers. Movistar will be keen to join the break and they have lots of good cards to play. While some riders will be asked to save energy for tomorrow, others will be allowed to go on the attack. One of them is probably Andrey Amador who has been riding really well in this race. The Costa Rican is a past winner of a Giro d’Italia mountain stage and is suited to this stage. His main disadvantage is that he is not fast in a sprint.


Omega Pharma-Quick Step have lost Rigoberto Uran and so they are no searching for stage wins. Wout Poels has not been at his best in this race but he seems to be getting stronger. He put in a solid ride in the queen stage and he will be keen to attack tomorrow too. He is both a great climber and has a fast sprint, making him a good candidate for this stage.


Alexey Lutsenko has put in some very strong rides in this race and he generally shine in intermediate stages with a few climbs. This stage suits him really well as the climbs are not too hard and there are lots of flats where he can use his rouleur skills. He is very fast in a sprint and so his rivals need to drop him before the finish.


Yannick Martinez is known as a sprinter but he actually finished in the top 30 in the queen stage. This proves that he is climbing excellently at the moment and there is a big chance that he will survive the final climb. He may not be as fast as Matthews but if the Australian is no longer there, he has a chance in a sprint finish. Another option for the Europcar rider is to join the early break.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Michael Matthews (sprint)

Other winner candidates: Philippe Gilbert (sprint or breakaway), John Degenkolb (sprint)

Outsiders: Rohan Dennis (breakaway), Alessandro De Marchi (break), Dominik Nerz (break), Alejandro Valverde (sprint)

Jokers: Jerome Coppel (break), Andrey Amador (break), Wout Poels (break), Alexey Lutsenko (break), Yannick Martinez (sprint), Geoffrey Soupe (sprint



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