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Starting at 15.00 CEST you can follow the final sprint stage to Madrid

Photo: Unipublic/Graham Watson

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NEWS
15.09.2013 @ 15:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Only 109,6km completely flat kilometres separate Chris Horner from the Vuelta a Espana win and only bad luck will prevent him from becoming the oldest grand tour winner ever. As usual, the Spanish race comes to a close with a parade ride into Madrid that is the just reward for the many sprinters that have fought their way through the many mountain stages. A big bunch sprint is expected to bring the Vuelta to a fitting end. Starting at 15.00 CEST you can follow the stage on CyclingQuotes.com/live.

 

The course

As usual, the Vuelta finishes with a largely ceremonial stage to Madrid and thus offers the sprinters one final chance to go for glory. While the Tour de France hasn't finished with a time trial since 1989, the Giro has recently had a preference for a race against the clock. The Vuelta is more in line with the Tour and the final stage has been one for the fast finishers since the dramatic 2002 time trial that saw Aitor Gonzalez unseat race leader Roberto Heras on the final day.

 

Keeping with tradition, the stage will be a rather short one and starts in the Madrid suburb of Leganes. From there it heads south to make a small loop - passing through Alberto Contador's home town of Pinto - before turning around to head back towards the centre of Madrid. At the 64km mark, the riders will cross the line for the first time to start the first of 8 laps on the traditional 5,7km finishing circuit. Like the rest of the stage, it is completely flat and consists of long straight roads with 3 U-turns and 2 90-degree corners. The final U-turn is located at the flamme rouge and from there, the road is completely straight and flat all the way to the traditional finish on Paseo de la Castellana.

 

A bunch sprint should be the outcome of an otherwise festive and relaxed day and the remaining sprinters will go head-to-head in their quest to succeed John Degenkolb, Peter Sagan, Tyler Farrar, Andre Greipel and Matti Breschel on the list of sprint winners in Madrid.

 

The weather

The riders left Asturias just when the rain set in and will enjoy beautiful weather for the big finish in Madrid. The temperature is expected to stay around the 28-degree mark for most of the stage on a partly cloudy day that should offer its fair share of sunshine.

 

There will only be a light wind from a northwesterly direction which means that the riders will have a tailwind on the first part of the course before turning into a headwind when they head back towards Madrid. On the final circuit, they will of course have a lot of different wind conditions and the sprinters will have to prepare themselves for a sprint in a cross-headwind.

 

The favourites

There's no reason to dwell too much with the opening part of the stage. In the beginning, there  won't be any real race as the riders will take the opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments throughout the three-week race. There may be time for photo session while Chris Horner may go back to his team car to take a glass of champagne.

 

When the riders approach Madrid, the pace will gradually pick up. While the race doesn't follow the same fixed format as the final stage of the Tour de France, Radioshack is likely to lead the peloton onto the final circuit and across the finish line for the first time. From there, the race will evolve into a really aggressive criterium where repeated attacks will be launched while the sprint teams try to keep things in check.

 

In such a stage, the breakaway usually doesn't get a big gap as the short distance means that the escapees are rather fresh. The sprinters' teams are likely to take control rather early to gradually reel in the early break.

 

Until now, it has been a frustrating Vuelta for the sprinters. Only three stages have finished in a sprint and none of them have been true bunch sprints. On stage 5, the hard profile meant that it was a day for the tougher riders while Tony Martin's impressive performance made for a very confusing sprint one day later. On stage 12, the finish was far more uphill than the roadbook suggested and it ended up being a finish more for the puncheurs than for the sprinters.

 

What has characterized the sprint stages has been the lack of ability to keep everything under control in the finales. Apart from Martin's marvelous ride, none of the early escapees have posed any real threat for the sprint teams. What has been dangerous have been the late attacks that denied the sprinters on stages 7 and 17.

 

Usually, there would be no reason to discuss whether tomorrow's stage should end in a sprint finish and it really is hard to imagine a different outcome. However, the sprint teams are mostly severely depleted and as they also have to save a few guys for the lead-out, they may lack the power to bring back a late attack. Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Belkin only have 4 riders left, Orica-GreenEDGE and Garmin-Sharp are down to 5, Argos-Shimano have 7 riders left while Lampre-Merida are best off with 8.

 

The short distance and the headwind finish mean that it should be a manageable task to set up a sprint finish and we expect it all to come down to a bunch kick. However, no one can rule anything out and it would only be fitting for the race to end with another big surprise.

 

Until now, the most consistent sprinter has been Maximiliano Richeze . The Argentinean has finished on the podium no less than 4 times and has been one of the riders to be left most disappointed by the unpredictable and uncontrollable sprint finishes. He has climbed better than he usually does and has even mixed it up in the two tough sprints. The fact that he made it up the climb in the finale of stage 17 proves that he is still fresh at the end of a long grand tour.

 

Lampre-Merida have full confidence in their Argentinean sprinter and did almost all the chase work on stage 17. Knowing that they are the team with the most domestiques left, they are likely to do so again tomorrow. Massimo Graziato will bring Richeze into position and from then he will be on his own, finding his way through the hectic finale by jumping from train to train. He is not the fastest sprinter in the peloton but he is certainly the smartest. With a headwind finish, timing is crucial and the Argentinean knows how to make everything right. We would put our money on Richeze to save Lampre-Merida's Vuelta with a win on the final possible occasion.

 

Edvald Boasson Hagen isn't the fastest sprinter either. On the contrary, the Norwegian usually needs a hard race to have a chance in a final sprint. That was the case when he finished 2nd behind Gilbert where the uphill finish suited him perfectly and it was the case when he won the sprint for 2nd behind Bauke Mollema on stage 17 when the crosswinds had put everyone on their knees.

 

In that sense, one would expect the Norwegian to be without any chance in tomorrow's stage which is the easiest of the entire race. However, sprints at the end of a grand tour are a special matter where recovery plays an important role. Boasson Hagen is a far more resistant rider than you typical sprinter and his performance on stage 19 proved that he has only become better as the race has gone on. It's no wonder that he has once finished 2nd on the Champs-Elysees. He won't have a team to support him but the strong Norwegian knows how to position himself. Against some tired rivals, Boasson Hagen may take the win.

 

Until now, we have claimed Tyler Farrar to be the fastest sprinter in the race and even though he was beaten by Boasson Hagen and Richeze on stage 17, we still think he is. The special circumstances of that sprint means that it can't be used to gauge their top speed and Farrar hopes to put a positive end to a frustrating race by repeating his 2010 win in Madrid and potentially earn himself a contract for next season. His squad is severely depleted and from his originally very strong lead-out train, only Alex Rasmussen remains. The Dane hasn't been outstanding when it comes to delivering his sprinter but if he finally manages to do so, we believe that Farrar has the speed to win the stage.

 

The rider with the strongest lead-out train is Michael Matthews. He was unfortunate to puncture on stage 12 while he was inattentive in the crosswind on stage 17. Hence, he hasn't had the chance to sprint for quite some time but his solid climbing in the Pyrenees proves that he has recovered well. This easy sprint is not one for the Australian but he may overcome his deficit by virtue of his strong team. They failed on the first couple of stages where he had to fend for himself in the finales but on stage 12, they finally got everything right. If Leigh Howard and Mitchell Docker manage to take control in the finale, Matthews may double his tally.

 

Generally, we have had much confidence in Francesco Lasca and we continue to do so. Due to a cold and inattentiveness in the crosswind, he has only had one real opportunity to sprint and on that occasion, he may have finished on the podium had he not had to stop pedaling in the finale. His main disadvantage is his lack of team support. His team will give it their all to support their Italian sprinter but on a team of climbers, Lasca will mostly be left to himself. That's a hard deficit to overcome but due to the many abandonments, the battle for position may be less fierce than usual. This should provide Lasca with a solid chance.

 

Prior to the race, we had expected Gianni Meersman to win a stage but the Belgian wasn't at his best in the start of the race where he had his best opportunities. However, three weeks of intense racing has served him well and he now appears to have reached the level that has allowed him to win numerous WorldTour races this season. He even finished 25th on the Alto del Naranco on Friday and this proves that he has recovered well. This kind of finish is usually too easy for him and he will be hampered by the fact that he only has Guillaume Van Keirsbulck for support in the hectic finale. As it was the case for Boasson Hagen, he may overcome those disadvantages by virtue of his recovery.

 

Finally, we will point to out joker. The strongest sprint train so far has been the one from Argos-Shimano which has mostly taken control in the finales but burnt their matches too early due to the chaotic circumstances. The loss of Ramon Sinkeldam has been felt and the team hasn't been able to reproduce that kind of showing recently. However, the team still has some horsepower for the finish and should be in with a chance. On paper, Nikias Arndt is their fastest sprinter but the German has been suffering from a cold and on the rest day, coach Jorn Knoops said that the team would give Reinhardt Janse Van Rensburg his chance in the final sprints. We doubt that the South African is fast enough to win but Arndt would have a chance. If he has recovered from his cold and his team manages to get everything right, he may complete a good Vuelta for his team in outstanding fashion.

 

CyclingQuotes's stage winner pick: Maximiliano Richeze

Other winner candidates: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Tyler Farrar

Outsiders: Michael Matthews, Francesco Lasca, Gianni Meersman

Joker: Nikias Arndt

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