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Photo: Tour of Turkey/Mario Stiehl


31.08.2014 @ 15:40 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After 8 days of racing, the riders are all looking forward to the first rest day but first the GC contenders face one of their biggest tests in the first half of the race. Tomorrow’s stage offer the second mountaintop finish in the race and even though it is probably the easiest summit finish of the race, the final climb is set to give further indications about the hierarchy in this year’s Vuelta a Espana.


The course

The riders are going into their 9th consecutive day of racing and will now be looking forward to the first rest day. However, it will be dangerous to rest too early as the first week finishes with the second mountaintop finish of the race and the second big test for the GC contenders.


The stage brings the riders over 185km from Carboneras de Guadazon to Aramon Valdelinares and mostly continues the northeasterly journey that the riders started in the previous transitional stage. The first half of the stage takes place in terrain that is very similar to the today’s stage as the roads are mainly flat for the first 106km. The only highlight is the first intermediate sprint that comes just 4.5km before that mark.


The final 79km, however, are more difficult but the riders will get a gentle introduction to the climbing. First they go up the category 3 Puerto de Cabigordo (18km, 3.8%) which is a long gradual affair. After the summit, the roads are slightly descending for the next 36km and the final intermediate sprint comes at the 132.8km mark.


The finale kicks off with 25km to go when the riders hit the bottom of the category 2 Alto de San Rafael (11.5km, 4.2%). After the summit, there is a very short 5.5km descent before the riders hit the bottom of the day’s main challenge, the category 1 climb to the finish. Even though the organizers have split the climb into two, the short descent means that it is almost like one long ascent.


The final climb is 8km long and has an average gradient of 6.6% and a maximum of 8.5%. It is a regular affair as the first 5km have a pretty constant gradient of around 7%. Then there is an easier section which leads to the two toughest kilometres that average 8.5%. At just 2.5%, the final kilometre is the easiest part of the climb. The finale is not very technical as the finish line comes at the end of a long straight road of 900m, with only a single roundabout coming 400m from the line.






The weather

The first part of the race has been plagued by brutally hot conditions but now everything is set to change. For the first time in this year’s race, there is a risk that the riders will be facing rain when they tackle the 185km to the top of Aramon Valdelinares.


It will be a cloudy and pretty cold day as the temperature at the bottom of the final climb will reach a maximum of just 20 degrees. Rain will be falling overnight but by the time the riders take on the stage, it should be dry. However, rain is forecasted for the evening and so there is a risk that the riders will tackle the final part of the stage in wet conditions.


There will only be a very light wind from a southwesterly direction which will gradually abate before freshening from a northerly direction. This means that the riders will mostly have a tailwind, notably on the final two climbs. The riders will turn into a crosswind for the final 900m.


The favourites

The first mountain stage indicated that the five pre-race favourites are the five strongest riders in the race and the gaps between those five contenders were minimal. As it is often the case in the first mountain stage, they all rode pretty conservatively and they are all still a little cautious when asked to assess their chances.


While Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde were both encouraged and pleasantly surprised, Chris Froome was reassured. However, yesterday’s crash will again have made him about doubtful as he doesn’t know what impact it will have on his ability to climb. Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez were both disappointed and even though they only lost a few seconds, they will go into tomorrow’s stage with a bit uncertainty.


The fact that all the favourites are a bit wary about wary about what to expect could have a huge impact on tomorrow’s stage. Even though it is a summit finish, the final climb is pretty easy and the first two ascents are not very hard either. This is definitely not a stage to create big time differences and it will probably not have too much of an impact on the final overall classification.


The lack of prestige in an easy stage and uncertain favourites mean that it is a very good stage for a breakaway. In stage 6, the tactical battle between the overall contenders was already evident as Movistar, Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo all refused to do any work to bring back the early break. Katusha only started to chase very late in the stage and if Garmin had not made a determined effort, Pim Ligthart would probably have won the stage.


With an almost flat final kilometre at the end of a pretty short, easy climb, the finale is tailor-made for Alejandro Valverde. However, the team insists that Nairo Quintana is still the captain and the finish doesn’t suit the Colombian very well. Furthermore, he showed a bit of weakness in stage 6 and it is obvious that he is not at 100% yet. Hence, Movistar will probably be happy to see an early break take away the bonus seconds.


It’s also a good finale for Joaquim Rodriguez but the Katusha rider was dealt a small blow in stage 6. However, his first acceleration was very strong and if he had timed it a bit better, he might have won the stage. Nonetheless, Katusha are unlikely to do too much work in a stage that is not tailor-made for their captain.


It is still too early for Alberto Contador to fully target a stage win and Chris Froome has his eyes firmly set on the time trial. Furthermore, the Brit is a bit uncertain about the effects from his crash. Hence, Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo are unlikely to chase too hard and this suggests that tomorrow is a day for a breakaway.


This means that we can expect a fast start to the stage as lots of riders will be keen on joining the early move. Due to the flat nature of the opening section, however, it is very hard to predict which riders will ultimately join the move. There is a big chance that the break will contain quite a few riders that have virtually no chance in a tough finale like this one.


As a lot of teams will try to join the break, there is a big chance that it will be a pretty big one. When the elastic has snapped, Movistar will hit the front to set a steady tempo and then it will be interesting to see if another team shows any interest in bringing the escapees back.


As said, this is unlikely to happen and so the break will probably go on to contest the stage win. Katusha and Sky are the two teams most likely to organize a chase but are not expected to do so.


For the GC riders, the finale will start at the bottom of the penultimate climb and as usual we will see a hard fight for position during the run-in to the climb. Then it is time for one of the teams to try to make things hard. Movistar and Sky are the teams most likely to set a hard tempo to tire their rivals before the final climb. As they approach the summit, there will again be a hard fight for position as everyone wants to be in a good position for the short descent that leads directly to the bottom of the final climb. It will be no surprise to see Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo hit the front near the top to make sure that their captains start the descent in the first positions.


As said, the final climb is not very difficult and the GC riders will probably have to wait until the easy section at the midpoint before making their moves. The attacks from the favourites are likely to be launched in those two kilometres with an 8.5% gradient. They should be hard enough to create a selection but are unlikely to create big gaps between the top 5 contenders. As the final kilometre is almost flat, there is a big chance that a few GC riders will arrive at the finish together and if the stage win is still up for grabs, sprinting skills will definitely count for a lot.


As we expect this stage to be one for an early break, our stage winner pick is an attacker that can finish it off in this kind of finale. Adam Yates has gone into this race with a focus on stage wins before he is likely to abandon after the first two weeks. The Brit has had an amazing start to his professional career and in the Dauphiné and Clasica San Sebastian he proved that he can mix it up with the best climbers at the WorldTour level.


Yates finished 20th in the first mountain stage to prove that he is in solid condition and he is tailor-made for this finale. He is a good climber with a very fast sprint and so should excel on a climb where sprinting skills may make the difference. His main challenge will be to join the early break but he is actually pretty strong in flat terrain too. Orica-GreenEDGE will definitely do their utmost to launch their youngster up the road.


Yates crashed in yesterday’s stage but apparently he suffered no major injuries. This puts his performance slightly in doubt. However, he is excellently suited to this stage and so is our stage winner pick.


If the GC riders end up deciding the stage, Alejandro Valverde will be hard to beat. The Spaniard did one of the most impressive performances of his life in stage 6 where he single-handedly set the pace for most of the final climb but still had enough left in the tank to win the stage.


Tomorrow’s stage suits him really well. There are definitely better climbers than Valverde but on a relatively short climb, he is hard to drop. His main challenge will be to hang onto the best on the steep section. If he is still in contention under the flamme rouge, only Dan Martin will have a slight chance of beating Valverde in a sprint.


In stage 6, Chris Froome proved that he is already at a decent level. He is clearly not the same rider as he was in the Dauphiné where he was climbing excellently well but he seemed to be the second strongest rider behind the excellent Valverde on the La Zubia climb. Tomorrow’s longer, less steep climb should suit him a bit better and with more guarantees about his form, he may even try to attack in the steep section before the final kilometre.


Of course his crash puts his performance a bit in doubt. He claims to be ok but that may be part of the strategy. In the Dauphiné, he said that he had suffered no major injuries but only did so to avoid coming under attack. This time the crash doesn’t seem to be too bad but only Froome really knows how he feels.


If he is at 100%, however, he may launch one of his trademark accelerations in the steep section and this may put the likes of Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez under difficulty. It would be no surprise to see Froome ride away to a solo win. In a sprint, however, he is pretty fast too and even though he may not be able to beat Valverde, he should be stronger than Contador, Quintana and maybe also Rodriguez.


Daniel Martin suffered in the heat in stage 6 after his Garmin-Sharp team had worked all day. He had claimed to come into the race better than ever before and so was hugely disappointed after having blown up in the finale. Tomorrow’s colder conditions should suit him better and there is a chance that he will be able to hang onto the best.


Martin will probably come up short against the likes of Contador, Froome and Quintana in the big mountain stages but on this easy climb, he may be able to keep up with the best, especially if they all have a defensive approach. Martin has an excellent sprint and may even be able to challenge Valverde in the final kilometre. If Martin is still in contention under the flamme rouge, he will be one of the favourites.


Tanel Kangert went into this race with lofty GC ambitions but the Estonian lost time in the first summit finish. He will now be riding in support of Fabio Aru but may also be given the freedom to target a stage win. Tomorrow’s stage suits him pretty well. Being a strong rouleur, he has a solid chance of making it into the early break and he is perfectly suited to this kind of climb that is not too steep. In the 2013 Giro, 2013 Vuelta and 2014 Tour, he proved that he is not far off the mark of the best climber and if he makes it into the break, he will be hard to beat.


Jurgen Van Den Broeck went into this race not knowing what to expect. The Belgian suffered from illness in the Tour de France and so didn’t know whether he would be able to hang onto the best in the mountains. In stage 3, he already realized that the GC was not an option but he has actually been climbing decently. He is far behind in the overall standings and so will have lots of freedom. With Maxime Monfort being out of top 10 contention, Lotto Belisol will be focused on stage wins and Van Den Broeck definitely has the legs to win a mountain stage.


George Bennett has been climbing excellently in this race but after crashing in yesterday’s stage he decided to skip the GC. He deliberately lost lots of time and now he is targeting a stage win. The Kiwi is a pure climber and so the flat opening part doesn’t suit him too well. It will be hard for him to join the break but if he makes it, it is hard to imagine that anyone will be able to drop him on the climb.


Luis Leon Sanchez is a master in winning grand tour stages but for some reason he still hasn’t taken one in his home race. The Spaniard suffered from a virus in the early part of the race but in the Volta a Portugal he seemed to have recovered. Sanchez is not a pure climber but the easy finishing climb suits him well. He has a fast sprint for the final kilometre and is a strong rouleur who excels in the flat opening section.


Finally, we will select our jokers. Cofidis have been greatly encouraged by Daniel Navarro’s performance but their main goal is still a stage win. Jerome Coppel has had some difficult seasons but he seems to have found back his best legs. In this race, he has been climbing pretty well and most notably, he is very strong in flat terrain too. This will pay dividends when it comes to joining the break and if he makes it, he has the climbing legs to finish it off.


MTN-Qhubeka really hope to win a stage win in their first grand tour and one of their best cards is South African champion Louis Meintjes. Hanging onto the favourites for a long time in stage 6, he proved that he is in great condition and there is no doubt that he will go on the attack in the mountains. With a flat start, this stage is not the obvious choice but if he joins the break, he will be hard to drop on the final climb.


Andrew Talansky has come into this race in a domestique role but the American showed in stage 6 that he is riding at a decent level when his fast pace blew the race apart. He may be asked to stay with Dan Martin but if he is given the freedom to attack this stage suits him well. He is strong in both flat and mountainous terrain, meaning that he should both be able to join the break and finish it off in the finale.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Adam Yates (from a breakaway)

Other winner candidates: Alejandro Valverde, Chris Froome

Outsiders: Daniel Martin, Joaquim Rodriguez, Tanel Kangert (breakaway), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (breakaway), George Bennett (breakaway), Luis Leon Sanchez (breakaway), Alessandro De Marchi (breakaway)

Jokers: Jerome Coppel (breakaway), Andrew Talansky (breakaway), Louis Meintjes (breakaway)



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