This year’s Vuelta organisers will be making few friends amongst the sprinters as another relatively ‘fast man friendly’ stage is put into doubt by a late bump in the profile. Rolling across the scorched earth from Priego de Cordoba to Ronda, the route does edge closer to the coast once more, but a cooling sea breeze will not be enough to keep the temperature below 38 degrees at times. With the day in the saddle being relatively rolling for the peloton, the pace might be a little slower under the sun again as they save their efforts for the sole Category 3 climb.
Scanning across the day’s profile, only one aspect will standout to the sprinter’s teams – the category 3 climb to Puerto del Sotillo. At a surprisingly long 12.5km, its average gradient of 3.3% might have a greater impact upon the selection of the riders come the end of the day. It will thin out the pack in regards to the lesser sprinters and bring back the puncheur/classic styled riders into the mix once more. It is worth keeping in mind however that the summit, which tops out around 15km from home, offers little in terms of a descent into the finish at Ronda. So should a small attack occur off the front of the peloton, the variety of sprint teams in Giant-Shimano, AG2R-La Mondiale, Astana, Belkin, FDJ and Orica-GreenEDGE should all be able to ensure a straight up sprint finish. Yesterday saw Nacer Bouhanni anonymous when it came to contesting the sprint, eventually rolling over the line 8mins 31secs down in 91st place. Now it is hard to say whether or not this was fatigue or if he is saving his energies for what may be perceived as a more suitable target today – think Degenkolb on Stage 3 compared to Stage 4. Though the Frenchman would be more keen on another technical finish which secured him his win earlier in the week, today is literally straightforward for the sprint-trains as there are no obvious corners to worry about in the final few kilometres. Only the gentle drag of 1% – 2% and a roundabout before the final 500m will need to be factored into the plans of the teams.
Climbing the Puerto del Sotillo will be tough, but as long as the official tour book is not lying again, the powerful John Degenkolb should be capable of surviving it. Having such strength and depth apparent in his support from Giant-Shimano will be a huge boost to his chances compared to that of Nacer Bouhanni. The FDJ man prefers more challenging finishes which allow him to hijack lead-outs through tight corners, before unleashing incredible acceleration over a short finishing straight – today does not offer this. Michael Matthews is expected to be in the mix again, as today is more suitable than yesterday as he looks for a second win at this years Vuelta. Orica-GreenEDGE will certainly work hard for him, but they might be more careful than previous with their efforts to ensure nobody else benefits from their work rate. Ultimately, today seems akin to the previous stage, sightly different on appearances but the core factors should appeal to the potent Degenkolb once again. With an easy lead-out for himself and the train, it seems that his delivery is assured when it comes to contesting the long finishing straight – Stage 4 showed how his pure power dominates on such finishes. An outsider he has been showing himself in the previous days too has be AG2R’s Lloyd Mondory, with this finish looking more appealing to his talents, we might see him climbing ever higher today.
1st Degenkolb 2nd Matthews 3rd Mondory