Yesterday may not have been fought over by the general classification guys in terms of the win, but we did gain insight as to who is still riding themselves into form late on. Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez all hit the opening slope of the final climb too hard and soon found the well pacing Chris Froome reeling them back and attacking late on to gain a few seconds on them. It may not seems like a lot of time, but it is a great sign for Froome as he now sits third in GC with two days of mountains remaining in other to take back time. This methodology paid off for Ryder Hesjedal as he coped with the slopes before attacking on the easier gradients in order to steal the win from a tiring Olive Zaugg.
The 152.2km route opens with a long stretch of predominantly flat roads, ideal terrain for a break to go ahead and gain a lot of time before life heads skywards once more. Whether or not this may stay clear is difficult to say; the opening kilometres do not suit mountain men and the finale is not for the pure breakaway rouleurs. Finishing with a climb to Lagos de Covadonga should result in some skirmishes amongst those wishing to take home the Red Jersey, especially with such testing terrain late on.
Alberto Contador is still the bookies’ favourite to win the Vuelta, but yesterday he left it late to bring back Chris Froome did end up shipping some time to the Kenyan. It is likely that he followed the digs from Valverde and Rodriguez as they dismissed Froome as he slipped out the back – obviously backfiring. Today suits Contador, especially the final km or so, but the whole 12km climb fits Froome better still. The Sky man is likely to approach this the same way as the day before, keeping tempo with the pack and resisting pursing their attacks through riding his own pace for the whole climb instead. It will be very interesting to see how the day pans out for him in terms of gaining time or possibly even the stage win. Valverde, Rodriguez and Aru are all appearing to fade slightly compared to Froome’s performance on Stage 14, but one good day does not mean a tour win, just no tour defeat. It could be that the other players attack early and hard in order to make it difficult for Froome to try and pace himself back at an even tempo.
It certainly could be another day for a breakaway, but it is a lottery to try and decide who will make the cut, let alone take the win. Going on yesterday’s performances, Alberto Contador and Chris Froome are likely to be the protagonists as the main group climbs to Lagos de Covadonga. Even if he only rides defensively for the rest of the Vuelta, Contador is still the most likely to walk away with the Red Jersey, so should Froome attack here today he will need to go big.
1st Froome 2nd Contador 3rd Valverde