Today will be seen as the final opportunity for many riders to gain success at this year’s Vuelta and will motivate many to squeeze themselves into a breakaway. The terrain is not a sustained drain on the legs, but a pair of Category 2 bumps are present during the day’s 180.5km progression from Salvaterra Do Miño to Cangas Do Morrazo. Should it still remain together in the final 20km, the Alto Monte Faro (4.7km, 7%) will have an impact as to whether we look towards either the German-powerhouse John Degenkolb or Michael Matthews’ climbing prowess for the win.
The profile is not overly inviting to the chances of a successful breakaway, though riders who are strong and tackle the final climb first, could be difficult to reel back as the road rises and falls to the finish. There is a slight rise with 5km remaining, which is not categorised, and lasts until the 2.5km mark before sloping downhill the entire way to the finish. Combining this with the climb of Alto Monte Faro could see the sprinters excluded as those with classic styled finishes come to the fore.
A breakaway will work extremely hard to succeed here as it will be the last chance for many to save an unsuccessful Vuelta – for riders and teams alike. As ever, to pick a rider from the break is a pure lottery, but those such as Alessandro De Marchi, Rohan Dennis and Philippe Gilbert could approach such an opportunity in a variety of ways. Should it all come down for a sprint once again, all eyes will be on a familiar trio of John Degenkolb, Michael Matthews and Philippe Gilbert to make a move on the undulating finale. For this to happen, Orica-GreenEDGE, BMC and Giant-Shimano will have to share the workload at the front in order to keep the break on a tight leash and bring back any escapees late on. In this respect Michael Matthews is likely to have the most support, the team are happy to expend their efforts in order to help him take another stage, as their GC hopes are over for the Aussies. John Degenkolb has had his lead out train reduced in recent days by abandonments and will also find himself having to haggle with Warren Barguil for men to ride in his name, ahead of the Frenchman’s big day in the mountains. Today is not the first time a stage has appeared to suit Philipe Gilbert and yet he is yet to look remotely close to taking a win, he will be desperate to do save his Vuelta on his final attempt – especially with the World Championships approaching fast.
Assuming the day is concluded by a sprint finish, Michael Matthews is likely to be seen as the favourite with a run-in that suits his talents. However, though John Degenkolb has not been the most consistent of climbers, the end should not be too difficult for him and his limited support to tackle. The German is clearly the fastest man here and took the win on Stage 17 in impressive fashion after having put his nose in the wind for a considerably amount of time before the finish. Should he still be in the pack with 2.5km to go, he will surely spoil all hopes of Matthews taking another stage for Orica-GreenEDGE.
1st Degenkolb 2nd Matthews 3rd Gilbert