With only today and tomorrow remaining of the Vuelta to decide the entire podium, it is testament to the excitement of the Grand Tour which is often considered lesser than its Italian and French counterparts. With three categorised climbs in total on Stage 20’s 187.5km ride from Santo Estevo de Ribas de Sil to the ‘beyond category’ summit finish of Puerto de Ancares – expect big attacks. The long day in the mountains will suit Alberto Contador and Chris Froome nicely, as the world tunes in to see the pair duke it out ahead of the final day’s time trial tomorrow.
There is a lot to play for here, though to say Contador is under much pressure to defend his red jersey is not exactly the whole story. The leading Spaniard knows he can sit on the wheels all day, following the attacks and skip ahead at the death to ensure nobody gains time on him before tomorrow. Chris Froome is the real danger when looking at the profile, his Team Sky teammates will really begin to turn the screw on his rivals as they amp up the pressure on the final climb. Puerto de Ancares is unrelenting, a sharp climb which includes an 18% section early in its ascent, the sustained climb will motivate Froome to attack hard in the name of diminishing Contador’s lead before tomorrow.
Though Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez and Fabio Aru are likely to make the early selection, once life gets serious upon the final climb, it should come down to Alberto Contador v Chris Froome. The two have already proven to be the best climbers here, which is incredible when you consider the injuries and conditions of which they entered the Vuelta with. Today will separate them thanks to the difficult finishing terrain, something which a Chris Froome in peak fitness would be the favourite to dominate upon. It is still unclear as to how fit the Sky man is, but assuming he is close to riding himself into top form, Contador may finally suffer considerably due to the sharp accelerations on steep slopes. So far we have watched Contador follow various wheels on the longer and more pleasant gradients, this means he can keep everyone in sight before accelerating when necessary over the ramps he treats as launchpads. This will not be as possible here as such steep sections are not the typical terrain in which we see Contador attack, though if he is locked together with Froome in the final kilometre, he could find himself attacking hard to shake the Brit off and win.
Should all go to plan for Team Sky, Chris Froome will take some time out of Alberto Contador and hopefully an elusive stage win too. ‘Bertie’ will not make this an easy feat however, fully aware of how hard the whole of Sky will need to work against him, Contador will ride defensively throughout before attacking once it’s ‘mano a mano’. Who knows, the Spaniard might even be happy to let Froome take the win late on if it means limiting his losses and staying fresh for the next day’s individual time trial. Regardless of who takes the stage, the real battle is for the red jersey – the battle royale starts here.
1st Froome 2nd Contador 3rd Valverde