La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-10

La Vuelta a España – Stage 10 Preview

Course:

Today’s stage is the last challenge before the first official rest day of this year’s La Vuelta a España, a short 146.6km ride from Valencia to Castellón which looks set to play straight into the hands of those with an eye on a breakaway victory. Originally penciled in as another opportunity for the sprinters to strut their stuff, this now looks set to change as a consequence of the high attrition rate having forced Nacer Bouhanni, Peter Sagan, Kris Boeckmans and Matteo Peluchhi all to abandon. As a consequence, this now makes it difficult to imagine who will offer up chasing interest beyond the likes of Giant-Alpecin and John Degenkolb in order to set this finale up for a sprint finish.

This shortest stage of La Vuelta acts as a stepping stone to Wednesday’s leviathan like Pyrenean challenge, today being a relatively simplistic affair which should see some teams already begin winding down ahead of tomorrow’s rest day. The Category 3 Puerto del Oronet comes as the first challenge of Stage 10, a 6km climb which maintains a steady gradient of 4.4%; ultimately reaching its summit a little after 30km have been completed.

From here the road momentarily drops downwards for ten kilometres or so, rises again somewhat for a little over 20km, after which point it descends once again and places the peloton on pancake flat roads by the 80km marker. Passing through Villareal and Castellón rapidly will conclude with the riders contesting the intermediate sprint after 121.3km have passed of Stage 10. This sprint toys with the hopes of the fast men still present at this race, as it immediately sends them skywards once completed, the Category 2 Alto del Desierto de la Palmas being a significant bump on the profile with less than 20km left to race en route to the finale in Castellón.

The 7km climb in question should not prove too testing for the likes of John Degenkolb and Caleb Ewan, though billed as an average gradient of 5.6%, the reality of the ascent is once which swings between as low as 3% to 7%. This steady and manageable climb is only interrupted by short-lived ramps of double-digit difficulty which come 2km from the summit, before then returning to 5% to the top. A fast and simple descent will favour the teams who wish to chase the break which is sure to still be up the road at this point. However, if everything comes back together in the final kilometres and sees sprint trains being formed, teams will have to be on their toes to navigate a tricky series of roundabouts and tight 90 degree turns which come as close as 600m from the line.

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-10

Contenders:

John Degenkolb is the clear favourite to win Stage 10 if it should happen to be decided by another bunch kick or smaller sprint. Several issues limit his chances however, beginning with the expected lack of impetus to chase from the other teams in the peloton. Many have lost their sprinters (or lack one altogether) and will instead focus upon successfully placing a rider in the breakaway. Degenkolb will also not be as protected as he had hoped due to teammate Tom Dumoulin now leading the race overall, stealing a degree of team support away from him as a result. Even if the previous two problems are resolved, he still needs to make it over the Alto del Desierto de la Palmas within touching distance of the frontrunners and remain fresh enough to turn in a good sprint if it comes down to a drag race.

Tosh van der Sande offers a great option for Lotto-Soudal, he is evidently in great condition on the basis of his performances so far at La Vuelta a España and will be a danger man on Stage 10. He has all the skills required to survive life in a breakaway and his potent sprinting ability make him a favourite to dominate a reduced sprint finish.

Stephen Cummings is known for possessing a huge engine to push breakaways along or to establish a gap over the peloton after a late solo move. He has already displayed his strengths for such a tactic this year during Stage 14 of Le Tour de France and will look to repeat such a success once again today. Cummings joined the break on Stage 6 in this opening half of the race and appeared to be climbing brilliantly once again for a man known for his time trialing and track exploits. Though joining such a move once again could prove successful, he could be better off biding his time and making a move on the descent from the Alto del Desierto de la Palmas, utilising his power and strength to churn out the watts on the flat roads into Castellón.

Gianluca Brambilla is riding well currently, but has found stage success rather elusive so far at this race. The Italian is performing extremely strongly at the moment and even managed a top twenty placing on yesterdays gruelling finale which saw Tom Dumoulin take a surprise victory over Chris Froome. Brambilla is likely to seek a reduced bunch sprint given his turn of pace and will be a major threat amongst any group which comes to the line together to contest the win.

Daniel Navarro could prove to be a dark horse for the win on Stage 10, the Spanish Cofidis man having a great ability to slip off the nose of the peloton late on and solo or sprint to victory successfully. His performances so far have not been particularly noteworthy, but today could act as a great opportunity to change precisely that.

Adam Hansen is renowned for his brutish breakaway antics and could place himself within a move today with the hope of surging to the line on his own to take another grand tour stage win. It is possible to suggest that today is not long or tough enough for the Australian to truly flourish, but he remains a name to keep an eye on as the break forms, but especially so if everything is back together after the Alto del Desierto de la Palmas.

Julien Simon is a strong breakaway candidate to win Stage 10 given his blend of climbing and sprinting ability. So far at La Vuelta he has placed in the top ten on two occasions and is likely to step up to the challenge as a result of Cofidis losing their sprinting hopes as a consequence of Nacer Bouhanni abandoning. Simon may be swamped if a larger group comes to the line, but he is sure to be aware of this and could easily steal a march by making a solo move instead.

Sylvain Chavanel is a breakaway specialist and has been surprisingly quiet at La Vuelta so far, but today should appeal to him in order to remind people of his presence here. Though his climbing is not the strongest compared to others highlighted above, the Frenchman has a great gift for executing tactics to perfection in order to compensate for the gap in ability to his rivals and will lean upon his descending skills to haul himself back to the front of the race after the Alto del Desierto de la Palmas.

Jurgen Van Den Broeck has experienced an acutely anonymous season so far this year and it would be interesting to see him join the breakaway here on Stage 10. The Belgian rider needs to bring some successes to his Lotto-Soudal team and at least putting his name in the mix for stage honours would be an achievement based on this year’s performances so far.

Thomas De Gendt has a gift for sniffing out successful breakaway moves and it is surely a certainty to see his name in the composition of a group which is allowed to go free by the peloton. De Gendt is a strong climber and will be likely to attack his fellow escapees on the final climb with the hope of taking it all the way to the line on his own.

Alessandro De Marchi is yet another rider with a talent for joining the breakaways and he will be seeking to do precisely this once again today. This possibility of attacking today is compounded by his BMC team now being leaderless in the wake of Tejay Van Garderen’s abandonment last week after the horrendous crash which sent Kris Boeckmans to hospital in a medically induced coma.

Niki Terpstra has been a surprisingly prominent figure towards the front of the peloton as the intermediate climbing stages reach their finales and it seems certain that sooner or later the Dutchman will make a move for victory. He is another rider who, if he survives the final climb, will look to burst out of the pack once they have returned to the flat and time trial his way to the line alone.

Vicente Reynes has been tasked with picking up the leadership mantle since teammate Matteo Pelucchi had to leave the race extremely early on. He is a competent climber and will have enough support to protect him ahead of the last climb, after which IAM Cycling will look to place him in a competitive position in order to execute a race winning sprint.

Outcome:

1st Gianluca Brambilla 2nd Tosh van der Sande 3rd Vicente Reynes

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La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-9

La Vuelta a España – Stage 9 Preview

Course:

Having been afforded a day’s break from the Vuelta a España’s summit finishes in the first week, Stage 9 marks a return to a stage profile the peloton will have become accustomed to by now. Though the uphill finishes thus far have proved exciting, the expected stirrings from within the general classifications hopefuls have not quite materialised, Fabio Aru’s attack and Chris Froome’s ailing on the Stage 7 the only moments of note. Today should change this with a ruthlessly steep summit finish that will force a reaction should another general classification favourite decide to make his move late on.

The race begins heading towards the real mountains soon, Stage 9 acting as a bridge to the upcoming Pyrenees challenges which will offers us the first convincing insight of the battle for the Red Jersey. For now however, attention remains upon the short, intense and punchy finishes which have shaped the conclusion of the opening half of the race. Departing from Torrevieja, the peloton will begin their 168.3km journey to Dumbre del Sol-Benitatxell easily enough, the opening 125km or so tracing its way along the coast on easy going terrain.

By this point in time, the peloton will encounter their day’s major challenge for the first time, the Alto de Puig Llorenca. This tough finish appears once before the finale, allowing the riders a brief reconnaissance of the climb, but one which is curtailed as this is a Category 2 3.3km (8.9%) climb which lacks the summit finish of the second ascent; meaning the finish is instead recognised as a Category 1 obstacle.

A descent drops the riders back down to level ground in order to contest the intermediate sprint with a little over 10km left to race. Once completed, the Alto de Puig Llorenca begins looming large once again, but this time it’s the longer 4.1km climb at the same 8.9% gradient, upgraded to a more imposing Category  1 status. Like many of the summit finishes we have seen so far at this race, the opening couple of kilometres appear to be simple enough (5.3%), but this soon comes crashing down around them as they ride straight into a 500m long wall of 19% climbing. A short lived plateau offers brief relief, though the final kilometre remains flickering between 9% – 11%, all of which is combined with a series of tight bends en route to the summit. The final push to the top is set to be a brutal affair as the average gradients begin jumping rapidly to ramps of 13%, 16% and even a leg breaking 26%. Whoever does win on Stage 9, it shall certainly not be a fluke victory.

 

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-9

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-9

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-9

Contenders:

Nairo Quintana might finally break cover at the Vuelta a España on Stage 9’s gruelling summit finish. His condition is almost unknown as we have seen very little of him beyond the inability to follow the attacks on Stage 2, but this finale’s steeper gradients suits his skills much better. The recent days seem to suggest he is not struggling to mark his rivals right now and if he believes he has the legs for it today, the Colombian will prove a difficult man to reel back into the pack.

Esteban Chaves has enjoyed a supremely impressive opening half to this grand tour and there is little to suggest he cannot extend this further with victory on Stage 9. The diminutive Colombian climber tends to thrive on this steeper terrain, perhaps even more so than the finales which have so far earnt him two stage wins and ownership of the leader’s Red Jersey. Being the current race leader does mean he could end up being marked out of the race, though he seems to relish his current status and he remains as combative as ever. If everything is relatively together ahead of the final kilometre, Chaves will perhaps even become the favourite to win on these incredibly sharp ramps preceding the line.

Fabio Aru is the only general classification rider to have stretched his legs so far and won himself a handful of seconds over his rivals. The Italian is known for his explosive finishing ability, but it is unclear if these fluctuating steep gradients during the last kilometre will offer a positive or negative platform towards his ambitions on Stage 9.

Joaquim Rodriguez would historically be the standout favourite for a stage finish such as this, but his performances so far at 2015’s edition of La Vuelta a España have been rather underwhelming. At one point it seemed that he was simply restricted by his wishes to mark his rivals extremely closely, but subsequent inability to perform upon ideal terrain for the Spanish puncheur would suggest that he is actually struggling to stick the pace.

Alejandro Valverde is no stranger to steep gradients, most famously dominating the Ardennes’ classics on similar terrain, though today’s test will prove an exaggerated version of these races. Similar to Rodriguez, his form looks uncertain, despite having already taken a stage win during the opening week of La Veulta. Since that showing, he has not performed as well as expected on finishes which really should have marked him out as a favourite and offered him the chance to at least double up on his wins so far. With the Pyrenees looming large ahead of Stage 9, Valverde may decide he is better to keep his powder dry ahead of much more demanding days in the saddle next week.

Domenico Pozzovivo has remained a clear presence behind the obvious favourites for this year’s title and could emerge today as a real contender for Stage 9 honours. The Italian climber flourishes on these mind numbing gradients and is unlikely to be marked by any of the major teams should he decide to make a move. Pozzovivo finished safely alongside the general classification men on Stage 7 and will feel confident of achieving something today, having confirmed his condition with consistent riding already.

Louis Meintjes is ridding extremely impressively right now and there is no reason to think a stage win is beyond him at this Vuelta a España. Whether or not today is the ideal opportunity to do just that is not clear, but the South African should certainly be able to stick the pace of the general classification riders without a doubt. Given his surprising prowess on the climbs so far, MTN-Qhubeka may instead decide to focus upon cementing his overall placing, rather than investing heavily in attempting to secure a stage win.

Outcome:

1st Domenico Pozzovivo 2nd Esteban Chaves 3rd Nairo Quintana

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-8

La Vuelta a España – Stage 8 Preview

Course:

Today’s eighth stage of La Vuelta a España serves as a huge contrast to that of yesterday’s gruelling day in the saddle which ultimately resulted in a very surprising victory from the early breakaway. We learnt that Chris Froome appears to be suffering once the roads become more testing, while Fabio Aru’s limited profile thus far has been a ruse to disguise a man evidently in strong form. Returning to the day at hand however, the departure from Puebla de Don Fadrique will send the riders on a long and gradual descent from the very start, not reaching level road until over 100km have been totalled. From the 111km mark, the riders progress onwards to the intermediate sprint and enter onto the Alto de la Cresta del Gallo, a Category 3 climb which they shall tackle twice.

Overall, Stage 8 is a 182.5km ride from Puebla de Don Fadrique to Murcia and should provide the strong sprinters with another chance to fight for the win. The two repetitions of Alto de la Cresta del Gallo will act as selective process to see who exactly will survive the course ahead of the likely sprint finish in Murica. The climb itself is 4.2km long and is ridden at an average gradient of 7.5%, though this is not an even affair as the road does swing between 5.3% up to peaks of 12%, the final kilometre on each ascent likely to do most damage with its 9.5% gradient and maximum slopes of 12% only 100m shy of the top.

 

These two circuits will prove to be stressful affairs as the peloton attempts to jostle amongst themselves in order to protect general classification favourites and shepherd those aimed at today’s stage safely over the top. As well as this factor, the descent itself is technical and fast, making it possible for a solo move to establish itself if it plays its cards right. Only 17.3km will remain as they begin descending off the second ascent, meaning that it would be dangerous to allow any rider to establish a significant lead before they hit the flat roads into Murcia. 

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-8

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde is not a typical selection for a day such as this, but today’s finale is home soil for the Movistar co-leader and he will be confident of utilising his knowledge to great effect. The two ascents en route to the finale should thin the filed out sufficiently in order for him to benefit enough by the finish and emerge as the fastest man to take the win.

José Joaquín Rojas suits today extremely well and is bound to be a safe bet to make the cut as one of the fastest true sprinters in Murica. However, his biggest problem will be his own team, as with little interest in supporting him during such finales as this, Movistar are more inclined to request he supports Alejandro Valverde in his attempt to gain further time than allow Rojas to contest the win.

Peter Sagan is in imperious form and it seems certain that he will be amongst it if Stage 8 comes down to another bunch kick of sorts. The Slovak champion suits this type of tiring course and will be one of the most comfortable when it comes the technical descent. There is no guarantee he will survive the climbs of course, as the general classification focused teams could demand a high tempo upon the ascents and Sagan could well be dropped.

John Degenkolb on top form would have a strong chance of surviving the Alto de la Cresta del Gallo’s two ascents, but right now he lacks the consistency to back here wholeheartedly. Should he manage to last the testing climbs however, it would be extremely difficult to see anyone getting past him in a sprint.

Nacer Bouhanni seems an unlikely contender for the win on Stage 8, though he does climb well, the Frenchman would rather be finishing on a slight incline than having to tackle two repetitions of a Category 3 climb en route to the finish. Like the majority of those who could win a sprint today, if the general classification teams ratchet up the speed on the two climbs, then Bouhanni could be shelled out the back like many of his rivals.

Simon Gerrans is beginning to find his feet again after a troublesome season and could launch a convincing bid for the win today, even though Orica-GreenEDGE will be more concerned by protecting race leader Esteban Chaves. He will be afforded a small level of support regardless and if placed into a race winning position by his team, Gerrans does not often fail to convert such a move into a stage victory.

Daniel Moreno could benefit from a difficult pace over the two ascents and has the potency required to win a sprint finish too. He has ridden well so far on the intermediate summit finishes and there is no reason to think he will not be able to cope with the Alto de la Cresta del Gallo’s demands safely in the bunch, before than sprinting to the win.

Outcome:

1st Alejandro Valverde 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Daniel Moreno

La Vuelta a España – Stage 7 Preview

Course:

This year’s edition of La Vuelta a España has already showcased its talents for hard hitting and gruelling finales which require the riders to haul themselves over and up to the finish line. Stage 7 is no different in that respect, ratcheting up the level of difficulty once again and acting as likely bait for the general classification frontrunners to finally stretch their legs, though it does not seem certain that such a rider will win on the day; the door is open for an outsider to steal the show.

Exiting from the start in Jódar, the riders face a 191.1km rolling day in the saddle which only encompasses one categorised climb before the summit finish atop La Alpujarra’s Alto de Capileira; another climb making its debut at this Vuelta. First of all however is the day’s opening Category 3 climb of the Puerto de les Blancares, a 9km long drag which will prove to be an easy warm up for those with an eye on the stage victory given its modest average gradient of 3.3%.

A breather of sorts is offered to the peloton once over the top, the road slinking predominately downwards for almost 30km after Puerto de les Blancares. Though a few lumps and bumps are present on the stage’s profile en route to the intermediate sprint, it eventually drops down once again in order to place the riders at the foot of the day’s climatic finish up Alto de Capileira.

This Category 1 ascent which acts as the battleground for Stage 7’s outcome is 18.7km long and averages a moderate 5%; though any rider who has not done their research will learn how unrealistic this figure truly is soon enough. It opens easily enough for the bunch, the first 5km reaching a maximum of 8.5% while the majority swings between 3% – 6%. The next 5km are a plateau, of which the biggest drag is only 1%, from here the real test begins; all remaining 8km offering nothing in the way of relief from the draining slopes. Despite the intensity of the gradient dropping to as low as 4% – 5% at moments, the majority of it remains hovering around an arduous 8%. With just about 2km left of the climb to the line, a misleading lull of 6% will break the rhythm of most riders and make life even more difficult when the road immediately jumps up to 14% just a few hundred meters later. Even once this is passed, a deceptively difficult final kilometre still remains, one which is billed as a modest 6% but actually includes ramps of 13% and a final 200m set at 7.5%

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-7

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-7

Contenders:

Chris Froome has been keeping a low profile within the pack, following the required wheels and generally stay out of trouble as best as he can. The Sky leader tends to seize upon the chance to test his legs on the first serious summit finish of a grand tour, but this occasion is not quiet as ideal as it could be. The midpoint plateau will nullify the efforts of his teammates drilling it on the front early on and thus reduce ascent to a more realistic 8km battle to the line. Regardless, with a gradient as steep as 14%, he might well utilise his spiked efforts to spin up to a ridiculous cadence and test his rivals in the final kilometres; even the last 200m remain tough enough for Froome to benefit from.

Joaquim Rodriguez had a great chance of winning yesterday’s stage, but once again spurned his opportunity due to eyeballing rivals such as Alejandro Valverde instead of making a move. There is no question as to his current condition and he will be forced to make a move on a summit finish to anticipate the expected loss of time in the time trial. Katusha provide a great depth of talent to support him on these types of terrain and he has everything required to win Stage 7 if he chooses to do so.

Alejandro Valverde is a similar story to that of his fellow countryman Joaquim Rodriguez, though he has gone one better so far by winning Stage 4. Movistar have the necessary firepower to control the race on the final climb to the line and Valverde is possibly the strongest favourite from the general classification favourites; based on his performances so far. His punchy style will be enough to overcome the final tests en route to the finish, though it is unsure whether he will wish to dig unnecessarily deep for the sake of a stage win today.

Nairo Quintana has certainly not been forgotten, but it is safe to say that he has experienced a limited time in the limelight thus far. Of course, the main reason for this has been his team Movistar’s wishes to back co-leader Alejandro Valverde on a series of stages which suited his attributes much more convincingly. The Colombian has stayed clear of trouble so far and could finally decide to emerge out of the pack today with a feisty performance which will wake the likes of Chris Froome and co up to his condition. Alto de Capileira does not appear long or tough enough for Quintana to really inflict much damage, but he remains a noteworthy rider as ever when the roads head skywards.

Nicolas Roche has been in fantastic form at his favourite grand tour in the opening week and it would not be a great surprise should he attempt to kick for home and snatch a few seconds at the very least. His biggest issue however will be his current status as a marked man, though his compatriot Dan Martin thought the same on Stage 2 and was then surprised to see little impetus in order to bring him back having attacked during the day’s finale. If Roche should decide to go on the attack, it will at least make for interesting viewing as to how the peloton would react to such a move.

Domenico Pozzovivo suits this finale particularly well and should be afforded the freedom to attack if the race is altogether as they approach the final 8km of Alto de Capileira. The diminutive Italian has displayed convincing flashes of form already at this year’s Vuelta a España and holds a feasible chance of going all the way on Stage 7. Combining his unmarked status and race freshness compared to the major favourites, Pozzovivo is certain to at least attempt a move on the Alto de Capileira.

Rafal Majka is a similarly underestimated contender for stage honours on Stage 7 and will look to exploit the internal battle between Froome, Valverde, Rodriguez, Quintana and Aru in order to get a move to stick. This year has lacked the convincing performances of last season, but the Pole is innately talented and looks to have begun finding his legs once again after several skirmishing attacks in the last couple of days. If a Tinkoff-Saxo jersey flashes up the road in the final kilometres, it is sure to be Rafal Majka it would seem right now.

Esteban Chaves was stated by Spokenforks as being criminally underestimated to win yesterday’s stage in the wake of parting with the leader’s Red Jersey and this proved to ring true. Today does not quite suit him as well as his previous two stage wins, but it seems difficult to exclude the Colombian star when on such sparkling form. Steeper gradients and a longer uninterrupted ascent would have played into his strengths more so than today’s final 18km, but perhaps the biggest stumbling block to overcome will be a return to life as the most marked man in the race.

Daniel Martin yet again mistimed his final push for glory yesterday and seems to be haunted this year by small miscalculations which keep leaving him within spitting distance of the race winner. The run into the line would allow Martin to demonstrate his sprinting prowess, but the length of the ascent once over the plateau makes him a difficult man to back, as he would surely prefer a shorter climb to the finish. The gradients should not prove a big issue for the Irishman, but given the distance, if the peloton sets a high tempo on another hot day beneath the sun, he could well crack before he has the chance to attack.

Louis Meintjes has consistently put in solid performances behind the big name favourites in the opening week of 2015’s La Vuelta a España, but has not received the acclaim such showings deserve. He will no doubt be motivated to build upon his current condition by staking a claim to the victory on Stage 7 and he does offer a strong case to achieve exactly that. Though his goal here is to secure a good general classification placing for his team MTN-Qhubeka, the longer climb brings him into contention and it remains to be seen as to how worried the likes of Orica-GreenEDGE, Sky, Astana and Movistar would be if he chooses to attack on Alto de Capileira.

Tejay Van Garderen has gone totally unnoticed at the Vuelta up to now, but this tricky finish could be stated as suiting his style reasonably well. Of the obvious contenders for the overall win, he is likely to be one of the freshest as a consequence of being forced to abandon Le Tour de France earlier this summer. In regards to his normal tactics when targeting a stage race, the American prefers to defend a jersey, rather than attempt to take it late on in a race. Stage 7 is extremely early to execute such a plan, but he may wish to test his legs here and inadvertently walk away with the jersey as a consequence.

Outcome:

1st Domenico Pozzovivo 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Tejay Van Garderen

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-6

La Vuelta a España – Stage 6 Preview

Course:

Stage 6 is a return to the longer 200km+ days in the saddle at this year’s La Vuelta a España, with this one providing the most gruelling finish so far. The peloton will depart from the start in Cordoba and begin riding East towards the finish of Sierra de Cazorla, a summit finish which is making its debut at this race. Though some would label this as the type of transitional stage expected from a grand tour, the reality is a 200.3km ride which offers little time to relax, spending the vast majority of the day sending the bunch up and down hills in quick succession.

Excluding the finish, the only other recognised climb of the day comes after 132.7km have been clocked up, the ascent in question being the Category 3 Alto de Baeza. It is a steady climb which lasts a total of 11.8km and rarely strays beyond its average gradient of 3.9%, meaning the riders should find it easy enough to strike the appropriate rhythm to the top. Once summited, the road jaggedly works its way downhill in order to place the pack at the base of the climb which forms the day’s finale.

 

With a little over 20km remaining, the road builds steadily upwards and will instigate the fight for position from the general classification teams and those wishing to mount a convincing charge for stage honours here. As the riders approach the final Category 3 climb which serves as the finish on Stage 6, they will drop sharply downhill for a brief moment and then begin the 3.3km grind up to the line. The average gradient en route to Sierra de Cazorla is 6.3% and offers little in the way of uniform terrain, constantly fluctuating in intensity all the way to the summit. Around 8% – 10% will be inflicted upon the frontrunners in the opening kilometre, before then easing suddenly to 5%; a deceitful change ahead of what lies in store. The remaining 1.3km are then contested at stepper inclines, and once beyond the flamme rouge, those still in with a chance of victory will then face 10% – 13% in order to make it across the line. Like many of these intermediate Spanish summit finishes, several turns are present late on and this includes a tight right hand bend with less than 300m remaining; leading into a sharp 100m long decline. After this the road is uphill all the way to the finish and will have no doubt break plenty of riders who struggle to muster the strength required to kick again for the line.

 

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-6

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-6

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde could well double up on victories after his Stage 4 efforts and earn himself another grand tour win; on that occasion managing to kick more than once on the final climb and shut the door on Peter Sagan ahead of the line. Once again his combination of technical prowess on these tricky finishes and an ability to make sprinting uphill look effortless marks him out as favourite once again today. Assuming that his team Movistar manage to reel in any late breakaways, then Valverde will be a very difficult many to beat on this leg breaking finish, which appears set to catch plenty of riders out in regards to its difficulty. The Spanish Champion is no stranger to following the necessary wheel to pull him to the front and remains a danger even if isolated during the crucial moments of this race.

Joaquim Rodriguez often brings his best on testing finishes such as this which stay within the double-digit gradient range for the most part. He attacked hard on Stage 2 and is clearly in good form despite walking away empty handed on that occasion; today is an even better fit for the gifted puncheur. Katusha are great at working for their leader and Rodriguez will not have to expend energy worrying about positioning as a result of this. What he will need to focus on however is the timing of his attack, too much eyeballing of rivals could cost him the win, instead he as to commit wholeheartedly to a move and ensure that anyone up the road is within catching distance.

Esteban Chaves has already made his presence here felt by winning Stage 2 and holding the leader’s Red Jersey until yesterday allowed Tom Dumoulin to relieve him of his burden by a margin of a solitary second. Having lost the jersey, Chaves remained upbeat and seemed confident of featuring in the mix for another stage win in the absence of being the most marked man in the race. There is no doubt of his condition right now and his prowess on such terrain makes him a contender for Stage 6, though plenty will surprisingly consider him an outsider.

Dan Martin has so far seen his stage winning chances evaporate on two occasions, once due to poor tactical decision making and the other due to wheel changes and crashes. Today suits him well once again, the Irishman possibly possessing a blend of climbing skill and sprinting ability only bettered by Alejandro Valverde. On this occasion he has to be the first man to make the move and force those behind to calculate the chase, any lead offered up to Martin is dangerous and could prove impossible to pull back on a finish such as this.

Domenico Pozzovivo has arrived at the Vuelta a España with the hope of saving a season  marred by a horrendous crash during the Giro d’Italia, but he has since recovered well and put in encouraging performances at the Tour de Suisse and Tour de l’Ain. The diminutive Italian finished 7th and 14th on Stages 5 and 4 respectively at the Vuelta so far and should fancy his chances once again on a difficult and technical finale which may see him unmarked; providing him the freedom required to contest the win.

Gianluca Brambilla has not quite ridden as well as expected so far at the race, but he could see this opportunity as a way of rising to the challenge and strike upon a victory for his team. Brambilla has chances in both a breakaway or a late solo move and is likely to utilise his unmarked nature to steal a march on the bigger names.

Daniel Moreno is good at negotiating the technical demands of a finish such as this and is one of the fastest sprinters for this type of rush to the line. Unfortunately for him, it is likely that he will be used to help place teammate Joaquim Rodriguez into a race winning position during the final couple of kilometres. Should things not go to plan and Moreno is required to takeover leadership responsibilities for Katusha, there is a good chance of him getting the better of riders such as Valverde; having already pushed him close on Stage 4.

Louis Meintjes could be brought into contention on a run into home which will prevent many from striking a comfortable rhythm. The MTN-Qhubeka rider is no doubt on the hunt for a shock win at this year’s Vuelta a España, this perhaps being such an opportunity. Though much of the peloton is still yet to offer the charitable organisation the respect they deserve, Meintjes’ hopes today are supported by a strong team who will not shy away from an ‘elbows out’ type of finish.

John Darwin Atapuma is really here to support the ambitions of his team leader Tejay Van Garderen and to also aim for a modest general classification placing of his own. However, Stage 6 does offer a reasonable platform for the talented Colombian to launch his own bid for victory. If allowed to depart from his team’s demands to help shepard Tejay Van Garderen to safety, he might just manage to slip past the favourites and take the glory. Admittedly, the terrain is not perfect for him as it lacks the length and intensity of most typical ‘Colombian friendly’ finishes, while the brief 100m downhill section does not aid him much either.

Kenny Elissonde is a strange one to place in the mix for today, many remain unsure of his progress as of late and what exactly he is targeting as he develops into the supposed next general classification hope of France. His ambitions of a good overall placing here look to have evaporated already and it would not be a negative move to instead focus upon a possible stage victory instead. A longer and more regular climb to the line would have been a benefit, but he is the sort of dark horse who could smuggle himself aboard a late breakaway before the bunch realise who the FDJ.fr jersey belongs to.

Sylvain Chavanel is the eternally combative French favourite and could seize his chance to make a move during the finale of this stage, or perhaps even earlier. He is often most comfortable in a break which stays out for the whole day, so keep an eye open for his name in the day’s opening attack. Should such a group take it all the way to the line, Chavanel has a knack for sandbagging and often gives it everything for the win after most would look upon him as being a broken man.

Julien Simon is worth a mention after finishing an impressive 7th on Stage 4 and will fancy building upon this result on a similar day’s finish. Much like the previous two or three riders mentioned above, the Frenchman could choose to bide his team until the final kilometres or instead join a breakaway with the hope of being the strongest rider come the end.

Outcome:

1st Joaquim Rodriguez 2nd Dan Martin 3rd Alejandro Valverde

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-5

La Vuelta a España – Stage 5 Preview

Course:

Yesterday’s testing finale is replaced with a downgraded uphill battle on Stage 5, opening up the possibility of a stage win to the toughest sprinters who can power their way over the top of the day’s final challenge. It will take 167.3km of almost pancake flat riding for the peloton to make their way from Rota, up along the coast and cross country inland, before heading north en route to the day’s finish in Alcalá de Guadaíra. Other than an intermediate sprint which appears at a puzzling close 20km from the finish, there is little noteworthy terrain until the uphill rush to the line.

A small rise occurs with the peloton around 10km from home, this subsequently means that the road is a steady downhill drag to within less than a kilometre of the finishing line. This will no doubt deter attackers from launching solo bids as the pace of the bunch is bound to be high as general classification favourites jostle for position alongside the sprinters’ teams; until the final 3km become neutralised. Several roundabouts require negotiating, but ultimately there is little in the way of acutely technical demands on the way to the line as the road rises to 5% beginning from 800m from home. As stated previously, this is not one for the pure breed sprinter, rather those with enough grunt and power to compensate for the incline into Alcalá de Guadaíra.

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-5

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-5

Contenders:

Peter Sagan is the clear favourite to double up on his wins so far at this edition of the Vuelta a España, on a finish which suits him well and could even offer a small degree of insight as to his World Championship hopes later this year in Richmond, Virginia. Sagan is evidently in fantastic condition right now and will savour the 5% gradient which will level the playing field somewhat to his speedier rivals such as Nacer Bouhanni at the finish. His team will work hard on the front as they did on Stage 2, although quite begrudgingly given the lack of support from other teams who fancied their chances against him. As ever, it is worth mentioning how great Sagan is at positioning himself in the absence of a leadout train which takes him into the last 500m, usually identifying the perfect wheel to follow before making his move. Factoring all of these aspects of Sagan’s chances together and it becomes clear as to how well poised the Slovak champion is to secure his second grand tour stage in a week.

John Degenkolb will no doubt be the biggest threat to the hopes of Peter Sagan on Stage 5 and he has the required skills and team backing to push his rival to the limit in the name of victory. The German was surprisingly well beaten after what appeared to be a perfect leadout by Giant-Alpecin when Nacer Bouhanni and Peter Sagan bettered his efforts by several bike lengths respectively. On that occasion it was likely that they underestimated the strength of the tailwind, sprinting too early and providing the perfect accidental slingshot for his rivals. Degenkolb has great form for these sprints against a gradient and should enter the race confident of utilising his team support perfectly in order to compensate for Stage 2’s unexpected defeat.

Kris Boeckmans has a similarly impressive depth of support in his attempt to win Stage 5, the Belgian outfit Lotto-Soudal offering a great deal of protection in the form of Adam Hansen, Tosh van der Sande and Jasper de Buyst. Not only this, but Boeckmans is another sprinter who has his best brought out of him by these uphill finales, making him a real contender for the win.

Jempy Drucker is another man who has a great level of grit and determination to make it up this final drag to the line, with a good chance of mixing it up for the win. Though criminally under supported despite his great year of performances thus far, he will have to go it alone once again in the sprints as on day two, but remains a man to watch if he finds daylight to strike for home.

José Joaquín Rojas deserves a mention as a sprinter who often comes into contention when placed upon this type of finishing terrain. Movistar are obviously here to protect Nairo Quintana’s and Alejandro Valverde’s general classification interests, while also aiming to pick up a stage win or two with the pair along the way. However, Rojas offers a solid alternative for the Spanish team who might choose to support him in tandem to their two pronged leadership concerns up to the neutralise zone with 3km left.

Nacer Bouhanni should find this climb to the line takes the sting out of his sprint, a damning factor for the fastest man in this race, as he is unlikely to be able to maintain the power required to match the likes of John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan. That is not to say he cannot perform on this type of terrain, but the strength of his rivals is too great here to place him at the forefront of contention. Alongside this, Bouhanni has once again struggled to stay upright as of late and it is unclear as to whether or not his recent spills have affected his form yet; though they usually spur him on more.

Simon Gerrans has had a year plagued by misfortune and it is not clear as to what condition he arrives at this year’s Vuelta a España in. He remains a noteworthy contender and enjoys uphill battles for victory, though this is not tough enough for the Australian to excel upon at his best. It is expected that he shall instead be utilised to aid young sprint wonder Caleb Ewan in his attempt to notch his debut grand tour stage win, his status as second fastest man at this race could raise doubts about his ability to cope with the finale though. In fact, Ewan climbs particularly well for a sprinter and will be confident of being navigated into position by his strong leadout team in order to demonstrate this exact factor perfectly.

Outcome:

1st John Degenkolb 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Kris Boeckmans

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-4

La Vuelta a España – Stage 4 Preview

Course:

The biggest contrast in regards to the styling of this year’s Vuelta a España stages is evident on day four, the second longest day in the saddle clocks in at unusually lengthy 209.4km for this Spanish grand tour. Thankfully for the peloton which has to contest this affair beneath a sweltering climate, the route is predominately flat and hostilities are unlikely to be ignited before the lumpy finish catches the eye of puncheurs and strongmen alike.

Leaving Estepona, the riders shall find themselves on extremely flat terrain immediately after their departure from the start. This heavily costal focused route will bring crosswinds into play, something which many could underestimate on a day which is meant to be tactically bland for the general classification motivated squads. Should gales indeed begin to howl and scythe their way through the peloton, panic will spread like wild fire as team leaders strive fervently to stay represented in the lead echelon on the road. Movistar and Alejandro Valverde will perhaps be the most aware of this threat after the Spanish rider lost any hope of a Tour de France placing in the 2013 edition of the race, due to an attack from Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo in the midst of such crosswinds.

A total absence of categorised climbs on Stage 4 means the breakaway will see little reward for their efforts beyond the usual desire of making it onto TV for the sponsors; especially the smaller teams racing here. The first introduction of climbing comes between 20km – 33km, but this is relatively rolling and will see a relaxed peloton snake their way across these minor hills. The day’s highest point comes at 70km and is followed by only a couple more lumps and bumps en route to the extremely tough finishing circuit in Vejer de la Frontera. Less than 5km will remain as the likely fireworks begin to erupt upon the final climb in order to survive and succeed through this harsh selection of riders who hope to contest the win.

This constant drag only lasts about a kilometre but encompasses gradients of 12% which swing upwards to 18%, despite its limited length. Over the top leads to a false summit which remains fluctuating minutely for a little over a kilometre, before then dropping down subtlety to 500m from the finishing line, at which point it becomes uphill all the way to the line. Had those eyeing up the win here not already deemed this a sufficiently testing run to the finish, the extremely technical nature of the conclusion will exaggerate the  12% – 14% slopes as the narrowing road encompasses a couple of hairpin bends in order to make the fight for space increasingly aggressive. It lessens to 4.5% in final meters to the line, which means any puncheur who possesses a strong sprint in order to dispatch any remaining rivals will be a clear favourite to win.

 

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-4

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-4

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde is the clear favourite for the majority of pundits on a course finale which he would struggle to better if given the task of designing himself. On paper he has the skills required to attack on the short and relatively sharp slopes to the line, while also possessing a potent sprint to dispatch anyone still with him in the final meters; as we have seen many times before at the Ardennes. However, it is unclear as to what condition he is in exactly on the back of a middling Tour de France showing, not quite animating the race as expected on day two here either. Though this might have been predominately due to his teammate Nairo Quintana attacking earlier and not wishing to reel him back in unnecessarily. With his skilful bike handling and a great level of positional nous, the technical run into home also supports his claims to victory on Stage 4 of La Vuelta a España.

Peter Sagan executed a surprisingly dominant sprint finish yesterday in order to steal the win away from John Degenkolb, who looked certain to cross the line first before the Slovak champion and Nacer Bouhanni gapped him by some margin before the finish. The stronger than expected tailwind might have contributed to the unexpected display by Sagan, but there is little doubt about his condition in 2015 and today suits him even better. Theoretically, the inclines at the very end of Stage 4 should prove too much for Sagan, but this year he has consistently gone beyond expectation when competing upon ill-fitting terrain. Should he manage to pace this last charge to the line well, he is the fastest by far of those singled out for the victory today and certainly has the technical skills required in order to avoid being boxed in late on.

Daniel Moreno was working for Joaquim Rodriguez on Stage 2, but today should offer him the chance to stretch his legs on a finish which will prove an inviting prospect for the Katusha rider. The difficulty of the final climbs will prove well within his abilities, but most encouraging of all, is his powerful sprint finish compared to his likely rivals here. Assuming he avoids being unable to follow the key attacks through the narrow streets, Moreno will aim to steal a march on the favourites and hammer home his speedy advantage over anyone still on his wheel ahead of the line.

Dan Martin seems unable to catch much luck at the moment, often finding his attacks mistimed by only a handful of seconds, leaving him with nothing to show for his efforts. He waited and waited on Stage 2 for the main general classification riders to chase the earlier skirmishing moves of Nicolas Roche and Esteban Chaves, but the impetus was never forthcoming. This unexpectedly left Martin to chase solo with no reaction from his overall rivals, freedom he did not believe was likely to be provided to him, but certainly something he will take advantage of if offered again today. Though he is known for his punchy ability to reach these steep hilltop finishes in a good position, he should not be too disheartened if still alongside a couple of riders after the summit, as the Irishman is able to execute a convincing turn of pace in a sprint finish. The biggest issue for Martin is the narrow and technical nature of the final kilometres, an aspect which could once again expose his weakness for crucial positioning during this last moments of a race.

Diego Rosa is sure to be on team duties helping to support Fabio Aru, but if he should be allowed off the leash to attack here, he might prove to be in with a chance of a podium finish. He often comes to the fore on these town based finales which use steep hills to form the finish and evidently has the technical skills to survive the run in, having placed well (5th) at Strade Bianche earlier this year.

Tom Dumoulin is performing far beyond the expectations of him this season, not only in his favoured time trialling discipline, but also in races such as Tour de Suisse and Stage 2’s finish at this edition of La Vuelta. The Dutchman is proving to be a difficult man to dislodge during this lumpy finales and could be aiming to succeed in the final few kilometres today which play well into his strengths. The gradients, though steep, do not fluctuate to greatly, which means Dumoulin should be able to ride at his desired power level without having to burn too many matches early on. Its narrow streets are unlikely to faze the Dutchman and he will be difficult to beat in any resulting sprint to the line; a strong contender.

Joaquim Rodriguez is sure to have preferred a much more difficult hill to decide the outcome of today’s stage, but the Spaniard could still feature in the shake up for the win. He performed well on Stage 2 and probably would have been favourite for the win had the peloton not allowed Dan Martin, Esteban Chaves and Tom Dumoulin to vanish up the road so easily late on. There is a strong chance he might actually return the favour of Daniel Moreno and instead choose to support his teammate on a course which admittedly suits his talents more so than that of Rodriguez.

Louis Meintjes is having a very strong year for his team MTN-Qhubeka, putting on a great display during Stage 5 of this year’s Tour de France. The young South African finished 14th on the second day at this year’s Vuelta and has a strong chance of building upon that here on Stage 4. Though perhaps not quite as tough as he would liked it to have been, a gruelling day in the crosswinds could tire his punchier rivals and allow him to attack hard at the death with little response.

Gianluca Brambilla could well prove to be dangerously underestimated on this terrain and will no doubt make the most of his underdog status to launch a serious attack late on here. It seems to becoming apparent that Brambilla finds good form at La Vuelta a España and has already begun to demonstrate such condition at this year’s edition too. A threatening blend of strength and speed, he has the option to either seize the initiative and attack solo, or follow the wheels of his rivals through the winding streets and steal the win with a potent sprint finish. His combative nature could be what secures him the win most of all, as we have already seen too much eyeballing of the favourites during the final moments of such tense stages.

Outcome:

1st Daniel Moreno 2nd Gianluca Brambilla 3rd Louis Meintjes