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