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