Today’s 173km trip from Escaldes-Engordany to Lleida is considerably more straight forward than yesterday’s mammoth day in the mountains. The road descends immediately from the departure in Andorra and does not begin to build upwards again until almost 40km have passed. Coll de Bóixols is the only officially recognised climb of the day, a Category 1 ascent which lasts 18.4km and maintains a manageable gradient of around 4% for the most part. This should mark the day out as another bunch sprint as we witnessed on Stage 10, an occasion which saw a surprising amount of fast finishing riders make the cut and reel back in the breakaway.
From here a long descent of about 60km follows, interrupted early on by the unrecognised Coll de Saidella, but otherwise a large chunk of easy riding on Stage 12. Another small bump appears on the profile at the 118.8km mark, after which it is a free run straight to the finish in Lleida. The finish is against a slight gradient in the final meters, however it is not a big enough factor to swap attention from the sprinters to the puncheurs on this occasion.
John Degenkolb has seen himself beaten at every time of asking so far at La Vuelta a España, so he will still be extremely motivated to make his attendance here count for something. The German has the climbing ability to make it over the only categorised climb of the day and often emerges as the strongest sprinter as the race enters its second half. Giant-Alpecin will be confident of dropping him off in the right position once again, and as long as he avoids being boxed in, it is likely Degenkolb will finally take a win. Perhaps the most encouraging note of all however, is the fact that Caleb Ewan, Nacer Bouhanni, Peter Sagan and Matteo Peluchhi are all now absent from the race.
Tosh van der Sande has been putting in a great showing for his team Lotto-Soudal so far and will be confident of doing precisely the same on Stage 12. He is one of the fastest remaining sprinters left in this race and knows how to surf wheels in the maelstrom of a bunch kick. His team will look to offer him a great deal of support as they search for a win at this year’s Vuelta, making the Belgian rider a likely feature on the day’s podium.
José Joaquín Rojas and his ambitions of winning a stage here have had to take a back seat to the general classification focus of Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana. Despite this, Stage 12 appears to be the type of stage which would allow Movistar to segue neatly between protecting their team leaders’ interests and helping Rojas into a race winning pace. He is likely to have preferred a more noteworthy gradient en route to the line, but it seems likely that he will remain in contention for the win regardless.
Kristian Sbaragli has to be mentioned on the back of his Stage 10 winning exploits and will no doubt do his utmost to bring MTN-Qhubeka yet another grand tour stage win this year. The Italian looked strong heading into the rest day, but it remains unclear as to how he will cope in the wake of yesterday’s attritional affair.
Gianluca Brambilla is one of the most active riders in the race currently and he could well get in the mix for a sprint finish today or choose to take off on his own and give the bunch the slip. Should the Italian chose the latter, Brambilla is the type of man which the likes of Giant-Alpecin will not be keen on letting accumulate too great an advantage over themselves.
Jean-Pierre Drucker has placed highly on stages 3 and 5 at the Vuelta a España already and today could see him return to this habit. The BMC rider is a strongman type of sprinter and is bound to survive the day’s trials in a good enough shape to seriously contest compete the win. As mentioned previously, there is a slight incline up to the line and this should improve his odds of him winning yet further still.
1st John Degenkolb 2nd Kristian Sbaragli 3rd José Joaquín Rojas