Much has been made of Stage 17 and its individual time trial as being the defining moment of this year’s La Vuelta a España, a day where many could see their overall ambitions sink without trace and where one rider could perhaps even win the tour outright. Today’s 38.7km race against the clock offers little in the way of salvation for the climbing specialists who currently sit towards the upper tier of the general classification. Instead, the long and wide open roads which thread their way in and around the city of Burgos will favour the big engined time trialists who twirl huge gears as if it were the Sunday club run to the nearest Café. Many are bound to find themselves overexposed after a tough Vuelta a España which has continually sent them into uncharted territory in order to test themselves against monstrous gradients never seen before at the race. If there was ever a time during these three weeks to rally every ounce of energy and engage all possible muscle fibres for around 45mins worth of effort, it is today; capitulation here will not merit a place on the podium in Madrid.
Tom Dumoulin is expected to dominate proceedings today and possibly place himself upon an infallible path to becoming the first Dutch grand tour winner since Joop Zoetemelk won Le Tour de France in 1980. Dumoulin is one of, if not possibly, the best time trialist in the world this year and is many pundits favourite to walk away from Richmond, Virginia in a few weeks time with the rainbow bands across his chest. He heads into today’s stage 1’51” behind race leader Joaquim Rodriguez, an achievable margin to overturn on a course which does not favour his Spanish rival; as Rodriguez’s best time trial performances have come upon much tougher rolling terrain. The biggest cause for concern in regards to Dumoulin’s chances of winning Stage 17 and putting considerable time into his general classification rivals is the level of fatigue with which he enters today. However, other than Stage 16, he seems to have paced the majority of his defensive work very well in the mountains and he should be strong off the back of a rest day.
Vasil Kiryienka should be considered the greatest threat to the hope of a Dutch win on Stage 17. The Belarusian Sky rider is known for his immense strength and ability to churn over huge gears at the front of the peloton in the face of severe gradients. Recent years have seen him finish 3rd and 4th (on two occasions) at the World Championship Individual Time Trial and should subsequently ring alarm bells for others with eyes on the win today. His form at the World’s clearly indicates an ability to exit the Vuelta a España in fantastic condition which allows him to contest the podium places in recent years at the event. This should mean Kiryienka is the man most likely to stand between Tom Dumoulin and stage victory in Burgos, his easier race thus far perhaps even giving him the edge.
Stephen Cummings is known for his affinity for prologue or similarly styled time trials, but today will come as a great opportunity to impress his team with the hope of securing a spot at the World’s later this month. The British rider has enjoyed a fantastic year at MTN-Qhubeka, a move which has offered him a greater level of freedom and subsequently reaped the benefits of such opportunities afforded to him. Though it is difficult to see him bettering Dumoulin and Kiryienka, a podium placing could be an achievable target.
Jurgen Van den Broeck has altered his ambitions as of late and used this year’s La Vuelta a España as a springboard to acquire condition ahead of the World Championship Individual Time Trial. The Belgian has rediscovered his prowess against the clock and perceives it to be strong enough to warrant burying general classification hopes in the meantime, in order to focus upon Richmond, Virginia. The predominantly flat terrain will allow him to put down the power, while any kicks in the road will not worry this strong climbing Belgian.
Beyond those mentioned above, little remains in the way of riders truly blessed with the skill set required to dominate a time trial such as this. However, due to the attrition rate at the Vuelta, this does mean much of the day’s placings will be influenced more by condition rather than talent, so unexpected performances are more plausible. This is bound to mean Fabio Aru will place relatively highly, due to the lack of depth of time trialists and could perhaps even offer Joaquim Rodriguez a higher placing than expected too. The Spaniard has displayed great performances against the clock this season, but this will be very difficult to produce on a course which does not play into his strengths at all. Aru on the other hand is a competent time trial rider and should be the one to make the biggest gains in the general classification beyond Tom Dumoulin. Rafal Majka should also benefit today, while Mikel Nieve and Esteban Chaves are likely to lose a considerable amount of time due to the lack of climbing here.
1st Vasil Kiryienka 2nd Tom Dumoulin 3rd Jurgen Van den Broeck