As ever, the remedy to three weeks of unpredictable racing at La Vuelta a España is the expected final hosted in Spain’s capital city of Madrid. Considering the longest stage of this year’s race clocked in at 215km, today’s 97.8km charge to and around the city will surely seem like a blink of the eye for many 0f the riders here. Having rolled out from the start in the Madrid suburbs of Alcala de Henares, the usual steady parade of processioning teams and riders will gently approach the capital and cross the finish for the first time after 39.8km.
From here they will begin the first of 10 laps which comprise the day’s finale, each pass taking them along the 5.9km pan flat route as the speed and intensity ratchets up lap upon lap. Little has changed about these finishing circuits in recent years and the riders should be well aware of the technical challenges on each lap which includes a pair of tight 90-degree bends and a trio of complete U-turns. Having exited the last lap’s final turn, the bunch will stream immediately under the flamme rouge and have an unobstructed (slightly uphill) run to Plaza Cibeles’s finish line.
John Degenkolb has experienced somewhat of a nightmare in the sprints during this year’s La Vuelta a España, but he will return as the favourite to win on the final day regardless. The German is likely to be the freshest of many of the sprinters who are also targeting a victory today, but it is his team which really inflates his chances of wining here. Luka Mezgec and Koen De Kort are both crucial to the success of his sprint today and each man has looked in great condition throughout this final week of the tour. Ultimately, the biggest doubt against Giant-Alpecin and Degenkolb is the possibility that the team may already have cooked themselves heading into today as a consequence of doing their utmost trying to defend Tom Dumoulin’s lead.
Danny Van Poppel produced a fantastic sprint on Stage 12 and could once again emerge as the biggest threat to John Degenkolb’s hopes of winning here. The Dutchman has a fantastic turn of speed and will have a full team at his disposal who have not had to dig a great deal during the final ten days of this grand tour. Of his support still present at the race, he might lack a certain level of brute strength to keep him at the front of the bunch heading into the final kilometres. This might not prove crucial however, as he was already lacking both Fabian Cancellara and Jasper Stuyven when he took his victory on Stage 12 and Van Poppel still looks fresh enough to challenge here.
Alejandro Valverde knows that a good placing in the sprint today will likely win him the points jersey from Joaquim Rodriguez. The Movistar rider’s turn of pace is well documented and there is little doubt to suggest that himself and the team will shy away from this opportunity to leave this year’s Vuelta with a jersey in the bag.
Tosh Van Der Sande has been a surprisingly consistent rider in the sprints at this year’s race, an unexpected factor for a man who usually only flourishes on the real tough days and stage finishes. On paper he should not be able to challenge for the win today, but given the attritional nature of a grand tour, he could find himself being brought into contention greater than expected.
Jempy Drucker is another rider who has performed incredibly consistently throughout the race and has demonstrated a strong enough turn of speed to push the bigger name sprinters right to the line. He is unlikely to have invested much in the way of effort during this final week of the race and he has a strong chance of getting onto the podium today; if not more.
Tom Van Asbroeck will have a great deal of power offered to him on the final stage in an attempt to win the stage for himself and LottoNL-Jumbo, a team who have not experienced a great deal of success at the race this year. Though like several of the sprinters here, he has lost a few men who would have contributed to his leadout today, but if they pick up the chase later than usual, Asbroeck will still have a great chance of winning Stage 21. The subtle drag to the finish line is perhaps the most favourable factor of today’s finish and this could be the reason why we see a shock result in Madrid.
1st John Degenkolb 2nd Tom Van Asbroeck 3rd Danny Van Poppel