The iconic slopes of Lagos de Covadonga are poised to initiate the first true showdown amongst those anticipated to spend the next two weeks wrestling for the red jersey of 2016’s La Vuelta a España. Starting in Lugonas, the course stretches a total of 188.7km en route to the gruelling ascent of Lagos de Covadonga, with the opening 140km comprising relatively tame terrain before the Category 1 Alto del Mirador del Fito (6.2km, avg 7.8%) opens the day’s climbing account. From the summit the peloton shall descend rapidly, after which the road momentarily flattens out before almost immediately starting the ascent to the summit of the HC Lagos de Covadonga. The 12.2km challenge averages 7.2%, though the ramps are far more severe and the irregular nature of the climb will see plenty crack under the strain. As seen below, the opening few kilometres feature gradients of 14% and remains in double-figures for the most part, while the final stretch to the line hits 17.5%.
Nairo Quintana may have only had one true chance to demonstrate his form, but the Colombian did appear to be the strongest rider amongst the general classification contenders currently. He will be aware that there is a need to secure a reasonable amount of time ahead of the individual time trial; Chris Froome and Alberto Contador both more talented against the clock than himself. The steep gradients and irregular nature should play more into his hands than other rivals, hopefully seeing him secure a historic win and potentially take the race lead as a result.
Chris Froome will want to shadow the moves of rival Quintana to prevent him gaining too much time on him before the individual time trial. Froome misjudged his efforts somewhat on Stage 8, subsequently losing time to rivals Quintana and Contador, so may now choose to ride defensively until more certain of his form. Regardless, if he finds himself leading the way in the final kilometres and feeling strong, Froome will certainly choose to seize upon the opportunity to gain time.
Alberto Contador looks to be riding in competitive form despite dehydration issues and an unfortunately late crash earlier in the week which left him strapped up quite severely. He favours longer climbs and will consider testing the water alongside his lead rivals on the final climb, potentially aiming to claw back some of the time he lost early on at this year’s Vuelta España.
Alejandro Valverde‘s best chance of victory will come from a race which only erupts in the final kilometres, at which point the steepest sections of the Lagos de Covadonga will offer him the perfect terrain for him to attack in pursuit of victory. Though he is a talented climber, if the likes of Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome choose to really up the pressure early in the ascent, it would be a huge task for Valverde to match them right the way to the last two kilometres.
Tejay van Garderen should be a danger from a breakaway today, as there remains a chance that the fireworks from the general classification riders will prove too late to reel them back in. His switch to stage victories at this grand tour must not prove to be a waste of time and he will view Lagos de Covadonga as a finale suited to his climbing style.
Alberto Losada has been performing extremely well at this year’s Vuelta a España, Katusha surely now viewing him as the ideal man to back for another stage victory. He has a knack for making the day’s break and certainly has the strength required to outperform most of his likely escapees en route to the summit of Lagos de Covadonga
Omar Fraile was surprisingly absent from the breakaway yesterday, perhaps indicating that he would rather collect points for the mountains classification on the biggest days, rather than rolling through numerous category 3 climbs in the next two weeks. There is no doubt that he has the legs required to perform well on Stage 10, but the hectic cut to make the early breakaway is certain to decide his hopes today.
Others worth watching include Andrey Zeits, Leopold König, Sergio Pardilla and Christophe Riblon.
1st Nairo Quintana 2nd Alberto Contador 3rd Chris Froome