The peloton truly took a day off yesterday, eventually rolling in more than 30 minutes behind the day’s winner Valerio Conti, no doubt in preparation for today’s herculean queen stage. Anticipated to cause a stir amongst the general classification, Stage 14’s 196km route from Urdatx-Dantxarinea to Aubisque takes in three Category 1 climbs en route to the day’s HC summit finish, intended to apply pressure to the big names at this year’s race. First comes the Category 1 Col Inharpu, at 11.5km and averaging a 7.1% gradient with much time spent in double figures, this shall be a shock to the system as an opening salvo for the riders. A sharp following descent soon begins to build skywards once again, this time sending the riders up the Category 1 Col du Soudet, 24km in total and averaging 5.2%; hitting 15% on a couple of occasions. Completing the day’s triumvirate of Category 1 ascents is the 9.2km Col de Marie-Blanque, it maintains 7.5% on paper, though the reality is that the final kilometres to the summit actually approach 14%. The famous Col d’Aubisque shall bring the curtain down on this year’s Vuelta a España queen stage, its 16.5km length and 7.1% average gradient earning it the honour of being classed an HC climb. It is relatively even throughout and may not prove decisive as an isolated ascent, but the accumulation of fatigue during the preceding three ascents will magnify the final slopes here immensely.
Chris Froome will be the day’s pick for many on this queen stage, as he continues to ride himself further into his best condition during a crucial part of this year’s race. Though he lost time earlier in the race, he has since proven he can match main rival Nairo Quintana on the climbs and appears to be the strongest rider heading into this big challenge. Sky have been saving their resources for this and should make life difficult for everyone else while attempting to protect their leader Chris Froome. If it becomes clear on the road that Froome is in some of his finest form, then it is difficult to see anyone dropping him on the final ascent of the Col d’Aubisque.
Nairo Quintana has impressed many up until now and the testing Stage 14 profile shall prove fascinating to see how the Colombian climber reacts to the challenge. After several false dawns, it finally seems that Quintana is back in peak condition, the ability to match Froome now back within his grasp. He is sure to ride aggressively in an attempt to gain time ahead of the individual time trial and should feel more comfortable on these longer slopes today. If anyone does manage to drop Froome, it will surely only be Nairo Quintana en route to stage victory.
Robert Gesink came within touching distance of a stage victory and has seen his performance catch the eye of many at La Vuelta a España. If he manages to find a place amongst the day’s breakaway, then Gesink will be motivated to repeat his earlier effort on Stage 14, instead seeking for an alternative outcome which sees him end the day atop the podium.
Omar Fraile‘s pursuit of the mountains classification jersey will provoke him into attacking today and should be part of the breakaway at the very least. The demands of securing points is likely to drain him of the potency required to win today, but if he manages to give everyone the slip, Fraile shall prove a difficult man to reel back.
Kenny Elissonde has form for summoning up impressive performances on the biggest stages and will be a strong contender to take stage honours today from a breakaway. Like many climbers, Elissonde could find it hard to make the move on a predominantly flat opening to the stage, but will likely emerge as the favourite to kick onto victory if he does.
Tejay Van Garderen is still yet to demonstrate that his presence here is worthwhile, so may choose to remedy this fact upon the race’s biggest stage. The American has a chance of striking lucky amongst the breakaway and is powerful enough to make the cut despite the flat opening to Stage 14. Having seemingly kept his powder dry for so long now, Van Garderen could pack a punch when kicking out for victory on the final ascent.
Pierre Rolland might not be in the greatest of shape currently, but he does suit the requirements of a contender today convincingly. The Frenchman would love to take a victory on home soil while the Vuelta spends its entirety in France today, perfectly capable of battling over these sorts of climbs, but he will have to muster his finest form to secure the win.
1st Nairo Quintana 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Robert Gesink
Breakaway: Kenny Elissonde