The unexpected alliance on Stage 15 between Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana delivered more drama in a day than some recent grand tours have experienced in their entire three weeks. There is little chance of replicating such drama once again, but today’s 156.4km stage from Alcañiz to Peñiscola should provide an exciting finale as the sprinters attempt to seize upon a rare opportunity to take a win at this year’s Vuelta a España. Ascending gradually from the start, the road builds continually as it approaches the Category 3 Alto Castillo de Morella, a 3.4km ascent which averages a gradient of 5.2%. After this comes a long descent down to within less than 20km of the finish line, the riders required to navigate a series of roundabouts as they approach Peñiscola, followed by the final 1.3km long stretch along the coast which forms the day’s finishing straight.
Fabio Felline was active once again yesterday and appears to be coping well with the high amount fatigue which the La Vuelta dishes out to all of the riders. He is now the best hope of a stage win for his team Trek-Segafredo and could rise to the top of the pile thanks to his freshness, despite not being one of the fastest men in contention for today’s win.
Gianni Meersman has been somewhat of a surprise at 2016’s race, already taking a couple of wins and still looking capable of adding to his haul in the final week or so of racing. Etixx-QuickStep are able to support him with a great deal of talent and shall be the strongest team in with a shout of victory by the time they reach Peñiscola. Meersman is the clear favourite for the win and it looks like many of his rivals here shall struggle to match the level of both him and his team.
Nikias Arndt usually emerges as one of the best sprinters towards the tail-end of stage races and is a great threat if his leadout is executed neatly at last. Having tried to conserve some of his energy as of late, Arndt is targeting this for more than simply featuring in the mix and Giant–Alpecin are still confident he can win.
Kristian Sbaragli continues to grow in strength as the race’s attritional effect builds day by day, bringing the Dimension-Data rider further into contention on Stage 16. The latter half of today might not be the ideal terrain for Sbaragli to truly compete for victory, but freshness is crucial by this point of the race and he still possesses a good chance.
Magnus Cort, Jonas Van Genechten and Tosh Van Der Sande are all names likely to fill the top ten placings in a bunch kick, though winning may just be beyond their grasp.
1st Fabio Felline 2nd Nikias Arndt 3rd Gianni Meersman