Chris Froome mustered one of his finest performances ever in an individual time trial, winning Stage 19 by a margin of 44″ to Jonathan Castroviejo and subsequently reducing the lead of Nairo Quintana to 1′ 21″. It still looks to be a difficult task to try and overturn the deficit, but Chris Froome has developed a more aggressive style of racing in recent months and shall be confident of Stage 20 providing him an ideal opportunity to snatch the leader’s jersey at the death. The 193.2km route from Benidorm to Alto de Aitana features four Category 2 ascents, building to the crescendo finish atop the HC finale of Alto de Aitana and one last chance to shake up the general classification. Beginning with the Category 2 Coll de Rates (13km avg 3%), the race then drops down and runs into the base of the Category 2 Alto de Vall de Ebo (8km 5.4%), immediately followed by a third Category 2 in the form Alto de Tollos (4.1km 5.9%). The peloton will then enjoy a break in climbing for a short while, returning to life uphill by conquering the Category 2 Puerto de Tudons (7.1km 5.3%). From here anxieties will begin to bubble to the surface, the road dropping down ahead of reaching the foot of the Alto de Aitana, a 21km long climb which averages 5.9% and stays relatively even from start to finish.
Nairo Quintana may have conceded more time than some would have anticipated during yesterday’s stage, but the Movistar captain still looks destined to walk away with the red jersey by the end of the weekend. Nobody as truly managed to drop Quintana during the race and he has managed to conserve energy by riding defensively as a result of his considerable lead he gained earlier in the race. Chris Froome has to attack today repeatedly if he is to have any chance of taking the jersey, but Quintana looks strong enough to match him throughout and potentially kick onwards to stage victory.
Chris Froome proved yesterday that he is still riding in magnificent form during 2016, summoning up an impressive time trial performance to eat into the lead of Nairo Quintana. Froome has discovered a much more aggressive style of riding during this season, no doubt needing to call upon this hot streak to try to distance Quintana and possibly sweep up a bonus 10 seconds by winning the stage too. Even if he fails to take the overall lead here, Froome is bound to be the man to beat in terms of winning Stage 20.
Esteban Chaves has proven that he can now compete with the big names as a grand tour reaches its final week, highlighting his increasing ability at cycling’s most testing races. Chaves has resisted the temptation to burn his matches, looking fresher now than expected, marking him out as a genuine threat for stage honours. Given that it seems unlikely that he can return to third on the general classification after losing it to Contador in yesterday’s time trial, Chaves may even be afforded a degree of freedom to attack and will also have a great chance of beating Froome, Quintana and Contador if a sprint is needed to decide the day.
Alberto Contador could exploit the battle between Quintana and Froome to his own advantage, staying in their wheels for the most part in hope of making a stage winning move during the final kilometres. Contador is no threat to the red jersey, and as a result, could be allowed to go clear late in the race if Froome concedes that there is no chance of himself gaining enough time to take the overall win from Quintana.
Given the importance of today’s stage in the overall result of the race, as well as bonus seconds awarded to the winner, there is only a slim chance of the breakaway succeeding atop the Alto de Aitana. Robert Gesink has enjoyed a very successful race thus far and shall be the favourite for many to win from a breakaway move which manages to stay clear of Team Sky’s chase. Kenny Elissonde needs to put the mountains classification to bed and may be tempted into joining the day’s move in order to defend his lead, before then potentially kicking onwards to victory as a result.
1st Nairo Quintana 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Esteban Chaves