Stage 7 is another day in excess of 200km to travel for the peloton, taking the riders on a lumpy route from Llíria to Cuenca, though featuring only three Category 3 climbs. Regardless, there is not much in the way of flat riding to be done here, making for a draining affair and another opportunity for the breakaway to decide the outcome. As has often been the theme during this year’s Vuelta a España, the course rises almost immediately after the day’s departure from Llíria, building steadily towards the foot of the Category 3 Puerto La Montalbana, an 8km climb which averages 4.3% which should be easy to float over after around 50km of racing already in the legs of the riders. The peloton briefly drop downhill not long after this in order to climb the Category 3 Puerto de Sta. Cruz de Moya. The 8.7km long climb averages 4% and will place the riders atop a rolling plateau from which they never really descend from for the rest of the day. No other significant features occur until less than 20km of racing remain, as the Category 3 Alto del Castillo is the final recognised climb of the day at 2km long and averages a reasonably draining 7.2% gradient. The concluding kilometres are simple enough and should not pose any problems for either a solo breakaway or large group arriving into Cuenca.
Alexey Lutsenko confirmed his immense form when securing a stage victory just a couple of days ago and could be asked by Astana to produce a repeat performance if possible. The former under-23 World Champion has immense talent to say the least and would not surprise many if he does indeed rise to the occasion once again already. However, fatigue will be an issue when trying to make the selection on Stage 7, as Lutsenko will be recovering from his previous exploits and from the effort he invested in supporting teammates yesterday.
Matej Mohoric was another of the riders who performed well during Lutsenko’s victory on Stage 5, the young Slovenian reminding pundits as to the reason why he garnered such hype a few years ago. Today’s profile is perhaps more fitting, though it is difficult to gauge his development right now, but it will definitely be on his radar if the legs are still in good condition after his encouraging display a couple of days ago.
Alexis Gougeard has been an active prescence during the opening week of racing at 2017’s La Vuelta a España and is a good bet to be animating the day once again. Whereas he struggled to follow the concluding moves on Stage 5, today’s offering plays to his strengths more so, especially with a finale which could allow him to utilise his sprinting ability to finish off any rivals.
Julian Alaphilippe still promises to deliver a stage winning performance at the race, though is not quite on his perfect form during this first week, but does appear to be coming round to his best as the Vuelta progresses. Once again, he has all the requisite skills to perform strongly, but will need to make sure he manages to feature in the crucial moves of the day before he can dream of a win. If he does, then a small sprint is likely to be his ideal conclusion, as after 207km of racing there are few faster than the Frenchman.
Pello Bilbao will view the challenges of Stage 7 as being well within his capabilities, offering Astana yet another card for them to play during this opening week of racing. He often performs strongly on these rolling days and is certainly tough enough to make the cut, especially during what is bound to be a hectic fight for the breakaway to form early on.
Others to look for in the moves on Stage 7 are Jetse Bol, Ricardo Vilela, Marc Soler, Stephane Rossetto and Lachlan Morton.
1st Pello Bilbao 2nd Matej Mohoric 3rd Ricardo Vilela