Only 5o0m short of being another 200km day in the saddle, the 199.5km journey from Hellín to Xorret de Cati offers a couple of categorised climbs ahead of the final push towards the day’s last summit and eventual downhill rush to the line. With no recognised climbing until the 100km mark has been passed, the first ascent comes in the shape of the Category 3 Puerto de Buar (6.1 km, avg. 3.4%) and is soon followed by the Category 3 Puerto de Onil (7 km, avg. 3.8%) which provide little to worry about in the way of inclines. From this point onwards, the focus shall be upon the finale, taking the shape of Category 1 Alto Xorret de Cati. With gradients touching 18% during the 5km passage, this is an ascent poised to decide the day; perhaps catching the eye of the general classification hopefuls in the process.
Esteban Chaves has appeared to be in encouraging form during this opening week of racing, though is yet to suggest he has the upper-hand over rivals such as Chris Froome. The Colombian rider is no stranger to such steep gradients, no doubt eagerly viewing Stage 8 as an opportunity to take a stage win and time from his major rival. With his potent sprint against the gradient, there is a great chance that nobody shall be able to match the Colombian when it matters most during the final kilometres.
Ilnur Zakarin appears to be on the rise in regards to the form and will certainly be a threat to the day’s stage honours as the first week of racing nears completion. The Russian rider is one of the few climbers who truly suits the finale on offer today and can also utilise his time trialing abilities to sustain any such gap he manages to acquire during the final climb of the day.
Alberto Contador shall not be happy to leave his final native grand tour with a mediocre effort, making the odds of him attacking hard on Stage 8 more credible than previously thought. The Spaniard has already conceded a considerable amount of time, perhaps generating him a degree of freedom in the final kilometres which nobody had previously expected.
Chris Froome has appeared to be imperious once again at a grand tour level and will be the favourite for many to capitalise upon this for many durning Stage 8. The Team Sky rider will hope to be part of an elite group which reaches the final climb first, utilising the team he has at his disposal to make life as tough as possible for his rivals, before kicking onwards to victory. He may not need to push hard on today’s stage, but if the opportunity does arise, then Chris Froome is one of the most likely riders to capitalise.
Tejay Van Garderen certainly has something to prove since suffering a degree of misfortune and forfeiting his previously encouraging placing on the general classification. Should the American choose to ride aggressively, then there is a good chance that he shall discover the freedom to make a move and aim to hold any gap right the way to the line.
1st Esteban Chaves 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Ilnur Zakarin