A 174km task is at hand on Stage 9 of this year’s edition of La Vuelta, sending the riders from Orihuela to Cumbre del Sol and setting the stage for a dramatic finale against a wall like climb. For much of the day, riding will be easy, as nothing truly noteworthy features until over 130km has been raced; that being the Category 2 Alto de Puig Llorenca. The 3.2km long rise averages a gradient of 9.2%, giving some riders an indication as to whether they shall have the legs required to perform in the final kilometres when visiting it again later on. The road then gradually descends, setting itself up for the anticipate melee as the bunch reach the Alto de Puig Llorenca for the second time, though they shall ride a longer 4km passage right the way to the top on this occasion. The irregular steep climb will make it hard for the favourites to settle into a rhythm, especially as ramps swing greatly from 8% to 25%, demanding riders to constantly shift their position and gearing.
Alberto Contador does not wish to exit professional cycling without some glory at his final home grand tour, marking him out as a likely antagonist in the closing moments of Stage 9. His form is certainly improving as the race develops, while today’s far steeper terrain plays to his strengths and could certainly diminish the gap in strength to Chris Froome which was seen yesterday. Contador is an intelligent rider who is likely to have already calculated the best point to attack from, yet he often rides based on the moment and nobody can exploit an opportunity to strike better than ‘El Pistolero’.
Chris Froome does already appear to be the strongest climber at the race and will be searching for a stage win to cement his credentials as likely overall winner. The gradients are not to his suiting, though he is likely to adopt an aggressive approach in order to act as defence, making it as hard as possible for his rivals when the road pitches down somewhat. As a punchier rider than most in the frame for today’s honours, Froome could choose to follow the attacks and simply pounce with a trademark acceleration during the final kilometre.
Rafal Majka has previously performed strongly on this concluding climb and will take confidence from yesterday’s efforts to feel capable of challenging once again today. His ambitions have altered in regards to those he initially held heading into the race, though a focus on winning stages instead of the general classification makes the Polish rider far more dangerous now.
Esteban Chaves needs to start finding his best form at the race, otherwise, it is beginning to look like he is suffering under the greater strength of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador right now. His explosive capabilities could inflict great damage upon his rivals, but Chaves will need to time such a move to perfection in order to avoid blowing up or simply towing others to the finish line.
Others to consider from a large group or breakaway move on Stage 9 are Joe Dombrowski, Michael Woods, Darwin Atapuma, Serge Pauwels and George Bennett.
1st Alberto Contador 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Rafal Majka