Stage 11 promises a spectacular finale at the end of a 187.5km journey from Lorca to Observatorio Astronómico De Calar Alto, as a quick double header of Category 1 ascents are crammed into the second half of the day. Though climbing immediately from the start, this is a short lived feature, as the road settles downwards once again for a considerable period of time. Having begun to rise again after 75km of racing, the serious climbing starts to bubble up once beyond the 100km marker, as an anxious peloton approaches the Category 1 Alto de Velefique. The 13.2km climb does not hesitate to begin testing the day’s contenders, ratcheting up to 11.5% early on and sustaining an average gradient of 8.6% from bottom to top; though a final kick of 15% is present at the summit. A sharp descent immediately follows and offers little in the way of recovery before tasking the bunch with battling their way up the Category 1 Calar Alto. A 15.5km climb which averages 5.9%, though this is somewhat misleading, as much of the steeper climbing is front-loaded during the ascent. Opening with 12% and not dropping below 9% for the opening 5km, it then softens relatively in the middle, before finally reaching 10% in the final kilometre ahead of flattening out at the line. It will require a great effort to survive, let alone win Stage 11.
Ilnur Zakarin has proven to be one of the few riders who is improving as these tough mountain stages progress and could now be at the point he begins to establish an advantage over some rivals. He might not have the complete freedom to truly escape the indomitable Team Sky train, but if the race is relatively tight during the final ascent, then the Katusha captain has a great chance of getting the jump on everyone else. There is a possibility of bad weather during Stage 11, something unlikely to undermine his chances, though it may mean he needs to take the descent between the two categorised climbs less aggressively than normal.
Rafal Majka shall be the pick of many pundits on a day expected to be highly attritional late on, even before the possibility of thunderstorms has made any sort of impact. He showed a glimpse of his best form during last week and a rest day since then should only have helped that to crystalise yet further still. Dangerous from either a breakaway or an elite general classification group, the Polish rider has demonstrated his talents for days like these before and could emerge the favourite to romp home to victory.
Romain Bardet may have eyes set upon tougher stages than today’s challenge, but this would prove a greater exercise in establishing whereabouts his form is at the moment. A courageous descender in any weather, he could make an advantage stick after the Alto de Velefique and push hard to sustain it right the way to the summit finish on Stage 11. Given the final steep ramp to the line, it might benefit the Frenchman to be part of a well working group for as long as possible, before then utilising his talent for dominating these wall like inclines to win.
Jan Polanc has previously caught the peloton napping on grand tour stages like this and is certainly capable of repeating this achievement once again given his current form at La Vuleta. Having recently conceded time upon the general classification, there is a good chance he will no have a greater level of freedom to pursue the day’s breakaway moves and will be a tough rider to reel back in if escaping solo late in the day.
Others to consider from long distance breakaways and late attacks are Joe Dombrowski, Adam Yates, Tejay Van Garderen, Chris Froome, Omar Fraile, Alberto Contador and Rui Costa.
1st Ilnur Zakarin 2nd Rafal Majka 3rd Jan Polanc