Another tough day in the saddle is expected on Stage 15, as a long ascent to a consecutive summit finish could put the cat amongst the pigeons, seriously shaking up the general classification if any of the favourites begin to crack. Leaving the start at Alcalá la Real, a total of 129.4km separates the riders from a finale at Sierra Nevada, with the second half offering almost no flat riding at all. The first serious ascent is the Category 1 Alto de Hazallanas, a deceptively testing 16.3km climb which officially maintains a gradient of 5.5%, though the reality is a draining affair which momentarily drops downwards ahead of touching 22%; sustaining double digit gradients almost right to the top. An extended descent immediately follows, reaches an ephemeral stretch of flat road and catapults the riders into a make or break climb to the finish line. The 8.5km climb of Alto del Purche is a more even challenge, averaging 8% and completing much of its tougher slopes early on. What follows is the HC Alto Hoya de la Mora, a long 19.3km grind, which combines with the previous ascent to total almost 30km of continuous climbing for the peloton. The average here is 5.6%, and though its maximum of 10% is near the beginning and not particularly daunting, it is the attritional nature which is bound to leave plenty suffering on the slopes.
Chris Froome seems on course for another grand tour win in his typical faultless style, slowly suffocating the potential danger of rivals, until they realise that anything resembling an attack is futility personified. The sustained amount of climbing will allow him to treat this with the mentality of a time trial stage, gauging his efforts for the final 30km and hoping that such a tactic will neutralise any possible unwanted stress. The even nature of the concluding climb is ideal for him to attack upon, and having won Le Tour de France in his most defensive style so far, he will be quick to seize upon an opportunity to remind his critics of his aggressive streak on Stage 15.
Romain Bardet did not need much encouragement to begin attacking yesterday, showing he is poised to capitalise on any given moment which could offer him a stage win. Today’s short course will encourage aggressive racing, and with such a long ascent to the finish, Bardet will certainly be at the forefront of any breakaway moves. He enjoys the extended rises of the Alps and should see a similarity with those on Stage 15, offering him an ideal launchpad from which to attack.
Miguel Ángel López has become one of the best performing riders at this year’s La Vuelta a España, and having seen his strength on display yesterday, he has a great chance of winning this testing stage. Outperforming his teammate and leader Fabio Aru, it seems like the time has come for Astana to back Lopez and give him the boost required to take another victory at the race. The altitude should be a benefit to the Colombian rider also, allowing him to surge ahead late on, similar to the final kilometres of Stage 14.
Vincenzo Nibali looks to be discovering something resembling convincing form, though almost appears unsure as to how best to utilise such unexpected condition. Regardless, if a group of general classification riders is leading the contest late in the day, then the Italian is one of those capable of measuring his efforts perfectly over such a sustain period of climbing. Though he will not receive much freedom from Chris Froome and Team Sky as a whole, he will not need much to deal the damage required to deliver stage honours.
Daniel Moreno is a previous winner upon the day’s concluding climb of Alto Hoya de la Mora, therefore is worth watching out for, especially if featuring in a strong breakaway which looks capable of deciding the day’s outcome amongst themselves. Perhaps not one of the strongest likely to feature today, he is certainly a clever rider and will be confident of knowing how to ride this final ascent to perfection.
Others to consider are Alberto Contador, Joe Dombrowski, Darwin Atapuma, Pello Bilbao and Fabio Aru.
1st Romain Bardet 2nd Miguel Angel Lopez 3rd Vincenzo Nibal