The day’s 149.7km course from Caso. Parque Natural de Redes to Gijón should inspire an aggressive approach to racing from the bunch, as with so few opportunities remaining for riders and teams to save their race, interest will be great on Stage 19. Though a flat finale is on offer for the sprinters, it is bound to prove a considerable task in order to be at the front of the race once the finish line approaches, as the course will make controlling any breakaway hard work.
Without giving the riders much of a chance to find their climbing legs, the day’s first climb appears after around only 20km, coming in the shape of the Category 1 Alto de la Colladona. This opening ascent averages 6.8% for 7km, though comes very close to touching double digit gradients at times and will form the day’s gruppetto for many in the bunch. Once over the top, a considerable downhill stretch begins and runs right the way to the opening slopes of the Category 3 Alto de Sto. Emiliano (6.8 km, avg 4.5%). This is soon followed by another Category 3 ascent, the Alto de la Falla de los Lobos, which looks a tougher task on paper with an average gradient of 8.2% for 4.3km. A rolling run of terrain then lasts for 25km, dropping down rapidly after another small rise and placing the riders at the base of the day’s final climb. The Category 3 Alto de San Martin de Huerces is relatively short at 4.5km, though its average gradient of 7.2% is potent enough to decide the day’s outcome before the finish line is even worth worrying about. A sharp charge from the top leads into Gijón, potentially allowing a solo move to stay clear during the descent, though a well organised group could close the gap and duke it out amongst a reduced sprint.
Pello Bilbao shall be hoping his raw strength can help establish himself amongst the day’s expected breakaway, the Astana rider is well suited to the short climbs throughout Stage 19 and has done well to carry much of his earlier form into this final week. His greatest issue shall be whether he will be afforded the freedom to attack, as his responsibilities to his team have increased with the immense performance of Miguel Lopez upon the general classification. If he is allowed to invest his efforts into today’s stage, then there is a good chance Bilbao will be one of the strongest present in a winning move.
Alberto Contador will not be content with leaving his final native grand tour without a final stage win and the day’s profile has all the makings of a classic Alberto Contador long range attack. The choking nature of Team Sky will be a major obstacle to overcome in his attempts to seal a farewell win, though a tight race which reaches the final climb could lend itself perfectly for him to catch the fellow general classification big guns napping, stealing an advantage late on and holding it right to the line.
Rui Costa should be a capable of making any moves which form on the day’s first climb, reminding many of his capabilities on these days which are packed full of short climbs the former world champion has previously performed so well upon. Though he has not garnered a great deal of attention during the race so far, he has actually tried repeatedly to make the crucial stage breakaways and been extremely unlucky to miss out. He will be a difficult companion to ditch before a potential sprint finish, especially as so few will even have the turn of pace to compete with him after such hotly contested day.
Nicolas Roche might choose Stage 19 to try and recover some glory from 2017’s Vuelta a España, as his general classification hopes have slipped through his fingers and now a stage win appears his only remaining chance of salvaging a prize of sorts. He possesses all the requisite skills to perform well today, the ascents suiting him sufficiently enough and a sharp downhill to the line where he has a great chance of being one of the fastest of a breakaway present.
Alessandro De Marchi will surely prove to leave the race as the most combative rider, having featured so regularly in the breakaways during this year’s La Vuelta a España, it has become a question as who will join the Italian in the moves. Perhaps the final chance he shall have at taking a win, it is likely he will somehow muster the energy required to feature yet again, perhaps finally taking a much deserved stage win. His immense skill at identifying the perfect time to attack has been unrivalled at the race this year and it seems only a case of odds until he is finally rewarded.
Daniel Moreno suits this course particularly well and the Spaniard has certainly been on the rise in recent stages which feature this accumulatively draining series of ascents. Certainly entering the tail end of his career, Moreno is still one of the best when it comes to late challenges like today’s Alto de San Martin de Huerces and will know exactly how to time his move to perfection.
Others to consider are Luis Leon Sanchez, Luis Angel Maté, Chris Froome, Simon Yates and Adam Yates.
1st Alberto Contador 2nd Nicolas Roche 3rd Pello Bilbao