We finally reach the most eagerly awaited stage of 2017’s La Vuelta a España, finishing atop an iconic climb and laying the foundations for an epic conclusion to this year’s race. Beginning in Corvera de Asturias, the course totals a brief 117.5km and seeks to instigate an immense battle upon the epic Alto de L’Angliru. Climbing immediately from the start, Stage 20 is bound to see another hotly contested battle to feature amongst the day’s breakaway, though the first recognised climb does not appear until the Category 1 Alto de la Cobertoria; lasting for 8.1km and sustaining a draining gradient of 8.6%. A steep descent then follows and sends the bunch headlong into the Category 1 Alto del Cordal, averaging a gradient of 8.6% and taking all of 7 km to complete. The subsequent downhill run is a deceiving drop down which never really hits level ground again, slingshotting the riders immediately up the day’s iconic climb of Alto de L’Angliru. Considered one of the toughest ascents in the whole of Europe, the HC task totals 12.5km and possesses an average gradient on paper of 9.8%. This is a greatly misleading fact however, as the reality is that of a climb which has slopes far into double digit figures and eventually touches around 25% to really break the spirit of those hoping for the win. There is very little in the way of relief during the ascent, contributing to the immense gruelling nature of this legendary climb.
Romain Bardet has had eyes upon the stage for sometime now, and having started the race with his ambitions on stage wins, Stage 20 would be the most impressive win to take at this year’s La Vuelta a España. He invested plenty during yesterday’s breakaway attack, though still looked relatively fresh when crossing the line, potentially giving him the confidence to try another move today. The steep slopes suit his talents, providing an ideal springboard to break his rivals upon.
Chris Froome is the best climber in the race currently, looking to pace himself perfectly en route to the summit of the day’s finale, reeling in all rivals in the process. He shall rely heavily upon his Team Sky firepower as usual, but when it comes to the concluding kilometres on Stage 20, Froome has enough to solo his way to victory. Having had to endure a defensive approach to this summer’s Tour de France, he will want to seal this impressive second grand tour victory of 2017 with a flourish and has the ability to achieve precisely that.
Alberto Contador shall be waving goodbye to his home grand tour this weekend, hanging up his wheels and choosing to retire on Spanish soil. As the greatest rider of a generation, he will not be content with leaving his final race empty handed, and his constant attacking in recent days as proved exactly that. His greatest ally is the element of surprise, as many are certain he shall make a move, but where that might occur is a mystery right now. For all fans with a sense of romanticism, a victory for Contador would be a fitting tribute to himself and La Vuelta.
Ilnur Zakarin has once again found his best form during the final week of a grand tour race, looking more aggressive as of late and being capable of following the moves of the bigger names. He often emerges as one of the strongest when racing upon ludicrously steep climbs, especially those which last for quite some time, rather than brief ramps to battle up. Zakarin could struggle to find the freedom to attack, though with such a huge challenge concluding the day, his rivals might not have what it takes to close him down.
Vincenzo Nibali is another rider who can produce his best on steep climbs which last for several kilometres and his been relatively consistent throughout the entirety of the race. The Italian has performed well atop the Angliru before, providing insight as to how best to measure his efforts, thus will be a danger to stage honours on this infamous climb.
Others to consider are Miguel Angel Lopez, Rafal Majka, Joe Dombrowski and Daniel Moreno.
1st Romain Bardet 2nd Alberto Contador 3rd Chris Froome