Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 14 Preview

Course:

A victory of great panache by Warren Barguil secured a back to back correct prediction for Spokenforks yesterday, tightening his grip upon the polka dot jersey and managing to take France’s first Bastille Day win at Le Tour since 2005. Today’s 181.5km course from Blagnac to Rodez will be a tougher affair to predict than yesterday, rolling terrain lending itself well to the ambitions of the breakaway, though an uphill finish to the day will have caught the eyes of several punchier sprinters and their teams. The first of two Category 3 ascents, Côte du viaduc du Viaur (2.3km, avg. 7%) is followed relatively quickly by the Côte de Centrès (2.3km, avg. 7%), neither of which are likely to cause much of an issue for breakaway or bunch alike. Though uncategorised by the race manual, a following rise is then apparent en route to Bonnecombe, which could potentially prove a useful launchpad as the break begins to fracture late on. The road starts to drop back down to Rodez, while the tension ratchets up ahead of the decisive climb of Côte de Saint-Pierre, which lasts just 570m and averages a tough 9.6%. Expectations are that an elite sprint finish will crown the day’s winner, though this is the Tour de France and life rarely goes to plan.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 14 Preview

Contenders:

Greg Van Avermaet has not shown his face a great deal at this year’s race, no doubt hoping to keep himself out of trouble and in good condition ahead of today’s finish, having previously won in Rodez at the Tour de France a couple of years ago. There will be a greater amount of pressure upon the Belgium to perform now BMC’s general classification hopes have left with Richie Porte in the back of an ambulance, but also a greater degree of team support as a result. With stage wins now the team’s main agenda, everyone will be fully aware of how ideal today’s finale is for Van Avermaet and they will do their utmost to control the race especially for him.

Michael Matthews should be motivated on a day which could help him massively in the green jersey competition, as the finish will be his greatest chance of taking a victory with Marcel Kittel firmly out of the picture. His team are on a high as of yesterday’s Bastille Day victory with Warren Barguil and will be hoping to continue their success with another strong showing on Stage 14. His climbing prowess has repeatedly allowed him to showcase how much stronger he is going uphill than many of his rivals, placing him in good stead for the tests expected here. A hard day and a hard ridden finish will favour Matthews, one of the most durable riders outside of the general classification big names, possessing a brilliant uphill sprinting talent to see it off emphatically.

Philippe Gilbert fits the bill well of a potential winner for Stage 14, having the endurance required to follow the rolling attacks and sprint convincingly over the Côte de Saint-Pierre in order to distance his opposition. His greatest strength will be the support, specifically positionally speaking, of his teammates as they guide him through the concluding half of this stage. The competition will be fierce for the win today, though Gilbert has the grit to suffer the punches and emerge sharpest when it matters most.

Diego Ulissi has carved out a talent for this style of finale, so should be looking upon this with eager eyes and serious conviction to be amongst the frontrunners on the Côte de Saint-Pierre. The Italian is not at his best right now, yet should be able to contest this outcome at least, given it being towards the lower end of his toughest career victories. UAE Team Emirates have focused plenty of effort in placing Louis Meintjes well in pursuit of the white jersey, though shall be eager to take a potential stage win by switching their support to the celebrated Italian for the day.

Sonny Colbrelli will no doubt have circled this as a day to aim for since the route was first released, but would surely have liked to be sat before it in stronger condition than currently seen to be riding in. Despite this fact, Colbrelli has done well at major races when somewhat below par by simply riding smarter than his rivals, maintaining freshness for the last push to the line. With limited team support, he may end up becoming swamped by the stronger teams around him late on, so might actually prefer a tougher selection process for the finale.

John Degenkolb does have form for producing brilliantly strong efforts upon late rises to the line, yet is likely to be further down the pecking order in Rodez as a result of lacking form and weaker team support. The German has not been able to produce the level of performance previously seen by him at Le Tour de France, but can expect to edge closer to victory now the race is getting tougher for the more lightweight sprinters. Powerful enough to grind a huge gear over such a short climb, this is well within his capabilities on paper, though has not shown enough up until now to suggest he will take the win.

Daniel Martin has survived his collision with Richie Porte relatively well, though yesterday’s post-race walk to the team bus did showcase just how much pain and bruising the Irishman has suffered as a result of his misfortune. Surprisingly strong yesterday, his teammates have rallied round him to accelerate his recovery as best as possible when riding a grand tour and he definitely looks dangerous enough to challenge for stage honours if the race lends itself to the maillot jaune group. This short and sharp conclusion to the day is ideal for Martin to attack upon, but it is not necessarily likely he will be in a position to do precisely that. If however the battle for the yellow jersey swallows up the day’s smaller moves, then Martin is the most likely to win from such an outcome.

Tony GallopinJan BakelantsEdvald Boasson HagenBen Swift and Alberto Bettiol could all cause an upset from either a breakaway or simply bursting forth from a bunch sprint when least expected.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Greg Van Avermaet 3rd Philippe Gilbert

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Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 8 Preview

Course:

Stage 8 sends the peloton on an 187.5km through the first barrage of Alpine climbs during this year’s Tour de France, starting in Dole and finishing atop Station des Rousses. The battle to make the day’s breakaway is expected to be a fierce one, as the bunch are likely to be happy allowing a large move to vanish up the road and decide the day’s outcome. The first recognised ascent of the day is the Category 3 Col de la Joux, lasting 6.1km with an average gradient of 4.7% and providing a chance to loosen the legs ahead of what lies ahead. A relatively long descent follows, leading to the base of the Category 2 Côte de Viry, 7.6km and with an average of 5.2%.  Th terrain remains lumpy for a time after this, before dropping down once again and beginning the ascent to the final run into Station des Rousses. The Category 1 Montée de la Combe de Laisia Les Molunes is the springboard towards the day’s finish, an 11.7km rise which sustains a draining incline between 6% – 8%, though softens after the summit into rolling terrain all the way to the finish.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 8 Preview

Contenders:

Diego Ulissi has always had a gift for making the cut for stages where his great turn of pace is capable of burying the majority of the peloton in a reduced sprint to the line. The Italian has stayed safe enough this far and will be fresh to battle it out amongst a highly competitive selection process to make the day’s breakaway. Typically speaking, Stage 8 is well within his capabilities to succeed upon, though it may come too early in the three week grand tour in order for him to really take it by the scruff of the neck. Regardless, if he does make the move early on, then it will be unlikely anyone faster than him will also be present amongst the escapees.

Stephen Cummings took a double win at the British Road Championships recently, arriving at Le Tour de France in unexpectedly strong form after recovering from a series of broken bones suffered earlier this year. The terrain lends itself perfectly to Cummings’ attributes and especially his gift for sustaining a high tempo throughout these rolling days which slowly jettison members of the breakaway late on. The final climb is bound to entice him to attack over the summit, before then settling into a time trial approach, soloing his way to the line in order to secure the stage win.

Nicolas Edet is partial to joining the break on stages which finish uphill, so will no doubt be interested to see how the opening kilometres unfold, potentially seizing upon the chance to smuggle himself within a move. A strong climber, Edet knows that a convincing performance here has the potential to deliver him more than a stage victory, as the yellow jersey itself is only just a little over four minutes beyond his reach.

Rigoberto Uran will be fully aware of how close he is to securing the maillot jaune right now, as a bold move to join the day’s breakaway would only need him to finish more than a minute ahead of Chris Froome in order to step into the leader’s jersey. It seems that Team Sky are willing to relinquish their grip and see another team shoulder the burden of protecting its prestigious status. Uran might struggle to find the freedom to escape from the start, so if the day proves harder than expected, he might be given permission to try and catch his rivals napping on the final ascent.

Daniel Martin should be the man to beat if the day is determined by an elite group of big name riders, though the general classification focused teams are unlikely to want the task of chasing the breakaway down with such a testing day awaiting them on Sunday. Regardless, the Irishman is clearly enjoying some brilliant form currently and would be bitterly disappointed to see it go to waste if crossing the line in Paris without a stage win to his name.

Serge Pauwels may fancy a day in the break on Stage 8, as Team Dimension-Data turn their attention away from the sprint stages to the mountains for the first time at this year’s tour. The Belgian rider has a strong record for performing well in breaks at major races, though often comes unstuck due to his lack of speed in a head to head charge for the line; something which may deter him from chancing his arm on the road to Station de Rousses. A strong climber, he will look to simply ride his rivals off his wheel during the final ascent of Montée de la Combe de Laisia Les Molunes.

Pierre Latour will need to come to terms with being the greatest hope of a French tour winner in the foreseeable future, so a stage victory and the likelihood of taking the maillot jaune would only serve to apply even greater pressure. The terrain does play to his strengths reasonably well, though may not be tough enough to truly lure him out to join the moves on Stage 8. He sits less than 70 seconds back on Chris Froome at the moment, which could prove a great temptation to try a swashbuckling move late in the day if everything comes back together on Montée de la Combe de Laisia Les Molunes.

Gianluca Brambilla should be in the minds of many for stage honours, despite not showing a great deal of form to catch the eye during the season thus form. He possesses a potent blend of climbing skill and sprinting talent, lending himself perfectly to the rigours of Stage 8 today. Should he manage to be part of a race winning move, few will wish to work him in order to arrive at Station des Rousses with the Italian firmly placed upon their wheel.

Others to watch out for include Fabio FellineAlessandro De MarchiWarren Barguil and Alexis Vuillermoz.

Outcome:

1st Pierre Latour 2nd Rigoberto Uran 3rd Gianluca Brambilla

La Vuelta a España – Stage 7 Preview

Course:

This year’s edition of La Vuelta a España has already showcased its talents for hard hitting and gruelling finales which require the riders to haul themselves over and up to the finish line. Stage 7 is no different in that respect, ratcheting up the level of difficulty once again and acting as likely bait for the general classification frontrunners to finally stretch their legs, though it does not seem certain that such a rider will win on the day; the door is open for an outsider to steal the show.

Exiting from the start in Jódar, the riders face a 191.1km rolling day in the saddle which only encompasses one categorised climb before the summit finish atop La Alpujarra’s Alto de Capileira; another climb making its debut at this Vuelta. First of all however is the day’s opening Category 3 climb of the Puerto de les Blancares, a 9km long drag which will prove to be an easy warm up for those with an eye on the stage victory given its modest average gradient of 3.3%.

A breather of sorts is offered to the peloton once over the top, the road slinking predominately downwards for almost 30km after Puerto de les Blancares. Though a few lumps and bumps are present on the stage’s profile en route to the intermediate sprint, it eventually drops down once again in order to place the riders at the foot of the day’s climatic finish up Alto de Capileira.

This Category 1 ascent which acts as the battleground for Stage 7’s outcome is 18.7km long and averages a moderate 5%; though any rider who has not done their research will learn how unrealistic this figure truly is soon enough. It opens easily enough for the bunch, the first 5km reaching a maximum of 8.5% while the majority swings between 3% – 6%. The next 5km are a plateau, of which the biggest drag is only 1%, from here the real test begins; all remaining 8km offering nothing in the way of relief from the draining slopes. Despite the intensity of the gradient dropping to as low as 4% – 5% at moments, the majority of it remains hovering around an arduous 8%. With just about 2km left of the climb to the line, a misleading lull of 6% will break the rhythm of most riders and make life even more difficult when the road immediately jumps up to 14% just a few hundred meters later. Even once this is passed, a deceptively difficult final kilometre still remains, one which is billed as a modest 6% but actually includes ramps of 13% and a final 200m set at 7.5%

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-7

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-7

Contenders:

Chris Froome has been keeping a low profile within the pack, following the required wheels and generally stay out of trouble as best as he can. The Sky leader tends to seize upon the chance to test his legs on the first serious summit finish of a grand tour, but this occasion is not quiet as ideal as it could be. The midpoint plateau will nullify the efforts of his teammates drilling it on the front early on and thus reduce ascent to a more realistic 8km battle to the line. Regardless, with a gradient as steep as 14%, he might well utilise his spiked efforts to spin up to a ridiculous cadence and test his rivals in the final kilometres; even the last 200m remain tough enough for Froome to benefit from.

Joaquim Rodriguez had a great chance of winning yesterday’s stage, but once again spurned his opportunity due to eyeballing rivals such as Alejandro Valverde instead of making a move. There is no question as to his current condition and he will be forced to make a move on a summit finish to anticipate the expected loss of time in the time trial. Katusha provide a great depth of talent to support him on these types of terrain and he has everything required to win Stage 7 if he chooses to do so.

Alejandro Valverde is a similar story to that of his fellow countryman Joaquim Rodriguez, though he has gone one better so far by winning Stage 4. Movistar have the necessary firepower to control the race on the final climb to the line and Valverde is possibly the strongest favourite from the general classification favourites; based on his performances so far. His punchy style will be enough to overcome the final tests en route to the finish, though it is unsure whether he will wish to dig unnecessarily deep for the sake of a stage win today.

Nairo Quintana has certainly not been forgotten, but it is safe to say that he has experienced a limited time in the limelight thus far. Of course, the main reason for this has been his team Movistar’s wishes to back co-leader Alejandro Valverde on a series of stages which suited his attributes much more convincingly. The Colombian has stayed clear of trouble so far and could finally decide to emerge out of the pack today with a feisty performance which will wake the likes of Chris Froome and co up to his condition. Alto de Capileira does not appear long or tough enough for Quintana to really inflict much damage, but he remains a noteworthy rider as ever when the roads head skywards.

Nicolas Roche has been in fantastic form at his favourite grand tour in the opening week and it would not be a great surprise should he attempt to kick for home and snatch a few seconds at the very least. His biggest issue however will be his current status as a marked man, though his compatriot Dan Martin thought the same on Stage 2 and was then surprised to see little impetus in order to bring him back having attacked during the day’s finale. If Roche should decide to go on the attack, it will at least make for interesting viewing as to how the peloton would react to such a move.

Domenico Pozzovivo suits this finale particularly well and should be afforded the freedom to attack if the race is altogether as they approach the final 8km of Alto de Capileira. The diminutive Italian has displayed convincing flashes of form already at this year’s Vuelta a España and holds a feasible chance of going all the way on Stage 7. Combining his unmarked status and race freshness compared to the major favourites, Pozzovivo is certain to at least attempt a move on the Alto de Capileira.

Rafal Majka is a similarly underestimated contender for stage honours on Stage 7 and will look to exploit the internal battle between Froome, Valverde, Rodriguez, Quintana and Aru in order to get a move to stick. This year has lacked the convincing performances of last season, but the Pole is innately talented and looks to have begun finding his legs once again after several skirmishing attacks in the last couple of days. If a Tinkoff-Saxo jersey flashes up the road in the final kilometres, it is sure to be Rafal Majka it would seem right now.

Esteban Chaves was stated by Spokenforks as being criminally underestimated to win yesterday’s stage in the wake of parting with the leader’s Red Jersey and this proved to ring true. Today does not quite suit him as well as his previous two stage wins, but it seems difficult to exclude the Colombian star when on such sparkling form. Steeper gradients and a longer uninterrupted ascent would have played into his strengths more so than today’s final 18km, but perhaps the biggest stumbling block to overcome will be a return to life as the most marked man in the race.

Daniel Martin yet again mistimed his final push for glory yesterday and seems to be haunted this year by small miscalculations which keep leaving him within spitting distance of the race winner. The run into the line would allow Martin to demonstrate his sprinting prowess, but the length of the ascent once over the plateau makes him a difficult man to back, as he would surely prefer a shorter climb to the finish. The gradients should not prove a big issue for the Irishman, but given the distance, if the peloton sets a high tempo on another hot day beneath the sun, he could well crack before he has the chance to attack.

Louis Meintjes has consistently put in solid performances behind the big name favourites in the opening week of 2015’s La Vuelta a España, but has not received the acclaim such showings deserve. He will no doubt be motivated to build upon his current condition by staking a claim to the victory on Stage 7 and he does offer a strong case to achieve exactly that. Though his goal here is to secure a good general classification placing for his team MTN-Qhubeka, the longer climb brings him into contention and it remains to be seen as to how worried the likes of Orica-GreenEDGE, Sky, Astana and Movistar would be if he chooses to attack on Alto de Capileira.

Tejay Van Garderen has gone totally unnoticed at the Vuelta up to now, but this tricky finish could be stated as suiting his style reasonably well. Of the obvious contenders for the overall win, he is likely to be one of the freshest as a consequence of being forced to abandon Le Tour de France earlier this summer. In regards to his normal tactics when targeting a stage race, the American prefers to defend a jersey, rather than attempt to take it late on in a race. Stage 7 is extremely early to execute such a plan, but he may wish to test his legs here and inadvertently walk away with the jersey as a consequence.

Outcome:

1st Domenico Pozzovivo 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Tejay Van Garderen

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-17-Preview-

Le Tour de France – Stage 17 Preview

Course:

Though only yesterday, the rest day will seem a million years ago for many in the peloton on Stage 17 of 2015’s Le Tour de France; sending the riders headlong into an Alpine summit finish for their first day back in the saddle. Tasking them with an 161km long trip from the start in Digne-les-Bains to a summit finish upon the historic Pra Loup climb of the Alps. For those not so immersed in cycling folklore, the ascent of Pra Loup was the scene of a rare sight during the 1975 Tour de France; the dethroning of Eddy Merckx by Bernard Thévenet. If that in itself does not ring any bells, then perhaps the fact an almost identical route and finish was used during this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné will; Romain Bardet emerging victorious after attacking on Pra Loup’s preceding descent on that day.

Essentially, it is safe to say that the peloton will be plenty well versed enough to anticipate what exactly awaits them on this first day back in the moutains, the favourite poised to ignite their last chance efforts to force Chris Froome out of the maillot jaune before Paris. The day’s account is opened by the Category 3 Col de Leques (6km, avg 5.3%) which tops out at the 40km marker and serves as a moderate warmup ahead of Stage 17’s schedule. A further 27km down the road comes the summit of the second of the day’s climbs, the Category 3 Col de Toutes Aures, one hundred meters longer than its predecessor but offering an easier gradient of 3.1% to be conquered.

A brief descent follows on from here and places the riders at the base of the Category 2 Col de la Colle-Saint-Michel, a much longer climb at 11km and averaging 5.2% from start to finish. The summit of this climb will come just before the century mark at 96km of riding, running immediately into another brief downhill section. Stage 17’s intermediate sprint appears slightly further down the road after 111km of racing and is bound to see Peter Sagan mixing it up again; if the break have not swept up all the points before the Slovak passes through. Onwards from this brief competition, the road segues straight into the ascent of the day’s solitary Category 1 climb; the Col d’Allos. This 14km ascent will soon begin to offer us up an indication of who is in good form during the day’s ride to Pra Loup, though billed as 5.5% on paper for the entirety, it is the testing 6km run to the summit which fluctuates between 6% and 8.5% which will be the battle until they drop down the other side.

From its summit, a little over 20km will separate the peloton from the summit finish of Stage 17, Pra Loup sure to be dialling up the anxiety as they drop down to its opening slopes. If the impending rush to win the was not enough to add fuel to the fires of stress, the descent which connects the two final climbs is also technically demanding and is sure to act as a launchpad for a gifted climber to gather an advantage on the downhill before scaling the gradients to Pra Loup. Given that its length is only 6.2km in total, some may consider the anticipated drama to occur here to be over exaggerated, but there is sure to be enough action to bring the frontrunners to the fore and see some serious defending of the yellow jersey by Chris Froome. The gradients here are stated to average a constant 6.5%, though its final kilometre is set to make for some interesting viewing as it spikes upwards to 8.5%. A short finishing straight will decide the day, only 80m in fact, meaning there is little imperative for somebody who rolls well on the flat to make the cut upon the final climb unlike Stage 14.

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-17-Preview-

Contenders:

The opening Alpine salvo of 2015’s Tour de France is sure to lure some riders out who began this race in Utrecht with well founded ambitions of featuring towards the pointy end of this year’s general classification, but now find themselves separated by around ten minutes to current leader Chris Froome. However, despite many perceiving a gradual demise of Team Sky’s strength due to the abandonment of Peter Kennaugh and the ailing form of Richie Porte, Wout Poels and Nicolas Roche; Chris Froome might decide to strike out once again and demonstrate his dominance. Though not wishing to jinx him, there is a great misconception about Froome’s ability to descend, a total absence of evidence to suggest he cannot keep pace with the likes of Alejandro Valverde or Vincenzo Nibali. Assuming he stays within 15 seconds of a rider such as Valverde heading into the opening sections of Pra Loup. There is little to argue against Froome taking yet another summit finish victory at Le Tour de France.

As stated above, Alejandro Valverde appears to be a likely contender to attack on the final descent and try to gain an advantage to his rivals before turning onto Pra Loup. The descent is technical, meaning Froome may decided to back down on the pace somewhat in pursuite of Valverde, allowing the Spainard to start the ascent to home solo; a climb which suits his attributes well given its distance and gradients. If away late into the stage, Froome will not wish to work too hard to bring him back, as their is a strong chance of Nairo Quintana then immediately counter-attacking as soon as his teammate is reeled back in.

AG2R will be confident of featuring in some form during the finale of Stage 17 and Romain Bardet should be confident of animating the race given his recent winning performance on almost the exact same course during this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné. The young Frenchman appears to be finding his legs at last and is likely to invest his efforts heavily during this Alpine conclusion of the tour after his general classification hopes failed to make it through the opening week. There is obviously the chance that his focus will instead be placed upon cementing his top ten general classification placing, as those sitting around him will not be particularly fond of seeing his bike vanish up the road during their ride down Col d’Allos.

Of those who entered his race has contenders for the overall win, Vincenzo Nibali is now the rider likey to be given the most freedom to attack on a stage such as this. Little needs to be said of the Italian’s prowess for descending, a talent which would set him up well if deciding to attack as soon as the summit of the Col d’Allos is reached. As little as thirty seconds could be enough of an advantage for Nibali to fend off his pursuers on Pra Loup, but it will be hard to pull out such time if the likes of Chris Froome and Alejandro Valverde wish to keep him on a tight leash. Entering this final week, Nibali does look to have begun finding his climbing legs once again, but he will need a reasonable cushion to emerge victorious atop Pra Loup.

Nairo Quintana has the possibility to begin pulling back time from Chris Froome on Stage 17, the Col d’Allos and Pra Loup an enticing combination which could see the Colombian attack hard on both ascents. As mentioned earlier, Froome is beginning to appear isolated in the latter stages of these mountain days and has the potential to start creaking under the pressure of his Spanish speaking rivals. With teammate Alejandro Valverde equally well poised to attack Froome, the Movistar combination could finally strike gold if they play their cards right.

Though Romain Bardet’s win on a carbon copy stage at this year’s Crtéterium du Dauphiné was the main headline, eyebrows were slightly raised after Tejay Van Garderen’s performance saw him take four seconds out of his rival Chris Froome. Though it is unlikely to see the American fighting for the win here, it should be monitored as to how well he copes with his general classification rivals attack; possibly making a move himself yet again to take a handful of seconds.

Two noteworthy riders currently placed in the top ten overall are Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema, who could contribute a surprising amount of energy into pursing a rider such as Vincenzo Nibali; stopping him from leapfrogging Gesink or pulling away from Mollema. On the road, both are finding their climbing legs at last and are often dangerously underrated on a stage finish such as this. Both have the ability to lay down high tempo attacks, but it is Mollema who stands out as the most likely to attempt such a move in the final kilometres in order to gain time on the general classification.

Of course, a breakaway winning on Stage 17 remains a strong possibility, especially if the dynamic of strength and size is struck spot on when going clear. Simon Yates has been ill during Le Tour, but stated that his ambitions were to rest and actively recover as best as possible, before then coming to the fore on his favoured Alpine climbs. If Romain Bardet fails for AG2R on today’s stage, Alexis Vuillermoz will be waiting in the wings to take over and lead the charge in either a breakaway or elite group of contenders which reaches Pra Loup first. He was only 1:37 down on Bardet during that Dauphiné finish this year and has already demonstrated his form by winning on Stage 8. Yet further French hopes can be flown by Pierre Rolland, who is in good condition, but is not always best positioned to follow the right moves. Having finished within a minute of Bardet on Pra Loup at the Dauphiné, he must feel confident of mounting a serious charge once again on Stage 17’s same finale. The South-African Louis Meintjes is well worth a mention on a day such as this, he has looked strong throughout the mountains for the most part so far and placed 6th (50″ down) when Bardet took the Pra Loup win last month.

Others worth keeping an eye on are Daniel MartinRafael VallsMathias FrankJoaquim RodriguezWilco Kelderman, Ryder Hesjedal and Andrew Talansky.

Outcome:

Breakaway: 1st Romain Bardet 2nd Louis Meintjes 3rd Simon Yates

GC Riders: 1st Alejandro Valverde 2nd Chris Froome 3rd Bauke Mollema

 

 

Altitude Sickness – La Vuelta a España Stage 6 Preview

Today will finally see the mountain men come to the fore as the peloton are given the task of finishing up a Category 1 climb for the first time this year. Passing along the coast to Malaga early on, the riders will then begin to head inland once again as they tackle the 167.1km route from Benalmádena to La Zubia. Hopefully temperatures will begin to drop today as the altitudes begin to soar, though seeing salt stained jersey will remain commonplace for now.

Course:

It is all very simple to begin with on Stage 6, between 50km-60km will have to pass before the riders begin searching for their mountain legs upon the approach to Provincia de Granada’s Category 2 climb. A typically Spanish run of roads then follows, whether nose down descending or eyes up climbing, it will not be until around the 125km mark that the riders will see flat tarmac once more. This only serves as respite, including the two intermediate sprints spaced at a bizarre 8km apart, en route to the expected showdown upon the Category 1 Alto Cumbres Verdes.

Not only do things get lumpier, but the finishes begin soaring.

Not only do things get lumpier, but the finishes begin soaring.

Contenders:

Stage 6 is interesting bait for riders to say the least, we should see the first emergence of a select group comprised solely of the mountain goats aiming for GC or thereabouts. It will not only deliver us the sight of our first real mountain top win but also indicate those with the legs for the tough stuff – regardless of winning the stage. 

Alto Cumbres Verdes will be seen as the perfect launchpad for some.

Alto Cumbres Verdes will be seen as the perfect launchpad for some.

Alto Cumbres Verdes is steep, but short, and preceded by a long stretch of easy rolling terrain which fails to sap the legs; meaning a bout of explosive attacking and counter-attacking should be guaranteed in the final moments of stage 6. With a maximum ramp of 12.78% over its 4km or so length, the climb will appeal to those blessed with the skywards acceleration which makes such a task look flat on TV. Climber-Puncheur crossover riders such as Daniel Martin and Joaquim Rodriguez will surely see the day as a golden opportunity to, not only take a win, but also secure some bonus seconds on GC.

Another man who displayed interest in such matters the previous day was Team Sky’s Christopher Froome, unexpectedly sprinting for a couple of bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint. He clearly understands that every second on offer is worth fighting for and with time incentives rewarding the top 3 at each stage, Froome may consider challenging for the win. Despite Froome being one of the most impressive climbers in the world currently, the finale does not really suit his high tempo approach to sustained climbing. Though he has displayed his ‘spiked efforts’ on numerous occasions in the high mountains, there does not appear to be enough ascending before the finale to really favour Froome in such a scenario. He certainly has won similar finishes which entail short, sharp bursts of acceleration over small distances, but not usually when preceded by such little climbing. The same can probably be said of Nairo Quintana when it comes to identifying his preferred terrain; while Alberto Contador would appear to be riding himself into form at this Vuelta after his injury, so will be expected to become prolific later on in the race.

Alejandro Valverde is another interesting possibility, a man who seems to have been duped into co-leadership of a team with Nairo Quintana and who could steal some bonus seconds from the Colombian under the guise of a stage win. He is along the line of the afore mentioned cross-breed of Puncheur and Climber which seems best suited to the finale of the day up Alto Cumbres Verdes.

The almost diagonal line will be a dream ride for one.
Orica-GreenEDGE may be resigned to losing the leader’s jersey today, but it does not mean they shall not bother to make their presence felt with either Esteban Chavez or Adam Yates. The former is rumoured to be targeting GC and is sitting pretty in 6th at the moment; while Adam Yates has nothing to lose by attacking here in the name of a Grand Tour stage win. The young Brit has shown an aptitude for such terrain during the season at Tour of Turkey, Tour of California and Critérium du Dauphiné – he has to be factored into the day’s outcome when looking at the climb and final KM.

Outcome:

With the terrain not appearing to be testing enough throughout the day for the pure climbers, it looks like the win will end up in the hands of a classics styled rider who can finish explosively over short, steep climbs. When searching for comparable conclusions in the race calendar, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne begin to suggest the sort of riders which may contest the win. Though the day does appear to be tailored made for Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha, it also looks very Dan Martin friendly too with its steep finish of 4km up to the line. The Irishman got the better of Rodriguez in a similar situation at 2013’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège and must still be swearing over his defeat to Michael Matthews a few days ago. His form is clear, even sprinting with the fast men at times, which must be a result of targeting the Vuelta seriously after a disastrous Giro. Not only motivated by his defeat to Matthews, Martin could also do with making some time back on GC by winning here today. Alejandro Valverde might have a similar intention and also beat Martin into second place at this year’s Flèche Wallonne over the Mur de Huy, so could fancy a repeat. Adam Yates is the real dark horse of the day, finding himself free to attack late on due to little threat upon the general classification and looking sharp after San Sebastian. The GC riders of Froome, Quintana, Uran, Contador etc are expected to be part of the finale’s select group, but with little hope of opening up large time gaps to their rivals, it seems less likely that any of them will really dig deep for the win – focusing more on finishing together without losing time. Such a scenario would play into the hands of the fast finishing Martin, who should be able to get the edge on his rivals judging by his displays thus far.

A similar sight could be on the cards again - less Pandas though.

A similar sight could be on the cards again – less Pandas though.

1st Martin 2nd Yates 3rd Rodriguez