A somewhat bizarre structure to the stage, this intermediate day in the mountains should prove a fascinating affair to observe from start to finish. Leaving Villadiego and finishing atop the ascent of Los Machucos, the day entails a total of 180.5km of racing and should culminate in an exciting battle to the day’s uphill finale. It will take almost 100km of riding before the bunch begin climbing the first of the day’s recognised climbs, coming in the shape of the Category 2 Portillo de Lunada (8.3 km, avg. 5.7%). From here the peloton plummet downhill and do not begin to rise again until the early footholds of the Category 1 Puero de Alisas, lasting for more than 10km and maintaining a relatively even 6% throughout its entirety. Having conquered the penultimate ascent of the day, it is the final surge to the line which is likely to cause the most excitement on Stage 17. The HC Los Machucos is a testing affair which lasts for 7.2km and averages only 8.7%, though the reality is that of a climb which sees gradients swing from 10% to 25% at times. It will require a perfectly timed and incredibly strong effort to succeed here, though it shall certainly be one unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon.
Chris Froome seems to have confirmed that he is the strongest rider now at the race and could deliver a killing blow if winning Stage 17 today. Having recorded another dominant victory in yesterday’s individual time trial, a repeat demonstration of force would send his rivals fighting for the minor placings at this year’s Vuelta a España. He is not interested in simply winning this grand tour by riding defensively and now appears to be in the sort of mood which sees the Team Sky captain hammer home all advantages at any opportunity.
Vincenzo Nibali definitely gives the impression of a man who is currently on the up, thus marking him out as a contender on a day which concludes with agonisingly steep gradients. He certainly produces his best on these leg breaking ascents and should be a serious threat to the day’s stage honours if given a glimpse of victory.
Miguel Angel Lopez could be poised to secure another victory at this year’s race, as his current form seems to grow from one day to the next, hinting that we should expect another strong showing from the Colombian today. His performances on the toughest slopes of the Vuelta thus far have been brilliant, no doubt making him a serious contender for the win today. He may need to get the jump on some of the bigger names amongst the peloton, but he will only need a handful of seconds to convert into another win.
Alberto Contador is likely to animate the day in some form on Stage 17 and should be highlighted as a serious contender at this point of the race. No doubt eager to pursue a final career stage win at his home grand tour, Contador should view the profile of Stage 17 as one which lends itself quite neatly to his trademark long range attacks. If we see him attack from far out, it shall be a brilliant reminder of his swashbuckling abilities and a great way to sign off from grand tour racing.
Others to watch for are Ilnur Zakarin, Adam Yates, Wilco Kelderman, Esteban Chaves, Romain Bardet and Darwin Atapuma.
1st Chris Froome 2nd Vincenzo Nibali 3rd Miguel Angel Lopez