La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 20 Preview

Course:

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.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 20

Contenders:

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 LopezRafal MajkaJoe Dombrowski and Daniel Moreno.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Alberto Contador 3rd Chris Froome

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La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 18 Preview

Course

A relatively short day at 169km in duration, though one which again packs much of the anticipated action in the latter stages of the day’s racing. Starting in Suances, the route to Santo Toribio de Liébana does not begin any significant climbing until around 100km of riding has been completed by the riders. The first of the day’s recognised climbs is the Category 3 Collada de Carmona (4.8 km, avg 7.2%), signalling the start of a sawtooth triple header which also features the Category 3 Colaada de Ozalba (6 km, avg 6.6%) and then concludes this rapid blast of ascents with the Category 2 Collada de la Hoz (7 km, avg 6%), the peak of which then sends the riders down another ascent before the final charge to the finish line. The last climb of the day is the 3.2km (avg 6.4%) rise to the finish line on Stage 18, likely to function as a crucial springboard for those hitting out for victory from a bunch of frontrunners.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 18 Preview

Contenders:

Michael Woods could finally hit out for a stage victory on a stage finish which plays convincingly to his strengths. He has managed to stick relatively closely to the likes of Chris Froome and Alberto Contador throughout the race thus far and will now be afforded the chance to utilise his sparkling form to bring some happiness to the ailing Cannondale – Drapac team.

Julian Alaphilippe has shone brightly during the race this year and will be confident of being in the frame for stage honours yet again today. He has animated the days on a regular basis, which may have cost him somewhat ahead of Stage 18, though his condition has been so encouraging that he seems like he can achieve anything he sets his mind to right now.

Miguel Angel Lopez really stepped into the limelight during La Vuelta a España this year, proving incredibly strong and a consistent thorn in the side of those hoping for unexpected breakaway success. Despite his swashbuckling performances, Lopez still appears in competitive condition, having managed to avoid fatiguing too much as a consequence. If part of a group reaching the final rise first, he will be an obvious favourite to go all the way.

Rafal Majka finally mustered glimpses of his best last week and now looks a threatening presence for the win if a breakaway makes it all the way to the concluding kilometres. The amount of climbing late on plays into his hands well, though there are questions as to whether the terrain is truly tough enough to extract the best performance possible from the Polish rider.

Romain Bardet is here to collect stage wins, having looked relatively animated on occasions, though there are suggestions he may have eyes upon a bigger prize later in the race. The final climb to the finish is a fitting finale for the surprisingly punchy French rider, though much like potential rival Rafal Majka, the last push for the win might not be steep enough to allow Bardet to really hammer home an advantage.

Others to consider are Daniel MorenoRui CostaAdam YatesAlberto Contador and Pello Bilbao.

Outcome:

1st Michael Woods 2nd Romain Bardet 3rd Julian Alaphilippe 

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 17 Preview

Course:

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.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 17 Preview

Contenders:

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 ZakarinAdam YatesWilco KeldermanEsteban ChavesRomain Bardet and Darwin Atapuma.

Outcome:

1st Chris Froome 2nd Vincenzo Nibali 3rd Miguel Angel Lopez

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 15 Preview

Course:

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.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 15 Preview

Contenders:

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 ContadorJoe DombrowskiDarwin AtapumaPello Bilbao and Fabio Aru.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Miguel Angel Lopez 3rd Vincenzo Nibal

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 14 Preview

Course:

Though yesterday was billed as a day for the sprinters, other than the blisteringly on form Matteo Trentin who took the win, it failed to be the conclusion which we were anticipating. Regardless, that quasi-sprint was a brief reminder of the fast men being present at La Vuelta, as Stage 14 immediately returns to the mountains with a summit finish. Beginning in Écija and finishing atop Sierra de la Pandera, the day clocks in at 175km and is essentially climbing for the entire duration. Rising gently from the starting line, the first recognised climb is encountered after 76km of racing in the shape of the Category 3 Puerto el Mojón, an 8.8km challenge which averages a gradient of 3.7%. After the subsequent descent, the peloton will face an extended period of rolling terrain, finally reaching the next significant ascent around the 144km marker. The Category 2 Alto Valdepeñas de Jaen is similar to its predecessor at 8.5km and averaging 4.8%, though it is what follows so soon after which makes it crucial. The Category 1 Sierra de La Pandera totals 12km from bottom to top and possesses an average gradient of 7.3% on paper, though the reality is that of a climb which is irregular throughout. Tipping upwards to beyond 10% in the opening couple of kilometres, the climb momentarily softens, before swinging between 5% – 13% en route to the summit. It drops down just before the finish line, though the last push to the chequered flag will be against a reasonable incline.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 14

Contenders:

Romain Bardet is here to collect stage wins and should find the final third of today as having the sort of terrain which brings his skills to the fore. With little in the way of flat roads, a few rapid descents and climbs which repeatedly kick between gradients; the Frenchman is a clear frontrunner today. His previous effort several days ago was encouraging, suggesting he has not suffered too greatly from arriving here off the back of Le Tour de France and is still posing a genuine danger to the rest on these tough finales.

Darwin Atapuma was the main accomplice in Romain Bardet’s attack earlier in the race, the two combining well together late on and there is no reason to suggest why Atapuma may not find himself in that position once again. Evidently feeling good at La Vuelta, he will be confident of making a breakaway early on, though might now be more aware that he shall need to avoid going head to head with riders of Bardet’s calibre for the stage win.

Rui Costa has not been as active as perhaps expected, but the realisation that a convincing general classification placing was not possible, should now provide him with the freedom to try and follow the key moves on Stage 14. Though not a pure climber, he is very successful when it comes to placing himself in the best possible situation to win from and there is every chance that he may already have too great an advantage to catch once on the final climb. He can certainly sprint well after a tough day, so with a final kilometre which dips down and then up again to only a few degrees, he might be the best bet to win from an elite group.

Pello Bilbao will be hoping to make the cut today, his form bubbling under particularly well at the moment and he will not wish for this to be wasted amongst the peloton all day. Though duties to his team and team leader Fabio Aru could prove impossible to escape, the natural selection process of the final climb could see him as their best placed rider regardless. Bilbao exited the rest day looking sharp and stands a good chance of making it count for something if given the freedom to try.

Joe Dombrowski could be amongst those who choose to try their luck from a long range breakaway, though this perhaps is not tough enough to really get the best from him. The lithe limbed climber is still without a grand tour stage win surprisingly, though that is no true reflection upon his capabilities for these mountain stages. If he can find himself in a well drilled and strong move, then the American might finally strike it lucky.

Others to look for include Adam YatesRafal Majka, Igor AntonJulian Alaphilippe and Sergio Pardilla.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Pello Bilbao 3rd Joe Dombrowski

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 11 Preview

Course:

Stage 11 promises a spectacular finale at the end of a 187.5km journey from Lorca to Observatorio Astronómico De Calar Alto, as a quick double header of Category 1 ascents are crammed into the second half of the day. Though climbing immediately from the start, this is a short lived feature, as the road settles downwards once again for a considerable period of time. Having begun to rise again after 75km of racing, the serious climbing starts to bubble up once beyond the 100km marker, as an anxious peloton approaches the Category 1 Alto de Velefique. The 13.2km climb does not hesitate to begin testing the day’s contenders, ratcheting up to 11.5% early on and sustaining an average gradient of 8.6% from bottom to top; though a final kick of 15% is present at the summit. A sharp descent immediately follows and offers little in the way of recovery before tasking the bunch with battling their way up the Category 1 Calar Alto. A 15.5km climb which averages 5.9%, though this is somewhat misleading, as much of the steeper climbing is front-loaded during the ascent. Opening with 12% and not dropping below 9% for the opening 5km, it then softens relatively in the middle, before finally reaching 10% in the final kilometre ahead of flattening out at the line. It will require a great effort to survive, let alone win Stage 11.La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 11 Preview

Contenders:

Ilnur Zakarin has proven to be one of the few riders who is improving as these tough mountain stages progress and could now be at the point he begins to establish an advantage over some rivals. He might not have the complete freedom to truly escape the indomitable Team Sky train, but if the race is relatively tight during the final ascent, then the Katusha captain has a great chance of getting the jump on everyone else. There is a possibility of bad weather during Stage 11, something unlikely to undermine his chances, though it may mean he needs to take the descent between the two categorised climbs less aggressively than normal.

Rafal Majka shall be the pick of many pundits on a day expected to be highly attritional late on, even before the possibility of thunderstorms has made any sort of impact. He showed a glimpse of his best form during last week and a rest day since then should only have helped that to crystalise yet further still. Dangerous from either a breakaway or an elite general classification group, the Polish rider has demonstrated his talents for days like these before and could emerge the favourite to romp home to victory.

Romain Bardet may have eyes set upon tougher stages than today’s challenge, but this would prove a greater exercise in establishing whereabouts his form is at the moment. A courageous descender in any weather, he could make an advantage stick after the Alto de Velefique and push hard to sustain it right the way to the summit finish on Stage 11. Given the final steep ramp to the line, it might benefit the Frenchman to be part of a well working group for as long as possible, before then utilising his talent for dominating these wall like inclines to win.

Jan Polanc has previously caught the peloton napping on grand tour stages like this and is certainly capable of repeating this achievement once again given his current form at La Vuleta. Having recently conceded time upon the general classification, there is a good chance he will no have a greater level of freedom to pursue the day’s breakaway moves and will be a tough rider to reel back in if escaping solo late in the day.

Others to consider from long distance breakaways and late attacks are Joe Dombrowski, Adam Yates, Tejay Van GarderenChris FroomeOmar FraileAlberto Contador and Rui Costa.

Outcome:

1st Ilnur Zakarin 2nd Rafal Majka 3rd Jan Polanc

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 5 Preview

Course:

An intermediate type of stage which as the potential to cause trouble at the top of the general classification, Stage 5’s 175.7km route from Benicàssim to Alcossebre offers plenty of opportunities for the major names to unexpectedly turn the screw on one another. Soon heading uphill after the day’s departure, the first ascent is the Category 2 Alto del Desierto de las Palmas, a 7.8km (avg 4.8%) launchpad for the day’s breakaway to likely form upon. From here the road drops away for a period, before climbing the Category 3 Alto de Cabanes (7.3 km, avg 4.4%) en route to the Category 2 Coll de la Bandereta (4.6 km, avg 7.6%.) The tempo of the day’s racing is likely to increase as they drop into the valley, preparing for the final Category 2 climb of the day; the Alto de la Serratella. Despite lasting a total of 13.2 km, its low average gradient of 3.7% makes it an extremely manageable affair for all the expected frontrunners on the day. The spotlight shall then be upon the gradual descent back to level ground, which is a short lived relief, as the conclusion of the day is the steep Category 3 Ermita Sta. Lucia. The 3.4km kick is far from a smooth ride to the top, finishing 1.4km from the finish line and possessing gradients which reach 20%. Anyone ahead on their own by this point will have no technical concerns during the run into the finale kilometre, though the road does kick up once more to 8% before the line.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 5 Preview

Contenders:

Romain Bardet was expected to be riding here on the hunt for stage wins, yet his showing thus far does suggest he could be aiming higher than this, regardless today’s finale certainly meets the criteria the Frenchman requires for another grand tour stage win. Often performing well on these steep drives to the line, Bardet will be expected to push hard over the top and aim to have a gap to his rivals heading into the final kilometre. However, if that is not successful, he is still able to turn in a convincing sprint effort against other climbers in a fight for the win. Given his apparent diminished threat to the general classification, he may be allowed to take this if he is unlikely to steal a great deal of time in the process.

Esteban Chaves knows that this will be a good opportunity to not only win the stage, but also put time into Chris Froome, potentially delivering him the leader’s jersey in the process. The irregular nature of the final climb, as well as the 20% inclines, do not suit Chris Froome at all and Chaves shall not hesitate to exploit this if possible. His form is often very strong for this final grand tour of the year and he has already performed convincingly enough to suggest there is a good chance he is the man to beat on Stage 5.

Michael Woods did not look an imposter when forming part of the elite leading group on Stage 3, dropping a big hint that he has a potential stage win in him for 2017’s La Vuelta a España. He will need his team to work hard and ensure the breakaway does not get to the final climb first, but if they do achieve this, then this is close to being an ideal finish for the Cannondale – Drapac captain. If the group of favourites begins to hesitate late in the day, Woods is a rider who will invest everything in jumping ahead and holding it right the way to the line.

Omar Fraile seems the rider most likely to strike out for the win from an earlier breakaway or move, a skill he displayed repeatedly well during Spring / Summer this year. He has been particularly well hidden during these opening stages, though the consensus is that he is simply keeping himself safe, rather than struggling to maintain pace with a hectic first week of racing. Should he make the cut for the day’s move, then it is hard to see anyone else alongside him being a greater favourite for the stage honours.

Other riders to consider for Stage 5 are Lachlan MortonJulian AlaphilippeAlessandro De Marchi and Chris Froome.

Outcome:

1st Romain Bardet 2nd Esteban Chaves 3rd Michael Woods