When the race route was unveiled the consensus was this was a Vuelta of summit finishes. But so far this week things have been calm with several chances for the sprinters. All change now with the first true summit finish of the race.
The stage finishes with a hard climb but it’s likely to be selective it’s not going to be definitive as plenty more will happen over the next two weeks.
Stage 7 Review
Zdeněk Štybar is in form but the race route doesn’t offer him many opportunities. Spain has its share of dust roads between the pueblos although many of these have been sealed and surfaced in recent years. But he took off with Philippe Gilbert with 7km to go and won the stage. Gilbert is getting close to a win but could face the prospect of being one of the rare world champions not to win a race during his time with the rainbow jersey, something you need to go back to the late Rudy Dhaenens and 1990-1991 although he did win a criterium; count that and then you go back to 1987-88 and Stephen Roche.
Also of note was rider resentment with the course. The roadbook listed few obstacles but in reality the finish was straight from a catalogue of municipal street furniture with more sleeping policemen than a hot day in Mexico and a polynesia of traffic islands. The riders were talking about protest and a possible strike.
Stage 8 Preview
The Route: 163km to head to the coast. There are no major difficulties along the way until the final climb.
The Finish: a summit finish but not the hardest climb in Spain. You can look at the ramp and think it’s big but look closely and it doesn’t even reach 1,000 metres above sea level. Still it matters and starts with a shock, climbing awkwardly out of Estepona with steep ramps to distance the urbanized coastal resort. The road is narrow here and requires riders to be well-placed, a mistake in position here will cost a lot to rectify with the roads ahead.
But the longer the climb goes on, the more regular it gets. Once the first three kilometres are done the road levels out and then the final 7km are on a long steady climb uphill all the way to the line.
The Scenario: a vital stage and we should see several teams driving the bunch towards Estepona as they compete to set up their leader for the final climb. Once on the climb we should see the bunch thinned out quickly by the steep ramps but the upper slopes are more gentle and having team mates will be a real help.
We’ll see if the GC contenders drop everyone else or if some others can hang tight and play for the stage win. On paper a rider like Alejandro Valverde is perfect for today as he’s got a strong team, climbs well and has a fast finish which means he can take the time bonus. But the same is true for Katusha with their two pronged approach of Joaquim Rodriguez and Dani Moreno, all eyes are on Rodriguez but Moreno has already taken a stage and finished second on the Monte Groba stage. Nicolas Roche has a stage already but the flatter finish could suit his fast finish. Otherwise there are still a host of picks from Chris Horner to Bauke Mollema whilst Thibaut Pinot doesn’t have to worry about descending today and Ivan Basso, yes, is ideal for this steady climb. Most of interest will be Vincenzo Nibali, will he fight today or just follow the wheels?
Weather: hot to start but cooler on the coast for the finish. A light headwind.
TV: the last two hours are live but the final climb starts around 5.00pm with the finish expected for 5.45pm as usual. Tune in for the last hour to watch teams fight for position on the approach to the climb.
- Some of the clichés commonly associated with the whole of Spain actually fit better with the region of Andalusia. Bullfighting, flamenco or the Arab heritage are certainly more present here than in the northern half of the country.
- Today’s stage will pass close to Gibraltar, the British Overseas Territory that controls the strait of the same name (only 14,3 km of sea separate Europe and Africa). This summer the tension between Spanish and British government about Gibraltar has been a recurring subject in the news.
- Jerez de la Frontera, the starting point of today’s stage, is home to the Brandy de Jerez. The well known Osborne bull, a recent symbol of Spanish nationalism (especially in sports), was designed to promote one of the brands producing that drink.
- Costa del Sol, the name for the Spanish coastline in Malaga province, has been chosen by many North European retired people as the place to spend the last years of their lives. One out of every six people living there has not the Spanish citizenship.
- Despite being in the south of Spain and therefore having warm temperatures and very hot summers, the Sierra de Grazalema receives over 2,200 mm of rain every year, making it one of the rainiest places of Spain.
Gracias to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel