A mountain stage. The profile might not suggest this with the finish sitting lower than the start. But the final climb has steep slopes and it’s been a decisive point for the race in recent years.
With Vincenzo Nibali losing time the other day and the top-5 overall changing even on yesterday’s flat stage this promises an exciting finish.
Stage 17 Review
I don’t know what the Spanish for snoring is but many Spaniards must have been slipping in an out of their siesta yesterday afternoon as they watched a stage with nothing happening for hours. But then the wind got up and it was enough to tip people out of their hammocks as commentators cried ¡Abanicos!
It’s Spanish for echelons, the formation taken by riders when the bunch gets split by a crosswind. We might associate crosswinds and echelons with Belgian racing just as we don’t associate Dutch cycling with mountain passes. But if mountains are not everywhere, wind is universal and it was used by Movistar and Saxo-Tinkoff to split the bunch on the run in to Burgos. Domenico Pozzovivo was the left behind and as wine buffs know, the Rioja is no place for Pinot and FDJ’s captain was the other big loser in the crossswinds and the pair came in 90 seconds down in the second group. A costly mistake made worse because they bunch had split before regrouping, this should have put all GC contenders on red alert.
In the end it was an alert rider in green who won as Belkin’s Bauke Mollema launched a sneaky late attack. The thirty-strong group had several sprinters but when the Dutchman took a flyer the fastmen did not have anyone to shut down Mollema, nobody wanted to burn a match before launching the sprint. Mollema was away and had time to look back and survey the damage as Edvald Boasson Hagen, Maxi Richeze and Tyler Farrar were left to sprint once more for second place. Mollema is another name to add to the long list of contenders for the Worlds.
Stage 18 Preview
The Route: Due north as the race heads to the Atlantic coast near Santander before a last minute flick to climb the Mirador of Pena Cabarga. Before that the climbs along the way are not much
- Alto de Bocos, 3km at 6.6%
- Alto Estacas de Trueba, 10.9km at 3.2%
- Puerto de la Braguia, 6.1km at 6.3%
- Alto del Caracol 10.6km at 5.6%
These are enough to soften up the bunch but not selective to split things early.
The Finish: look at all those double digit gradients that stick two fingers up to those in doubt of their climbing abilities. It’s uphill for 5.9km at 9.2% but discount the flat moment at 4km and you see it’s much steeper. It’s starts out like a regular climb with a long straight ramp. Someone might attack here but they will always be in sight. Later it begins to twist and if the riders had a chance to look over their shoulder they’d see the bay of Santander and the Atalantic ocean below them.
The Mirador de Peña Cabarga was where Chris Froome duelled with the mysterious Juanjo Cobo in 2011. They traded attacks for a punchdrunk finish.
The Scenario: we could see two races today with a break up the road aiming for the stage win and then a second contest between the GC riders on the final climb. But with teams like Astana, Radioshack, Movistar and Saxo-Tinkoff all looking to place their riders in pole position for the final climb the speed will be high and any move will need a big buffer for the final climb.
As for the GC contenders it’s simple to say we’ll see the same names in action again. But remember Vincenzo Nibali lost time on the last summit finish and this is no place to be weakening. Chris Horner is ready to pounce, assisted by his Croat sherpa Robert Kiserlovski and the American seems to go better the more the road is steep. Both Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez are looking friskier too, the latter was trying several attacks on Stage 16 but this time he only needs one move to take time. Meanwhile today’s a real test for Nicolas Roche who is climbing very well but compared to the others he’s relatively exposed on these steep slopes where being paced by Rafał Majka won’t make a big difference. Meanwhile Domenico Pozzovivo, Leopold König, Samuel Sanchez and Igor Anton are all climbing well too. Finally Thibaut Pinot might want to make amends for the previous day and if the GC is looking hard, a well-timed move could see him take the stage.
Weather: mild and sunny and the wind will drop off.
TV: watch early to see the bunch softened up and the speed ratchet up. The final showdown will start soon after 5.00pm Euro time.
- If I had to name just one of Burgos’ tourist attractions, I’d choose the cathedral. The construction of this gothic building started in the 13th century. A World Heritage Site since 1984, it is a perfect example of French gothic influences and Renaissance artwork.
- The race heads north and, five stages later, we will see images of the sea. It’s time for the Bay of Biscay (commonly called Mar Cantábrico in Spanish). A part of the Atlantic Ocean, Cantabrian sea is shared by Spain and France.
- In km 107,5 of the stage (Alto Estacas de Trueba, 1,150 meters above sea level) the Vuelta will enter Cantabria. This small Spanish region is stuck between the sea to the north and the mountains to the south, which explains the ups and down of the second part of the stage
- The Alto del Caracol is just 39,6 km away from the finish line. What is a caracol anyway? A snail, one of the slowest animals on earth.
- Names and places. With 94 km to go the race crosses Bárcenas (as in Luis Bárcenas, a politician currently imprisoned due to his involvement in corruption scandals), with 19,1km to the finish line it’s time for Rubalcaba (as in Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, leader of the opposition in the Spanish parliament), and with 7,8 km to go, just before Peña Cabarga, the bunch will speed through Heras (as in Roberto Heras, about whom we talked in stage 6).
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel