The Sagan stage? If Peter Sagan could design a stage he might pick today’s course with its uphill finish in Vejer de la Frontera. The profile looks flat but there’s a lively finish in store which suits Sagan but if he won yesterday here’s a different test that should allow a wide cast of characters from John Degenkolb to Alejandro Valverde to try for the win.
Stage 3 Wrap: Omar Fraile got in the day’s breakaway and took the mountains jersey which he can hope to defend for a few days, he’s a useful climber and packs a punchy sprint making a prototype early wearer of the jersey. This might not mean much to you but it represents everything to a team like Caja Rural with its modest budget as it tries to get something out of the Vuelta against all the World Tour teams. The irrepressible Alexis Gougeard made the break too, an endless source of power. He’s a second year pro and has four wins to his name already, all achieved by endless energy and brute force.
Talking of force Peter Sagan won the sprint. Giant-Alpecin probably dropped of John Degenkolb too early and Sagan kept going with Nacer Bouhanni coming a close second having crashed earlier in the stage. Based on one stage alone this trio are on another level to the rest of the sprinters and some refinement by Giant-Alpecin and some recovery by Bouhanni and the finishing order can change.
The Route: a start in Estepona, a seaside resort which briefly funded its own pro cycling team and then across country to Cádiz which the race visited last year and the exposed coastal bridge to San Fernando. Echelon country? Yes only the forecast says calm weather so the chance of abanicos is reduced and a sprint finish looks inevitable, more so because some of the sprinters teams will fancy their chances and because the GC teams will try to control the uphill finish too.
The Finish: look closely at the profile and you can just see those changes of gradient on the way up. The climb begins with 4km to go as the road turns up towards the hilltop town on a narrow road which begins with a snaking junction that’s a pinchpoint which will punish anyone who has lost ground, especially as the 8-10% slope is unforgiven. It climbs into town and then starts twisting and turning around the whitewashed buildings, as difficult as any climb especially as the descent in the final kilometer will line out the riders before more sharp bends and irregular gradients in the final rise to the line. The handbook says 14% gradients feature but these are short and a beefy rider can carry momentum into them.
The Contenders: this is an ideal finish for Peter Sagan. Questions over his form have subsided given his sprint win and now he’s a finish where he can eliminate many with his punchy power. However this is a tough finish and if he won yesterday on the flat we need vintage Sagan to strike today in order to tackle the ride through town and the final ramps to the line. Carlos Barbero is a Spanish version of Peter Sagan and so suited to a finish like this but as promising as he is he’s yet to convince in a big race and just a few weeks ago he was trounced in the uphill finish of the Circuito Getxo by Nacer Bouhanni who proved he can do hilly finishes as well as flat ones. The difficulty for Bouhanni here isn’t the climbing but the changing gradients which make it more tiring for him and it’s easy to get swamped plus he’s carrying crash injuries too.
If Bouhanni is there then John Degenkolb can do it too. You might remember his excellent win at the Hattah dam in the Dubai Tour early this year where he beat Alejandro Valverde but this was again on a straightforward uphill climb whereas to today ducks and dives a lot more. So the Spaniard has the advantage today as his light frame is well-suited to a choppy finish with plenty of changes in rhythm, the same for Dan Martin too although but both will want the climb to be longer. Since Caleb Ewan isn’t looking too sharp on the climbs we could see Simon Gerrans try his luck. Dani Moreno and Tom Dumoulin are all outsiders and for leftfield picks there’s Yukiya Arashiro, Rinaldo Nocentini and Peter Velits.
|Dan Martin, Nacer Bouhanni, John Degenkolb, Alejandro Valverde|
|Moreno, Barbero, Simon, Rodriguez|
Weather: warm and sunny with a pleasant 26°C and a 10km/h breeze from the south.
Daily Díaz: In 2014 Vuelta, Nicolás was the first leader, but Rojas was wearing the red jersey when he crashed. The next day, he crashed again and had to leave the race. Velasco profited to take the win overall, with Belmonte and Oliver fighting for the 3rd place (González and García made the top10, too). Gil won the mountain’s jersey, by the way. Have you heard of those cyclists? Spanish people have three names: one first name (Alejandro) and two family names, paternal (Valverde) and maternal (Belmonte). Sometimes you can have two or more first names (Nairo Alexander), and sometimes your family name can be a composition of two (González de Galdeano). One thing I like about Spanish naming customs is the fact that women keep their family name after getting married, whereas in other countries they abandon it and take their husband’s.
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel