Vuelta a España Stage 17 Preview

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

A rampon to the balcon, today’s stage features one of the longest climbs in the Basque Country with the finish at the Balcon de Bizkaia on the flanks of Monte Oiz.

Rainbow Rohan: the win for Rohan Dennis and just as he won by a large margin in the opening stage in Malaga, he took the stage by 50 seconds and looks a certainty for the title in Innsbruck. Among the GC candidates Steven Kruijswijk did a great ride and is now up to third place overall. Simon Yates extended his lead on Alejandro Valverde by a few seconds while Nairo Quintana slipped back.

The Route: a mountain stage of sorts, 157km and close to 4,000m of vertical gain on the menu. The races passes through Gernika, a town infamous for the civil war bombing and its subsequent depiction by Pablo Picasso.

The first time up the Alto del Balcon de Bizkaia it’s 7km at 4.3% and a gentle climb before tackling the descent which will later be climbed. Then come more two more gentle climbs on a loop, steady climbs of 4-5% for the most part through the Basque woodland. If they’re not hard in isolation, the repeat efforts are tiring and the ever-twisting roads put a premium on being near the front of the bunch.

The Finish: they climb the road they descended earlier for the first four kilometres and then turn off onto a concrete track that leads up the mountain under the ridge of wind turbines, it’s been freshly surfaced for the most part which helps. The profile says 23% but you’d need a surveyor to fund it, instead it’s more about the long, consistent ramp of 14% that leads to the 2km to go point. After this the slope levels out for a while before kicking up to the line.

The Contenders: another sharp climb to the finish meaning a similar cast of characters. There’s a good chance the breakaway stays away, with tomorrow a likely bunch sprint and then the Pyrenees, many will hope they can stay away today. The final is packed with climbing so the winner needs to be versatile, think perpetual attacker Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) or Alessandro de Marchi and Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing) but take your pick from others outside the top-10, for example Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) and maybe Fabio Aru (UAE-Emirates) goes in the break to make up for a so far discreet performance.

Among the GC contenders Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) has relatively slender lead of 33 seconds over Alejandro Valverde but this puts him in a strong position as it’s up to the others to make the moves, he need only mark them and then snipe the stage win and the time bonus. Yates lacks team support but can the Movistar tandem of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde pose a threat? Maybe not today, Quintana will surely prefer a long race move in the Pyrenees. Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) now has the space to jump away, if he goes in the final two kilometres he might not be closed down immediately.

Simon Yates, M-A Lopez
Valverde, Pinot, Mollema, de Marchi, Teuns, Formolo

Weather: warm and sunny, 28°C in the valleys.

Tune in: the finish is forecast for 5.40pm CEST.

Martijn Stolze September 12, 2018 at 8:21 am

I mean, Dennis looks a certainty for Innsbruck? Really? Bearing in mind that it’s even more hilly than last year’s, and with Dumoulin probably aching to retain his title, not sure how Dennis is a favourite

RonDe September 12, 2018 at 11:13 am

Agreed. Tom’s had a rest and being world champ is probably his top target anyway. Dennis is winning ITTs by never being a real GC contender. And remember, he’s never even had a worlds ITT podium yet.

GrahamG September 12, 2018 at 2:53 pm

I am looking forward to the worlds and it will be interesting to see who has held or developed form (seems like a Bardet kind of course maybe?)

I suppose our host is factoring in TD has bigger fish to fry next year and his two GC efforts earlier this year may mean he isn’t targeting this like Dennis clearly is.

CA September 12, 2018 at 8:40 pm

RonDe – this seems like Dennis’ year. Dumolin had a really tough training/racing block until July and it doesn’t look like his current TT form is enough to top Dennis. Dennis is coming into peak form right now and seems untouchable.

Paddy Dunne September 12, 2018 at 8:21 am

Any hint that M – A holding something back from yesterday’s tt ( I didn’t get to see any of the stage) but I’m hoping it was more tactical than a decline. With most of Lotto Jumbo packing out the lower placings is that giving Steven Kruiswijk the advantage in strength in depth in battle for Red. So want Lopez to win. Sorry Yatesey

DJW September 12, 2018 at 8:44 am

Two riders struggling at times on the stage 15 mountains (Kruijswijk and Valverde) performed particularly well yesterday while two others (Quintana and Lopez), who looked strong in stage 15 lost time. Back to the steep mountains – does that mean the pure climbers Lopez and Quintana will prosper again while the (relative) rouleur/puncheur/grimpeurs (Kruijswijk and Valverde) will struggle once more?

Also are MTS regretting the selection of three sprint and sprint support riders in the team. Surely a Bewley, Tuft or Durbridge would provide more support to Yates in the coming days than a rider such as Mezgec.

On a point of detail, use of 3D the graphics supplied by the organiser adds nothing while complicating slightly reading of position on the X axis.

DAVE September 12, 2018 at 8:57 am

By struggling on stage 15, you talking about the 2 seconds they came in behind Yates, who came in 2s after Lopez? I wish I could “struggle” that way.

DJW September 12, 2018 at 9:13 am

Yes Dave, they only lost 2 seconds at the finish but were distanced from the leaders at least twice and only came back when Yates and Quintana started marking eachother.

EightyEight September 12, 2018 at 9:24 am

I don’t think Quintana had anything left on that stage and Valverde may have been distanced but he was doing the lion’s share of the work.
I keep thinking Quintana is over the hill only to find he’s not even 30! Must of been a hard life.

SLO_cyclist September 12, 2018 at 4:12 pm

Agree on Quintana.

Tom September 12, 2018 at 8:53 am

What’s Adam Yates been up to – might be appear from the shadows in support of his brother?

*fund=find?

bonzojess September 12, 2018 at 9:08 am

He said he’d been riding conservatively up to Stage 15 when he planned to support his brother in the last week. He was in the leading group ad wearing a skin suit, though at the back when Pinot rode away. Assuming he did little or nothing in the time trial so as to be fresh for the coming days. Simon says he lives in Andorra so will be on home roads, but so did Enric Mas after the time trial and he said he was going for the top step never mind a podium place when interviews by Daniel Friebe on ITV 4. What chance that Quick Step add La Vuelta to their season palmares?

RQS September 12, 2018 at 9:27 am

There was a poster here who has repeatedly talked about Mas and I belittled his chances, but am now regretting that since he refuses to be shaken out of the reckoning. He finished well in the last mountain stage and obviously his TT has set him up well for the last days of battle. However, he has no team to support him and that could be crucial. I’m definitely impressed by what he has achieved as its no fluke. He’s been consistent without winning. He’s no Meintjes.

But I just don’t think he has either the GC position which could help him seal a deal with another rider. I would reckon Kruijswijk and Yates should make a pact to fend off Movistar for the sake of podium results.

StevhanTI September 12, 2018 at 11:59 am

Mas has no full team in support but De Plus and Serry are dedicated and useful in the mountains. De Plus is delivered, all things considered, also one of the more surprising rides in the TT I think.

RQS September 12, 2018 at 9:01 am

Sooooo….there are five stages left and two that have hills/climbs/mountains. Does Yates have enough time to win? Who can over come him?

I think he’s looking good for the victory, but everything now comes down to Andorra. Movistar will likely want to see if they can gain time today as leaving down to Andorra only gives them one role of the dice and too much to do.

I don’t think Valverde will get the better of Yates, and Quintana just doesn’t have it. I wonder if Adam Yates has been kept in reserve thus far to help ward off Movistar, though I think such a ‘long game’ is improbable.

On another note I’ve always thought that the Yates’ were the perfect British antidote to the Spanish/Colombian riders. Their smaller climbing frames complimented those of Quintana and Rodriguez, and to some extent Valverde. Their journey to the front end of the GC race has been steady and sure, though somewhat hampered by being on weaker (poorer) teams.

Ecky Thump September 12, 2018 at 9:12 am

I did ponder before yesterday’s TT how the subsequent post-TT relationship between Valverde and Quintana may affect Movistar’s approach.
Should Quintana just go for it / can he go for it?
If he sits tight, as he is suggesting, does he lose some credibility, even if he were to regain a podium position?
What is the extent of Valverde’s realistic ambitions in this race, can he win it?

I still feel that MA Lopez could be key for Movistar but they would need to take risks to gain an unlikely win. The risk / reward ratio is increasing with each passing stage and the more it does, the less likely it seems that Movistar will take that chance.
We’ll see.

EightyEight September 12, 2018 at 9:33 am

Yeah much as I’d love to see Quintana do a froome I just don’t think he has that attacking style. However movistar could use the 1-2 to their advantage although the likes of Lopez and that lotto rider (who’s name I can’t spell) would be inclined to chase down a Quintana attack.

Davesta September 12, 2018 at 2:27 pm

Does Quintana ever go for it these days?!

Quite aside from the promise & attacking style he showed when he first announced himself in 2013, he’s become one of the most conservative (and arguably boring) GC riders in the peloton! I get the feeling he’s simply unwilling to risk attacking unless he’s absolutely sure he’s the strongest. He never seems to simply roll the dice, ala Pinot or Lopez…I find him incredibly frustrating to watch!

Augie March September 12, 2018 at 7:13 pm

Well his modus operandi in the 2013 TDF was:

1. Launch an attack from waaaay too far out.
2. Get dropped before the finish by Froome.
3. Get anointed “THE GREATEST CLIMBER IN THE WORLD” by Phil & Paul.

Since then, as you correctly state, his tactics have been so conservative Edmund Burke would approve.

Utah September 12, 2018 at 2:37 pm

Not sure I agree with the weak team narrative of MS. Howson, Haig and A. Yates are all strong climbing domestiques – they’re either being rested or not in form, we’ll soon see i suppose.

Paul September 12, 2018 at 9:01 am

Didnt Yates collapse after the TT in the Giro? so today could be a big day for him?

RonDe September 12, 2018 at 11:18 am

No it was the day after the day after. But he hasn’t raced here as he did in Italy. Should he collapse again he will have just built himself a reputation as a choker. But i don’t think he will.

BenW September 12, 2018 at 11:22 am

Well, Yates did “collapse after the TT in the Giro” in so far as the collapse came after the TT, which was Stage 16. 17 was a sprint stage, 18 he shipped half his lead (56 seconds down to 28 to Dumoulin), Stage 19 was the big collapse, nearly 39 minutes.

In terms of where he’s at, Yates been a lot more conservative (or rather less conspicuous) than he was in the Giro, save for nabbing that 30 seconds early on, and also the stage win to take Red. We can’t be sure but he looks to be cruising in comparison, and doesn’t look to have made the bg efforts he made in the Giro, but then we can’t really tell.

Augie March September 12, 2018 at 2:11 pm

Again, obvious disclaimers because a lot of this comes from the team, BUT it seems after the Giro and a long summer to think about things, Yates is riding more conservatively, like a real GC contender, than his natural attacking style. The team say they have been holding him back and this could pay dividends in the last few crucial stages. Obviously time will tell, but you’d think he’d have learned a few things after coming so close then falling in a hole.

StevhanTI September 12, 2018 at 9:10 am

Not a ring for Nibali? Looks like pretty good hunting waters for the shark to me anyway.
It struck me that BMC are having a pretty good Vuelta despite Porte not delivering again and with Dennis, Rosskopf, Teuns and GVA in proven great form they have some squad to field in the TTT WC as well. Porte may also be an outsider for today no?

jeff September 12, 2018 at 11:24 am

Its always strange to me when people go on reputation and not current form. What about Nibali or Porte in this race gives the impression they have the form to do anything?

StevhanTI September 12, 2018 at 11:54 am

Porte: true he hasn’t shown a lot but we can’t really know whether that is a cause of his illness before the start or just a general lack of form. if it’s the former he may have recovered and try to salvage his summer with a Vuelta stage win.
Nibali I think has shown a willingness to attack but maybe not the form to finish it off, hard to gauge

All in all I think both may have a real go at it today beause the terrain suits them and the GC contenders will probably lay low for the biggest part of the stage.

RIP MES September 12, 2018 at 9:24 am

Still no Mas? Is that an assumption the ITT would have taken too much effort? On past TTs, Mas should have been some way adrift of Oliveira but the young Spaniard beat him by two seconds. Continues to impress me.

tedba September 12, 2018 at 10:02 am

Was good to hear his comments post race (ITV in the UK, don’t know whether it was elsewhere too) when asked whether he could challenge for the podium he simply replied that he was aiming to win.

jc September 12, 2018 at 10:23 am

I thought the only “surprise” yesterday was Steven Kruiswijk, though I seem to remember he rode decent TTs in the Giro he almost won. He must be in with a good chance of a podium spot.

Despite (or maybe because of) his experience at the Giro Simon Yates does seem to be in pole position here. His team are notable by their absence but not sure that is a big problem, they wont feel the need to chase down every breakaway. I just cant seen either Alejandro Valverde or Nairo Quintana having what it takes to push him out of the way to take top spot. It seems to me they need Simon Yates to suffer a crash or ill timed mechanical to be in with a realistic chance.

RonDe September 12, 2018 at 11:25 am

Let’s not jinx it yet. Yates must still walk the walk.

Barry Walsh September 12, 2018 at 12:25 pm

Also note the entire Jumbo team finishing in the lower spots in the TT, staying fresh no doubt to help him over the coming days!

RonDe September 12, 2018 at 12:36 pm

I doubt it will make much difference. As someone else said, SK has lost time on every climb. Hard to see how he starts suddenly gaining it now.

jc September 12, 2018 at 1:18 pm

From what I have seen this is a very different approach from MS / Simon Yates. I know they claim that they thought their only option at the Giro was to take as much time as possible on Tom Dumoulin but that really did not explain their hyperactive chasing down every breakaway even after the TT. It seemed to reflect a strange defensive mindset within the team, almost as if they didnt believe they could actually win despite Simon’s really impressive performances.

This time that has gone to be replaced with a much calmer, seemingly more confident and determined Simon Yates (I haven’t been following things too much but is Matt White actually at the race?) . Yes there is still plenty of time for things to go wrong but I dont see SY “cracking” in the way he did in May.

Sam G September 12, 2018 at 10:42 am

Very impressed my Mas’ TT.

Get him on a GC team and he could be formidable. Astana possibly? And share GC responsibilities with Lopez.

daniel September 12, 2018 at 11:27 am

Kruijswijk has lost time on every summit finish so far, but the almost every LottoNL-Jumbo rider was 150th or worse yesterday, with four of them finishing 161-164 out of 165 riders. They must be planning something big in that final 50km.

Will September 12, 2018 at 11:29 am

Yeah I saw the Lotto guys stacked up at the bottom of the rankings, and wondered if they’ve got something planned for today…

StevhanTI September 12, 2018 at 11:57 am

Maybe not today but they surely were told to save the legs for the final mountainous days. It’s a routine thing with them, last year Victor Campenaerts sort of called his team bosses out on it in public because it clearly denied him of a chance to shine or at least compete with the strongest guys in this discipline.

DJS September 12, 2018 at 1:17 pm

I guess Lotto-Jumbo wants to send men up the road in the next stages to prevent SK getting isolated the way he was after his crash in the Giro – and/or to help him launch an attack. But mainly as a defensive strategy, I’d hazard.

MRJ September 12, 2018 at 3:24 pm

So, if you’re Kruijswijk, do you (a) focus on cementing your place on the podium – your first ever in a GT; or (b) recognize this is probably your last, best chance ever to win a GT, and go all-in for the win? Yes you are right that he’s lost time on each of the summits so far… but the stages in Andorra may suit him better, so maybe he sees an opportunity to go for broke.

StevhanTI September 12, 2018 at 5:16 pm

The Dutch pundits, press and punters will scream for an all-in do or die win or lose attack or even a series of them. They’ve seen Dumoulin strand on the middle podium step two times already this year. What Steven wants for himself I wouldn’t know but given his propensity for an attack from far every now and then I’d venture a guess that he’ll try to win a stage that way and maybe even the vuelta.

MRJ September 12, 2018 at 5:57 pm

I dare say the road has spoken, and we now have our answer as to what SK can/should do.

SLO_cyclist September 12, 2018 at 4:11 pm

I bet Quintana will not win any GT anymore in his career.

kim jong vaughters September 12, 2018 at 6:58 pm

Hard to see how he does. He comes across as a “flat track bully” to coin an inappropriate phrase. When he knows he is strongest or will be let go (Tour stage 17) he flies but when he has to fight out a win toe to toe he buckles. His two grand tour wins seems much more in perspective as his career develops. His Giro win was against sub par riders and his Vuelta courtesy of Alberto Contador and his great luck to have been much more awake than Sky were on the day. The latter point is ironic when Movistar are usually so tactically inept.

Augie March September 12, 2018 at 7:10 pm

+1

Sonja Neteu September 13, 2018 at 2:43 am

So, should these two GT victories be taken away from Nairo?

Utah September 13, 2018 at 4:41 am

I think Rigo Uran would have further points to make about the Giro victory.

SLO_cyclist September 12, 2018 at 4:24 pm

@Davesta: Many of us find Quintana as such already for the last couple of seasons, however have been continously attacked here as Quintana haters or even as racists. The fact is, he is very passive, apathetic and consequently boring. While we have seen partial re-births in the past (e.g. Uran 3rd spot on TdF last year or Horner’s victorious Vuelta), I simply cannot see him at this moment ever being really strong again. Especially since I disbelieve he will ever excel in a conventional TT. Considering TT kms and route, this Vuelta is comparable to the Giro Cunego won back then and if even that is not suitable enough for Quintana, then I don’t know what still is.

When does his contract expire btw? I think Movistar can source in some other Colombian to satisfy their business interest in Colombia. The only thing Quintana does these days is to disturb potential Movistar tactics should they be otherwise able to build a team around someone else, even though also the others didn’t at all excel this season. Except for Valverde, he always excels in his own way. And even when he doesn’t, he always fights and tries. IMO arguably one of the best cyclists ever, despite his lack of GT victories.

SLO_cyclist September 12, 2018 at 4:28 pm

Also, forgot to mention, I have enough of watching this Valverde-Quintana duo, since I simply don’t know what cards Valverde is playing or allowed to play. On one hand I believe Valverde is not a type of a rider who would dedicate too much working for someone else, especially when he realized it is not worth working for that someone (Quintana in this case)…kinda like, he lacks respect for such mild riders. On the other hand, I’m afraid he could perform even better should they dedicate the team to him and proclaim him as a captain. Maybe that would also motivate Quintana to need to prove himself again while now it just seems everything comes for granted to him without any ambition or need to show more.

Anonymous September 12, 2018 at 5:53 pm

Brutal finish, falling over the line almost.

Turnedge September 12, 2018 at 10:44 pm

Incredible performance from Valverde. Incredible.

Larry T September 13, 2018 at 2:53 am

Incredible or non-credible? That’s what I’m wondering. The guy’s 36 years old and has been caught cheating in the past. I’m starting to think of Chris Horner these days. But of course the current race leader has a dodgy past as well, so where do the fingers point? But either way this GT has been more entertaining to me than the previous ones held this year.

RQS September 13, 2018 at 6:54 am

I didn’t think you were as cynical as me Larry.

Personally Movistar have always been darker shades of grey. But my thoughts are that whatever they are doing, it’s not as much as it used to be, or else or teams have caught up.

I think you just have to enjoy it for the theatre it is. Chances of complete outliers – someone naturally dominant are infinitesimal (and I mean someone capable of winning everything all the time, someone who guarantees a win). It’s good to see that there is more competition at the sharp end.

I finally got around to reading ‘Rough Ride’ this last month or so. It seems to me that Kimmage was not altogether transparent with what he did and did not know about taking drugs. The holes mainly appear to apply to his own doping and that of his fellow Irish riders. To that extent he may have spat in the soup, but to some extent poured out the Irish portion before doing so.

SLO_cyclist September 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

If we say the sport is clean now, than also Valverde is clean now. If we say there still is a way to trick the biological passport, then I don’t know why a former proven cheater would be any more likely to cheat than:
1) a former not caught cheater,
2) a former non-cheater,
3) a cyclist that didn’t ride professionally yet when cheating was at it’s highest.

I am really the last one who would promote any kind of conspiracy theories…but…what strikes me a bit is that in case Yates wins this Vuelta, last 5 GTs will be won by 3 different Brits. It is probably only a great generation and continous growth of this sport in the UK but it can trigger some alternative thoughts, too 🙂

Pax September 13, 2018 at 1:53 am

Nice win by Michael Woods.

Three crashes in the last month, and 3 breaks already, he is on pretty good form. On a different point does this enable Woods, to win more stages in the future?

I found it interesting how steep the last section was. It looked like he almost came to a stop when he turned around. I kind of wonder if at some point the riding becomes too steep for enjoyable watching – as they just crawl (one stage a year ?)

Teuns has been very strong with 3,5,4,3,2 and 11 ths in both TTs, he would have been a good winner as well.

Pax September 13, 2018 at 1:57 am

I should add that EF Education First had great team work by Simon Clarke.

Pax September 13, 2018 at 5:23 am

I should have read the article on gradient inflation before making the comments about the steepness. But while I am at it the potential great tv doesn’t work well if the pick mtns that are misty/cloudy 50% of the time unless of course the right winner is created.

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