Two flat stages means the Vuelta has to visit a mountain range and today’s stage includes four categorised climbs on the way to a tricky uphill finish.
Stage 2 Wrap: Nacer Bouhanni’s name is sometimes associated with the word “but”. For instance “he won in the Giro but Marcel Kittel had left the race“. So the Vuelta’s been all about confirming his status and the €1.2m contract he’s signed with Cofidis and we got the confirmation he can deliver. Or rather he was perfectly delivered by his team with FDJ’s Geoffrey Soupe dropping him off with 200m to go and Bouhanni’s power did the rest.
Bouhanni’s a consummate professional. Yes he’s got a connection to boxing but this doesn’t mean he’s some streetfighter, in fact fighting in the ring demands dedication rather than aggression. His victory salutes are demonstrative but he’s courteous in interviews and often quotable. When he signed to Cofidis he took several riders with him, including the currently unemployed Canadian Dom Rollin, plus FDJ’s trainer Jacques Decrion.
The Route: the stage begins on the deck of an aircraft carrier – more of which below – and if it’s unusual it won’t change much about the race. But just as races are used to promote towns and other attractions, Spain is trying to sell warships and the same model’s already been sold to Australia.
As long as nobody is sea sick the peloton will head for the Sierra del Pinar and a series of climbs. There’s nothing hard here, the gradients are typically 5-6%. Confusingly the road from Ubrique to Benaocaz is perhaps the longest climb with 5km at 6%… but it’s topped by the first intermediate sprint of the day. The Puerto del Boyar is a hard climb if approached from the other side but this time it’s the easy side followed by a long downhill. There’s 50km to regroup on the way to the finish.
The Finish: uphill at 6% for most of the final 1,500m before dipping to the line for the final 200m. Arcos de la Frontera is a small that sits at the top of a ridge and the Vuelta came through here last year on the stage above Estepona won by Leopold König so it might be familiar to some. As a finish it’s a fast climb, short and not so steep as to let the climbers play. The field will split but on grounds of motivation.
The Scenario: the mid-stage mountains mean the climber’s jersey is in play so expect a breakaway to go. Watch Luis Angel Maté of Cofidis, the “Lynx of Andalucia” to see if he can play to the home crowd but otherwise the break’s a lottery.
The Contenders: a perfect day for Peter Sagan but the Slovak’s form is uncertain. He didn’t sprint yesterday, instead Cannondale’s Oscar Gatto made the top-10 and today could suit. If Sagan’s not sprinting Michael Matthews will profit. Maybe John Degenkolb can hang on, the climb’s at his upper limit. Philippe Gilbert could take a flyer on the climb too. Dark Horse picks would be FDJ’s Anthony Roux, a talented rider but he just doesn’t win often enough, and Adam Yates who has been winning big this year. Or what about Alejandro Valverde? We’ll see just how much he wants to defend the jersey if he’s trying for the stage win and the accompanying time bonus.
|Michael Matthews, Peter Sagan
|Oscar Gatto, John Degenkolb, Alejandro Valverde
Weather: hot and sunny and the thermometer could reach 36°C om places.
TV: As usual the finish is expected for 5.40pm Euro time.
Daily Díaz: Today’s stage will depart from Juan Carlos I, a warship of the Spanish Navy named in honour of the recently retired king. Before British and Dutch ships took command in the 17th century, the Spanish and Portuguese fleets ruled the oceans (they were the first Europeans to arrive to the New World, after all, and controlled the transatlantic commerce for a while despite the piracy). One remarkable Spanish sailor and explorer was Juan Sebastián Elcano, who completed the first circumnavigation in the 16th century. The Spanish Navy named its training ship (built in 1927) after him, and it was a symbol of the glorious past of the national sails. However, just some weeks ago over 100 kg of cocaine were found onboard, which led to a lot of online mocking and one uncomfortable question: how long has this been going on?
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel