The Vuelta’s status as the third grand tour is explained by several factors and one is the lack of identifiable climbs that have entered into legend and mythology thanks to repetition over the years. Today’s stage is as close as we get and maybe in time people will talk about the Lagos de Covadonga like they do the Stelvio or Alpe d’Huez? But never mind the future or the past it’s the present day that offers the most interest.
Stage 14 Wrap: Ryder Hesjedal won overhauling Oliver Zaugg in the final metres of a climb that was part bike-race, part leg-press contest. I’ve consistently thought Hesjedal’s been too big to thrive on the steep climbs – but he surprises and won the Giro because he coped fine with each stage that looked too steep.
Behind the GC contenders hit the final climb… too hard. Early attacks saw Chris Froome “dropped” only for him to reel in his rivals like tired fish and he ended up taking time on them on this climb. It’s still to early to say Froome is looking stronger but he was wiser… with hindsight because climbing at your own pace also see rivals collaborate to ride off up the road. Today will tell us plenty, tomorrow even more.
We saw several riders who only appear in the late season. Zaugg and Alexandr Kolobnev for example. It was also another advert for power meters. Swashbuckling attacks? Searing accelerations? It might look good on TV and the sport might need it for the sake of keeping an audience but those who accelerated on the final climb found themselves decelerating later on too. Both Chris Froome and Ryder Hesjedal played it steady and their more linear efforts paid off.
The Route: for a mountain stage it’s flat. A start in Oviedo then through that most sporting of cities Gijón and along the coast. The Puerto del Torno looks small but don’t ignore it, it’s an irregular climb with steep sections.
The Finish: then comes the climb to the Lagos de Covadonga. Saying it’s the Spanish Alpe d’Huez is a travesty because it’s nothing like it. Yes both are relative recent new additions and both are uphill but the similarities end. The Alpe is a regular road and engineered while the road to Covadonga is irregular.
The Scenario: another breakaway? Yes but the kind of riders who can take time during the flat part of the stage are those who’ll lose it during the final climb. However the final climb is short so a solid breakaway can survive or at least some elements.
The Contenders: each of the GC contenders has their story and scenario:
- Alberto Contador is getting better day by day. A touch prone to attacking and accelerating he’s still in the commanding position
- Alejandro Valverde might be expected to fade given he’s been on the boil since the Tour de France and the Clasica San Sebastian plus the longer the climb the worse he fares
- Chris Froome is pacing himself well and could poach time towards the end
- Joaquim Rodriguez might find the irregular slopes are ideal for him but he’s yet to look imperious in this race
- Rigoberto Uran is almost a better time triallist than a climber these days and could find this climb too awkward
- Fabio Aru is a big talent for the future but prone to inconsistency for the moment
The safest picks are Contador and Froome
|Alberto Contador, Chris Froome
|Joaquim Rodriguez, Fabio Aru, Daniel Navarro
TV: As usual the finish is expected for 5.40pm Euro time. Tune in for the final hour with the last climb expected from 5.20 onwards if they’re on the forecast schedule.
Daily Díaz: If the Vuelta lacks the mythology of the Tour, it can partly be explained by one fact: during the Tour, one stage will always be raced on July 14th, the French national day, while the Spanish national day, October 12th, has never been a racing day. The lakes of Covadonga, however, is the most similar there is to a national day during the Vuelta. It appeared for the first time in 1983, and has been a nearly constant presence ever since. Why is Covadonga such an important place? According to Spanish nationalist mythology, this is where the Reconquista began. And what does Reconquista mean? It is the historical period during which the Northern Christians “reconquered” the ancient Roman Hispania from the Southern muslims, from 718/722 to 1492 AD.
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel