After two summit finishes a third one with a difference because today’s stage is a full mountain stage with four mountain passes to clear before the final climb of La Farrapona.
Stage 15 Wrap: the last survivor of the breakaway Przemysław Niemiec took the stage win with a few seconds to spare over the chasing GC contenders. The broad-shouldered Pole had been an outsider for the top-10 but taking one of the most prestigious stages of the race will be an enormous satisfaction for him and the team who’ve managed to make amends for the embarrassment of Chris Horner’s non-start.
Lower down the mountain events looked confusing with Alberto Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde distancing all their rivals, Chris Froome included. Warren Barguil was a catalyst, his repeated attacks stirring others in moving and he’s now in the top-10 overall while Dan Martin is climbing up the GC too.
It was like watching a martial arts film with attack after attack and Alberto Contador was the most aggressive. His rehab now has him doing hill intervals but he did one too many and in the sprint for the line lost time twice over, first he was distanced and second he missed a time bonus. It’s good to see him trying but as race leader you half-expected him to force the others into errors. He has the attacking instinct just as the scorpion stings the frog in the parable, it can’t help itself. If it was mistake, it only cost a handful of seconds to Valverde. On a similar scale Chris Froome was dropped but lost seven seconds. His pacing on the steep sections of the climb was steady but it was hard to take time on a trio during the flatter sections.
The Route: the saw-tooth profile shows this is a royal mountain stage with several climbs to tackle before the final summit finish. As much as you see the y-axis, note the x-axis or the distance. It’s just 160km and in the Giro or Tour this would be a sharp, zinging stage. Unlike the Tour the mid-stage climbs are awkward with frequent double-digit gradients, the averages in the table above don’t do them justice. The penultimate climb of the Puerto de San Lorenzo has a final five kilometres at well over 10% with sections at 13%. Then it’s onto La Farrapona, last climbed in 2011.
The Finish: the profile should speak for itself. A rolling start before a steep section after 5km, enough to start ejecting riders from a group but the descent and flat section allows the leaders to hide their game in the slipstream of others. But it’s the final five kilometres that are the most selective, it’s a large and well-surfaced road. The slope eases to the line and the gradient is well below 8% for the final moments.
The Scenario: another stage with two stories, one for the stage win and another for the overall contenders? Possibly but anyone going clear early needs to be climbing well from the start so they’re likely sitting high on GC already. The final climb today is hard but only its upper slopes are to be feared but the San Lorenzo is tough and enough to break up any breakaway.
John Degenkolb went away yesterday to bag points, today we could see Luis-Leon Sanchez do the same for the mountains competition as Valverde is on 28 points and Sanchez close on 26.
The Contenders: Alejandro Valverde coped well with yesterday’s stage, even clawing back some time on Alberto Contador. But can he cope with multiple climbs? If so then the way the slope eases before the line makes him a strong candidate for the win.
Alberto Contador has an attacking instinct and could get his chance but he’ll have to go clear on the steep sections and so far his attacks have provided great TV but few gains.
Joaquim Rodriguez is looking solid and well-supported… but no more. He’s still in the front group, the very best but it’s just relative to the others he’s to finding it hard to gain time. Can he get a podium place before Sunday?
|Alejandro Valverde, Alberto Contador|
|Joaquim Rodriguez, Chris Froome|
|L-L Sanchez, Hesjedal, Anacona|
TV: As usual the finish is expected for 5.40pm Euro time. Tune on from 4.20pm for the Puerto San Lorenzo and 5.10 for the final climb.
Daily Díaz: The Spanish word of the day is carbón , “coal”). In the regions of Asturias and León large deposits were found in the 19th century. During the Industrial Revolution this usually meant you would have factories near the energy sources, but Spanish industrialisation had its specifics: coal would be shipped to England, then used to make steel, then back to Spain to build railroads (Spain was somehow a British or French economic colony back then). If Spain has a “rust belt”, it can be found in the North-West: coal mining and related activities used to employ much more people than they do nowadays, which translates into social unrest as jobs disappear. How to fix this? The environment provides some answers: cattle breeding is a traditional quality alternative, and the natural landscapes attract some tourism.
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel