The last stage of the Vuelta? Well it’s the last stage for a large share of the peloton looking to salvage something from this race because tomorrow’s summit finish is fierce and Sunday’s short time trial is reserved for the specialists.
Stage 18 Wrap: one of the best finales of the season with the last climb seeing many attacks. Froome contested an intermediate sprint just before the final climb, a risky move since the oxygen debt incurred just before the final climb could have incurred h a punitive interest rate. But it was Valverde who would default. Uphill the lead kept changing, first Chris Le Mevel then Jérôme Coppel and in time Fabio Aru. The result wasn’t certain until the end. Behind the trio of Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez kept trading attacks, each trying to drop the other but their rivalry saw Chris Froome go up the road with a textbook attack, accelerating out of a lull and from behind to pass them at speed. Froome took enough time to overhaul Alejandro Valverde but what of Alberto Contador? He lost time and it’s still close: imagine if he loses 20 seconds on the Ancares and Froome scoops a 10 second time bonus and suddenly the final time trial gets stressful.
The stage was won by Fabio Aru who was out on his own before Froome came across and the Sardinian put out a powerful sprint to win clear of Froome. Assuming he keeps it together Aru is the real deal and Astana’s locked down certainty for the Giro. It’s only a matter of time until the Giro visits Sardinia.
The Route: 180km with two distinct climbs en route. The Alto do Monte da Groba has steep sections with a soft middle and then the race passes along the coastline with predominantly flat roads.
The Alto Monte Faro is a tough one, a rough road surface on a narrow road that winds its way uphill and more to it than the average 7%. It’s followed by a reciprocal descent: uneven, narrow and winding.
The Finish: flat for the sprint but awkward before.
The Scenario: a fine day for a breakaway? Sure but this is also the last chance for many to win a stage and you can almost smell the desperation. It’s not to be mocked as many riders are worried about a contract and this is one of the last chances to add a line to the CV.
The final climb is hard and awkward but probably not decisive so we can expect a group to have their day. The final climb is important but not the finish line, whoever scales it needs to be able to go solo or sprint from a small group. Likewise if the bunch hits the climb a lot of riders will be ejected and struggle to get back on.
The Contenders: another win for John Degenkolb? This climb could be too much and if he scales it, his leadout train won’t. So it’ll be a good test of pre-Worlds form. The same for Michael Matthews, a touch slower in the sprint but maybe more versatile on the hills? Time is running out for Philippe Gilbert. In recent years he’s had a quiet season only to re-emerge at the Vuelta but this time he’s struggling to impose himself. He tried yesterday and he might try again but can he deliver a result?
But all three riders mentioned so far might not go clear in a break, preferring to play it safe hoping any escape is kept on a tight leash. For a breakaway it’s often a lottery to name riders but come the third week in a grand tour we often see the same names again and again… but perhaps not those on the rampage tomorrow. So no Johan Le Bon, LL Sanchez or Hubert Dupont but instead the likes of Alessandro de Marchi, Bob Jungels, Elia Favilli, Rohan Dennis get the nod. For a random punt, there’s Europcar’s Yannick Martinez, he started his career as a sprinter but is climbing well in this race, if he can get over the climb he could surprise; slim chances but a name to remember.
|Michael Matthews, John Degenkolb
|Gilbert, de Marchi, Jungels, Lasca
TV: As usual the finish is expected for 5.40pm Euro time. They start Monte Faro around 5.10pm so be sure to watch before this to see what’s happening.
Daily Díaz: Which other countries border Spain? France and the tiny nation of Andorra to the North, Gibraltar (the United Kingdom, if you prefer) to the South, Morocco around the African cities of Ceuta & Melilla, and Portugal to the West. Actually, and according to Wikipedia, Spain’s border with Portugal is the longest uninterrupted border within the EU. Both countries formed the so-called Iberian Union between 1580 and 1640, when the Hispanic kings Philip II, III and IV ruled the crowns of Portugal, Castile and Aragon (separate countries with the same headofstate). The Spanish and Portuguese territories in Europe, Africa, America and Asia formed el imperio en el que nunca se pone el sol (“the empire on which the sun never sets”).
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel