The final mountain stage. The podium places are not certain and today could see the gaps narrowed ahead of tomorrow’s final time trial.
Stage 19 Wrap: Adam Hansen went away on the final climb of the day, a mere inflection on the stage profile but a memorable launchpad for the Australian. Once clear he kept looking back. Adam Hansen was solo and riding to the line but had to keep checking the gap. Some say you should never turn around but knowing the gap is starting to grow is invaluable.
Hansen’s a rider going for every technical help possible. He wore a skinsuit for the day, wears his race radio in a special pocket to help airflow and rides with very narrow bars. He got some extra help too from the course, the hill weeded out several sprint trains and so he could roll to the line with less of a chance.
It’s Hansen’s 10th consecutive grand tour. This is worth celebrating but winning stages along the way adds more to the feat. You couldn’t soft-pedal 10 grand tours if you tried but The Cobbler from Cairns is hammering the pedals, whether taking stage wins – a win in the Giro in 2013 – or the daily toil of supporting team leaders or their sprinter. As well as making his own shoes he’s supplying Lotto-Belisol – women and juniors included – with leisure wear and also producing logistics software for team management. In an interview with Ride Magazine he was asked how many languages he spoke, “I speak five: PHP, MySQL, ASP, VB, Java“, replied Hansen.
The Route: is it worth listing each climb when the final ascension is the decisive one? It’s a sapping route and certainly the Alto de Folgueiras de Aigas is notable because it’s close to the finish, 6.7% for 9.7km but steeper sections along the way. The descent is fast and with a few tricky corners.
The Finish: the Puerto de Ancares is hard with 8.7% for 12.7km. Don’t confuse this with the climb used in 2012, they’re climbing the same mountain but a different road: it’s longer, steeper and harder. The 18% section shown above is hard but continues with more double-digit climbing after, it’s not a brief passage but a sustained section of pain. It does soften up later on and provides a moment for riders to collaborate but by then the riders should be drained. It then rises right to the line, a rider can crack in the final moments and lose a lot of time with 12% after the final hairpin bend.
The Scenario: good luck to any breakaway candidates because this is such a crucial stage that they’ll need to pull out a big lead in order to hold off the chasing GC contenders who will be launched, like a space satellite, into the final climb by their teams. We should get the final GC showdown and hopefully a royal battle to crown the winner.
The Contenders: Chris Froome got the better of Alberto Contador on Thursday but arguably thanks to a surprise attack in an intense final climb. Yes he rode away but got a gap thanks to hesitancy from the others. So it’s not certain he’s climbing better than the rest. He’ll have to pick his moment but Alberto Contador’s will have him under strict surveillance. Glance at the profile above and if Froome wants to overhaul Contador he can’t leave it late, he needs to go with, say, 5km or more to go. Easier said than done.
Alberto Contador is climbing well and is suited to the long climbs. He matched Froome on La Farrapona and then dumped him to win the stage. For this he’s the prime pick today. He’s in the perfect place and the only worry is his team, he’s not got support during the last half of the final climb. But that’s no problem because few others do and for all Katusha’s strength in numbers the team can’t do much for Joaquim Rodriguez.
Fabio Aru is running out of room for manoeuvre. He is climbing with the best but has had space to go up the road because he hasn’t threatened anyone’s podium place. Now he’s fifth overall but is a menace to Joaquim Rodriguez’s place and Katusha are unlikely to give him much space, perhaps Movistar too will worry.
I tipped Yannick Martinez yesterday and he finished fourth so today’s Frenchman is Warren Barguil. He can climb with the best but has a tendency to attack too much. This has earned him comparisons with Richard Virenque and obviously not for all the wrong reasons, simply the tempestuous, attacking character. If Barguil can contain the instinct to attack too early he might do better.
If there is a breakaway then the likes of Przemo Niemec and Alessandro De Marchi and Daniel Navarro are obvious picks: each has a stage win to the name, each is looking strong in the final week, each can climb well and none are a threat overall. I might have tipped Ryder Hesjedal but he could be on team duty for Dan Martin.
|Alejandro Valverde, Warren Barguil
|Rodriguez, Martin, Niemec, De Marchi, Navarro
TV: As usual the finish is expected for 5.40pm Euro time. The Alto de Folgueiras de Aigas starts around 4.40pm but if there’s a stage to watch as much as possible and experience the rising tension it’s this one.
Daily Díaz: About 20% of the Spanish territory lies 1,000 meters above sea level or higher, but which are the highest points of Spain? The Moncayo Massif (stage 10) reaches 2,314m. Pico Almanzor (in central Spain, not far from Madrid) is 2,592 m high. Torre de Cerredo, in the Cantabrian Mountains, has an elevation of 2,648 m. Aneto is the highest peak in the Pyrenees, at 3,404 m. Mulhacén, in Sierra Nevada, is the highest mountain in the Iberian Peninsula (3,478 m).
But if you want to climb to the top of the country, you must take a flight to the Canary islands: the Teide, a volcano where many riders train their uphill abilities, measures 3,718 m. As you can see, you can find mountains almost anywhere in Spain, which explains how a hilly edition of the Vuelta is possible without visiting the most obvious ranges.
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel