A flat coastal procession past white sandy beaches and inviting bays but it’s all a warm up for the double ascension of the Puig Llorença with its double-digit gradients and another Made-For-TV stage finish.
Stage 8 Wrap: the stage win to Jasper Stuyven. Once cited as the new Boonen – these labels weigh as much as rucksack full of bricks – he’s been serving his apprenticeships in the spring classics and the Cresta del Gallo wasn’t his kind of terrain. But never give up and the 23 year old made it over top of the climb at the back of the group and just closed the gap over the top and hid in the bunch before a clever ride in the finish, positioning himself on the right wheels and riding steady when others were surging before launching his sprint.
The day was marked by a crashes too. A big one took out Dan Martin, Tejay van Garderen and Nacer Bouhanni and many others with Kris Boeckmans being placed in an artificial coma after suffering many injuries including a brain injury.
A late moto manoeuvre sent Peter Sagan flying when he was in contention for a stage win, earning him a fine after he lashed out with punches and kicks to his bike, the race medical car and more.
The Route: another stage where it’s all about the finish. We could criticise the race for the way the action is concentrated so late but it’s good to have this kind of action in the first place. It does however ensure a 120km warm-up procession to the day’s difficulty, the Puig Llorença, 3.3km at 8.9% but crucially with some steep 15% sections. The race graphic above says 19% but this seems to be a Mandelbrot moment (coastlines and all that) and the slope is more 15% on the steep parts. Either way it’s enough to rob momentum and make it a very hard climb.
The Finish: the climb up the Puig Llorença again but with the final 750m they fork left on a new road to the finish line, 4.1km at 8.9% and the stretch to the finish line includes more double-digit gradients including a reported 26% section. They’ll be catching the riders across the line.
The Contenders: what about Esteban Chaves? If he’s got that light smile he’s also looking so easy on the bike and this time he need only match everyone before El Chavito pounces with 100m to go.
The more dependable choice is Joaquim Rodriguez who seems to be looking better and better in the race and this kind of steep finish is made for him. Team mate Dani Moreno didn’t look so hot on Friday’s summit finish but could feature. Alejandro Valverde is an obvious pick too. Fabio Aru and Rafał Majka complete the first wave of candidates but these two look safer picks for longer mountain passes.
Domenico Pozzovivo, Nicolas Roche, Mikel Landa, Louis Meintjes and Nairo Quintana are all featuring in this race but not looking so threatening for the stage win yet.
Can a breakaway stay away? It’ll be hard with Katusha, Movistar and others leading the chase across benign terrain and there’s the paradox of a breakaway needing to be powered by some big rouleurs to stay away but the finish suits a pure climber, why would a large rider try a move if they’re going to get worked over. Still in the all rounder category we have riders like Steven Cummings who we know is on form.
|Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde
|Dani Moreno, Fabio Aru, Esteban Chaves
|Majka, Pozzovivo, Roche, Landa
Weather: warm with a top temperature of 32°C and a few clouds.
Daily Díaz: Welcome to the Costa Blanca, the White Coast! A traditional tourist destination both for Spaniards and foreigners, its resources are a mild climate all year long, different types of coastline, low to medium difficulty mountain hiking routes, some protected natural spaces, cultural heritage dating back to the BC era, and molta festa (a lot of party). You can practise several kinds of tourism, but of course the sol y playa is the most popular one. Welcoming millions of tourists every year, however, takes its toll: sometimes there is not enough water, the traffic jams can be exasperating, the natural spaces are shrinking, and job positions can be scarce in the winter months. If you can choose, come here in the spring, before the temperatures are too hot and the crowds too big. See more at youtube.
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel