Vuelta Stage 11 Preview

Up and down all day and the race crosses above 2,000m, today’s stage has a y-axis of evil. Some are even calling it the hardest stage ever, a debatable idea but a sign that today’s route is something special.

The Route: a veritable tour of Andorra, the microstate sat high in the Pyrenees. The principality has a main axis road running through it and the route borrows sections of this as it links up smaller sideroads which form the climbs and descents. Put another way every climb is a secondary road with irregular gradients and mixed road surfaces and some are quite narrow.

  • Collada de Beixalis, 6.5km at 8.7% : We’ll quickly find out who had a best rest day as race tackles the first climb of the day which includes some ramps at 12-14%
  • The Col d’Ordino, 9.9km at 7%: the most regular climb of the day with a wide road and an engineered feel to it all
  • Coll de la Rabassa, 13.8 km at 6.6 %: another regular climb but with a steeper first half
  • Collada de la Gallina, 11.7 km at 8.5 %: a feature in recent Vuelta visits to Andorra and a tough climb with some 16-18% sections. It’s very twisting too, a climb
  • Alto de la Comella: 4.4km at 7.8%: a shorter climb but with little recovery time as it leads straight to the finishing climb

The Finish: the final climb is 8.6km and averages 9% but this eases before the finish and the gradients in the profile above appear a tough too high.

The Contenders: it’s very difficult to pick a winner, today’s stage will be instructive and tell us plenty about the contenders…

Of Movistar’s co-princes Nairo Quintana is the best climber on paper so what better stage for him? He’s been aggressive in the race so far but has yet to exude the certainty we saw during the Tour de France. He’s often good in cold conditions so the weather today suits him. There’s a good chance the stage is seen as too hard and the GC riders track each other, riding fast but saving the attacks for late. If there’s a group coming into the finish then Alejandro Valverde is always good for the sprint especially as he’s experienced enough to deal with a tricky stage like today.

On such a hard stage Fabio Aru‘s freshness will count for plenty and while others were racing he’s been at altitude so today’s high altitude course is ideal for him. If anything today is a question of restraint, he’s attacked a few times in the race but hasn’t got much to show for it and could get carried away with too much too soon. He suffered in the Giro at times when it was cold but was this coincidence or the sign of a real problem?

Chris Froome is the mystery man. Dropped on the only real mountain stage so far, the summit finish at La Alpujarra he put this down to feeling empty and a off-day and quickly correct matters the next day with his steady pacing to put time into all his rivals. It means there’s still a question mark over him. In some ways he need only track his rivals knowing he can save energy for the time trial and use this to pull out a lead instead but that’s not his style, he’s at times impulsive and if he has the legs he’ll go for it, at least on the last climb.

Joaquim Rodriguez is the home pick having moved to Andorra a few years ago and he’s become so embedded there’s a marcha in his own name in the principality and he even helped with the design of today’s course. He’s a good climber who’s best on the steep slopes and will be aided by a strong Katusha team with Dani Moreno as an outsider for the stage win too. But he’s been chasing the wheels all week, is this because he’s brought his diesel legs for today or because he’s not the force he once was?

It’s not a stealth pick but Rafał Majka doesn’t seem to be in the limelight like everyone else. But when Fabio Aru attacked on La Alpujarra Majka led the chase and won the sprint from the group suggesting he’s in good form.

We could have two races for the price of one with a furious start as riders try to crowd the day’s breakaway. So far all the names above are interested in the overall classification and they’re likely to huddle until late in the stage. But there are riders up for the stage win and a points raid for the mountains jersey and those down on the GC will try to launch on the first climb. Here we can think of most of Europcar, Colombia and Caja Rural, notably Pierre Rolland, Rodolfo Torres and Amets Txurruka but more too. Kenny Elissonde, Kristijan Đurasek are the pick of the climbers because they’ve been aggressive in the race already while Darwin Atapuma is a big talent who can take his chances now there’s no leader to toil for.

A few other names to conjure with include Cameron Meyer, another adopted local and the Australian was once Orica-Greenedge’s GC hope but is having to prove his place in the team. Joe Dombrowski‘s come for a stage win and is climbing well. Natnael Berhane is a powerful climber for MTN-Qhubeka and coming into form in the recent Tour of Utah.

Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome, Fabio Aru
Rafał Majka, Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez
Pozzovivo, Atapuma, Dombrowski, Elissonde, Đurasek, Rolland

Weather: cool with a top temperature of 18°C, a big change. There’s also the chance of rain and even a thunderstorm.

TV: live from the start at 1.40pm Euro time to the finish at 5.40pm Euro time. It’s on Eurosport and you can rely on Cyclingfans and for links to feeds and streams.

Daily Díaz: Andorra is a mini-­Switzerland in the Pyrenees instead of the Alps. Why is it so? It’s a landlocked country in a very mountainous area, doesn’t belong to the EU but has a very close relationship with, there’s money of dark origins hiding from tax controllers, and many of its inhabitants have been born elsewhere (a great part of them in Portugal, actually) [INRNG: it’s also becoming a popular tax haven for cyclists too].

A classic smuggling object through the national borders is tobacco, just google “andorra contrabando​t​abaco”​and you’ll get thousands of results. Last but not least, the official language of this sovereign country is Catalan, which makes it not just a “regional” language (as it is considered inside Spain) but a “national” one, with a UN member state backing it (along with its 85,000 inhabitants).

Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel


68 thoughts on “Vuelta Stage 11 Preview”

  1. Brutal. Will Movistar send one of their captains (Quintana presumably) all-in from the start? If not the break looks promising and Dombrowski won’t mind the altitude.

    • I can’t see Movistar doing that, or indeed any of the other GC teams.
      There’s the unknown dynamic of coming off the rest day. Sky were great at the Tour but can they repeat that today ?
      Geraint Thomas seems to have been a strange pick in hindsight, given his apparent tiredness.
      Aside from looking at the varied possible winners, what of Dumoulin, Chaves, Landa, and Purito himself who will surely want to put on a good show ?
      It should make for great viewing. Can’t wait.

      • Geraint is riding here for a few reasons, none of which (given his lack of racing between the Tour and here) is about him being one of the last Sky men on the climbs, but more about his development as one of the 3 main Sky riders next year ie

        – doing two GTs in one season for the first time to see how he handles it
        – riding into form for the Worlds
        – the belief by Sky that the Vuelta sets you up nicely for the following season

        He’s doing his work before the final kms of the final climbs. Froome and Roche have Henao and Nieve to help them. If Froome doesn’t win the Vuelta, its not the end of the world as its a brucie bonus for Sky after the Tour. And if he doesn’t win, it wont be because Thomas isn’t one of the last two team mates with him on deciding climbs at this race.

        • Thomas to be the new Porte in 2016? Gets to lead at the Giro with someone like Koenig as his number 2/super domestique, then backs up as Froome’s last man in the TDF?

          • He and Sky just have to work out how to reconcile his love for the classics especially RVV, with prep for the Giro, in that scenario.

            Challenge is that the Tour’s the GT that best suits him.

            Still, next step is to be able to finish high up on GC in a GT – irrespective of the GT.

          • Good points. You have to love the romance of one guy today trying to do what Merckx/Hinault/Kelly did and being strong in grand tours, stage races and the classics, but you sort of fear that in the current environment where everything is hyper-specilised that sooner or later he’ll have to give focus on one type of race and give up on the others.

          • Well there you go. Be interesting to see if next year Thomas turns up to the Tour Down Under which is more a lead in for classics riders whereas the GC guys tend to start their season a bit later and in Europe.

          • Sam, good info. If Thomas’ route next year is GT’s, where do you see Mikel Landa ?
            Will he become a Froome climbing super-domestique or a GT contender in his own right ?

          • Can’t see Thomas ever being any better than the Portes, Talanskys, Urans and TVGs of this world, when it comes to GTs – better to focus on one day races and maybe win something.

  2. A fascinating little Daily Diaz today.
    I have just been looking at an (albeit older) article on tobacco smuggling which suggests that much of it was sold to Andorra in the first place by British tobacco companies !
    Thankfully that it is one vice that I have avoided, so c’est la vie.

    Interesting snippet on the Catalan background to Andorra also.
    I am aware of a desire for Catalan independance ; does Andorra play a role in this ?

    • The principality remains a giant draw because it has a very low VAT/Sales Tax so people drive to collect cigarettes, electronic goods and more and in the winter people stay for the weekend/week for skiing. It’s been popular with dodgy doctors and various athletes including cyclists because you could buy EPO over the counter in a pharmacy with no questions asked, tax-free.

    • Jordi Pujol, the “father of Catalan nationalism”, is known for having some bank accounts in Andorra. There you got the link with Catalan background…

      (by the way, his political party -CDC- is currently investigated fro a 3% commission rule on all public contract).

  3. Brutal stage but the hardest, no! I remember from the 2011 Giro the stage where it was 240km and even higher mountains and Nieve won in the rain after over 8 hours… That stage took place after 2 brutal mountain stages, the day before the riders had to go up the zoncolan!!

  4. There is an assumption that Froome might not be climbing the best but he’ll get time back on the TT.
    After last years Vuelta, where he lost a minute to Contador on the first ITT, it seemed to me that if his climbing form isnt fully there, then his TT form isn’t either.

    That TT had one 3rd cat climb but was mostly downhill

    • Yeah, I made this same point on a forum the other day.

      IF the stage when he dropped 30-40+secs wasnt a one off, jour sans, its far from nailed’on that he’ll blow everyone away in the TT to the tune of minutes

      But as is often the cast with him its been impossible to tell with any degree of accuracy where he is. Till after today’s stage, I’d imagine.

      • wasn’t his time loss due to poor pacing; he went off too fast and paid the price later on. Not sure any of the other GC contenders have Froome’s TT skills even on top form although Quintana is surprisingly good in the discipline. However he is also showing some post tour fatigue.

        No doubt it’s a killer day and ALL live on Eurosport what a feast! After a hard training ride last night I’m looking forward to some pre-recorded sofa time tonight! Please guys, don’t dis-appoint.

        • Nairo’s good when its a lumpy TT or an uphill job.

          The stage 17 is pretty flat and long. One for those who can put down the power. Not really playing to Nairo’s 59kg…

        • The only season where he’s pretty much blown everyone else away in TTs in every one of his stages races was his 2013 season.

          Otherwise, he can be variable. On song, he takes it. Not on song, doesnt happen.

          • Neither that year was he really blowing everyone else away in every TT nor in every stage race, even if we reduce the “everyone else” to GC contenders (as it is fair, indeed).

            I remember a winning but not-so-devastating performance in the last TT of the Tour. It was a rather hilly course, indeed, albeit more favourable to powerful-instead-of-pure climbers, and, above all, he had already some 4′ over the nearest GC men. No need to burn himself out. However, he was slightly faster then Contador or a life-form, to say so, Purito (sic!), mere 10″ over the two. He inflicted less than 1″/km to Valverde. Quintana tracked about 1′ behind.
            He wasn’t that impressive in the flat Tirreno ITT, either, beaten by Amador or Castroviejo. He landed about 1-1,5″/km on Contador and Nibali, which was very good but, by far, no Mont-Saint-Michel. He proved himself an excellent time triallist, just shy from Cancellara, besting Dumoulin or Dowsett (who were performing like Nibali), but he didn’t exploit his full potential, especially if we consider his attitude for 10′ bursts of effort.

            Thus, I went and looked up some other references. The Criterium International didn’t present many GC contenders and was really short, but I’d say it was comparable to the Tirreno ITT. He set a time along with his main rivals, the worst of whom was Mollema, 1,5″/km back. Van Garderen beat him of an eyelid. Same goes for the Romandie, little better than Spilak, just 1,5″/km over the other GC rivals like Rui Costa, Danielson, Peraud. Whereas in the Dauphinée I’d say he was finally notable, blowing away rivals like Dani Moreno, Dani Navarro, Fuglsang, Valverde… 2,5″/km or more, especially on a sinking Valverde (did something happen to him?). He was well far from Tony Martin, as “nature” would require, but he was up there with in-form Castroviejo and Dennis. Then, the Tour and then – nothing. No need to include the Vail ITT in the USA Pro Challenge, I’d say ^___^

            Hence, I’d say that the absoluting impressive and rivals-blasting Froome ITT-wise was the one we saw in the totally flat stages of the Tour 2012-2013, plus the 2011 Salamanca stage at the Vuelta (only there, since the previous TT, that year, were quite a disaster, as his overall performance, in fact) and the Olympic games.
            It looks like a rider who has got a fine natural attitude but not a specific preminence which brings him right on the top or around on every single occasion – nor in most of them (it’s mainly a question of prep choices, weight among other things). What shines brightly, anyway, is his ability to overperform in the most important circumstances, those stages/races which he probably “circled in red” and in which he’s competing, as Sam says, in top form.

            Accurate preparation will surely be adopted towards the Burgos ITT, top form is difficult to achieve after the Tour. We’ll maybe see if what matters the most is preparation or form, given that until now the two things went, more or less, always the one along the other.

            PS The ITT Vuelta troubles, last year, were greatly due to driving skills. I’ve defended often that Froome isn’t a bad descender as it is (or was) commonplace to say, but he sure had problems that time. However, I noted that he’s generally better on his normal bike than than on the TT bike when driving skills are concerned (did he switched them on that stage? Can’t remember). Moreover, the falls he endured that year surely affected him. On a side note, I’d even say that he’s better… descending than driving the bike, if any difference can be stated between the two.

        • On a flat TT, Quintana is weak (see last year’s Giro – although he was a bit sick, apparently, it was a very poor performance compared with Uran: 2 min 40 sec down). Unless he can significantly improve, I think this is going to cost him a lot of grand tour victories, potentially including this one.

  5. Really liking forward to this stage. I’m fairly new to La Veulta, having started watching last year and I love the ultra attacking we’ve seen from the contenders and a lack of real control that we see from Sky and others at Le Tour. Quintana could make a real statement here – think a better version of his Alpe d’Huez attempt earlier this year – if he’s got the legs. Regardless, can’t wait to get home from work and watch this. Better not check the internet this afternoon so I don’t spoil my viewing!

    • The 2011 Vuelta was the first GT I ever watched so maybe I’m biased but I always enjoy it. I managed to avoid the live text/twitter for stage 9 this year and it made the highlights so much more enjoyable and exciting. Good luck, I don’t think I’ll be able to resist today!

  6. This could be a bit of a day for long heli shots of the region, and moutain goats (real ones) grazing on cliff faces.
    I would not expect the riders to go hard from the gun and given the modren style of racing, i.e. wait for the final 500 meters of the final hill to attack this will be a day for the break away’s.
    As I write I think the last time I can remember an early GC contender breakaway was about 10 years ago when Floyd did his thing…great to watch on the day, but in hindsight, enough said.

  7. Will Quintana learn from his mistakes in the Tour and attack early this time?
    That’s his primary advantage – and would cement his position as team leader.
    If it worked out…

    • …. or it could be stage 2 all over again only much worse. Going too early today could ruin your chances of achieving anything at this race. It really is a case of hang on for as long as you can. Then, if a race breaks out on the last climb, so much the better.

      • I’d say those tactics would favour Froome, not Quintana, if the Tour is anything to go by.
        I think the biggest factor will be their respective preparation for this race: Froome may come to regret all those criteriums.
        Another very big factor – as we saw in the Tour – will be Movistar’s tactics. Will they again hold Quintana back to protect Valverde?

  8. This is quite an unusal design for a Vuelta stage, but it is good to see such routes with successive climbs. Of course, they are not 1000m+ elevation climbs as in the Tour or in the Giro (no Alps in Spain), but the climb are sufficiently hard and numerous to be a real mountain stage (and not only a monoclimb finish). I still believe that Purito has lost explosivity but may be able to maintain a much longer effort. It is my pick for today along with Aru.

  9. There has been the suggestion from some that the Vuelta to date has been something like a collection of set-piece one-day races rather than a three week race with a coherent narrative. Expect the narrative to begin today, as we’re surely about to find out who the genuine contenders are. Aru has made little inroads with his brief attacks so far but I’ve always had a feeling that his relative freshness will come into play once the race hits the big stuff. It’s crunch time.

  10. what makes this so hard in my opinion is not just the overal elevation gain but the fact that it looks like there’s very little riding on flat valley roads which you often find in the Giro and Tour in the high mountains. This makes it easier for teams to stick together and discourages attacks because riders no how hard it is between the climbs.

    The apparant lack of flatter roads and the frequency of the climbs means this will be very hard. I’d expect the leading GC riders to stay together until later in the race but it could be a big opportunity for rides lower dos the GC to make a major move earlier in the stage like De Ghent did in the Grio a few years back. Look out for Samu Sanchez and Pozzovivo who may be given some leeway. Sky’s best tactic might be to put pressure on the other teams by sending Nieve or Henao up the road.

  11. Cycling isn’t a one man sport. It’s not about Quintana himself attacking on the first climb, nor half-stage from the finish. If he does, I may cheer on him and if he succeeds it would be great, but that’s not the point, nor was it in the Tour. The point is how they will use the team – Valverde, sure, but not just him. Moving the right gregari early on, through a good breakaway and/or pacing the peloton as it’s more suited to Quintana. Let’s see, things are on the move right now.

  12. I think Froome will be found out today.

    What I’d like to see is Dombrowski show well, opening up possibilities with Garmin for the future. And with Rolland in the mix, headed to Garmin, maybe that will motivate in also… Altitude? This is not altitude for Joe.

    There will be weakness, bluffed weakness, and those taking advantage of other’s.

    • He fell down in the neutralised zone. Then five minutes ago while he was receiving “mechanical help” (aka magic spanner) from the team car… he was nearly thrown down and driven over by the same team car because of an hairpin! Good luck to Joe, getting to the finish line today will be like winning.

      • Except the coverage I saw showed that (a) it was only a very brief mechanical help and (b) did not involve Froome hanging on to the team car or getting any forward assistance/rest. I am working (unfortunately) rather than just watching so I may have missed another instance, I acknowledge.

        Certainly nothing like Nibs’ rocket boost. And I note that Gabriele hasn’t linked the two.

        • Misunderstanding here… I was speaking of Joe Dombrowski, whom I thought the previous commenter was mostly interested to.
          I try not to post news about what everyone in the race can see, I made a couple of comment about info that weren’t on video but have been broadcast by the Spanish TV thanks to the in-race moto journalist 😉

    • Though I dislike him, it’s a shame that Froome never got to show us what he had or didn’t have. I imagine it’s just the extra attention at the moment, but it seems as if there are more crashes and moto/support car accidents than usual.

      • Crashing in the easiest part, first 5k of this stage is a clear showing to me what he hadn’t. Bike handling skills. Unforced error, nobody else crashed there. Just that easy.

        • What you mean is we didn’t see anyone else involved. According to reports he was knocked by another rider but without any video we’ll probably never know what exactly happened.

  13. The Spanish TV moto commentator collected some voices about Quintana being ill, with fever and all. They asked Movistar who didn’t confirm anything and said that anyway… “hoy ya no tiene fiebre” (“today he hasn’t got any fever anymore”). ¡Ay ay ay!

    • +1 Thanks for these reports. Here in the “colonies” our choices seem to be the US TV knucklehead or the British Eurosport guy who is really starting to annoy me. I wish someone would slip him an anti-diarrheal for the mouth!!! Gotta figure out a way to pirate a broadcast with ITALIAN commentary I guess?
      Meanwhile another guy gets taken out by a moto? I thought ASO owned this race. All the competent, experienced guys from LeTour must be on holiday and the 3rd stringers are in-charge here? It would be a joke except guys are getting injured and the race results are being affected. And we hear nothing from the UCI?

      • I thought yesterday, that this will get only worse now: The riders don’t trust the motos anymore, the motos don’t trust the riders anymore, this will only lead to more complicated situations. Because trust is needed in these situations. Oh, and how I would just simply love, if Team Tinkoff-Saxo would leave the race, just to don’t hear/read sayings of oleg tinkov anymore. You can’t even watch tv these days without getting disturbed by his tweets, which are shown on Eurosport – how did this happen??? Although I would feel sorry for the riders, if they had to stop.

  14. Some of the most tedious hours of cycling I’ve watched in some time. As feared/suspected. (Even Flecha, before the start, said the GC contenders would wait until the final climb, which they virtually did.)
    I suppose if all the other stages are monoclimbs then you can just treat this one as the same – a greater variety of stages is more likely to produce adventurous riding. ASO need to watch the Giro.
    And time bonuses only encourage this type of racing.
    You have to do things to stop the riders riding like automatons.

    Then, when something finally did happen – the Valverde/Purito attack on the descent – on UK Eurosport we missed a lot of it due to two advert breaks. The TV directors (and they do this habitually) have to learn that the descents are not always the best time to go for adverts – particularly if the riders are just trundling up the hills. (We even missed the cyclists having problems with the moto drivers.) As for showing us Flecha’s recce of the final climb as the leading riders attacked each other on it, someone needs to take their head out of their @rse. (And, yes, I have sent this to Eurosport.)

    From long before the TDF I’ve been saying that Valverde and Rodriguez should have focused on the Vuelta and not done the Tour, which they had no chance of winning.

    Sky pushing the pace for ages, before Froome cracked – reverse psychology gone horribly, horribly wrong? (Any Spanish speakers care to enlighten us what Froome shouted at the moto? Perhaps the moto driver said ‘Try looking where you’re going, you clod’.)

    Very impressed with the Spanish police throughout this Vuelta (I’d very much like to see the French do something similar) – perhaps they can go to work on the moto drivers.

    Apologies for the negativity, but 4.5 hours of Kirby will do that to anyone. How many times did he say the word ‘Atapuma’?

    • It was Italian not Spanish. His years there at Barloworld, I guess. He was swearing (or “blaspheming” if you prefer). An expression not uncommon in some regions of Italy, still seen as an *heavy* and a bit inconsiderate way of cursing (in football, you’re straight out if the referee hears you on the field) – attributing to some supreme being a porcine nature… 😉

    • Don’t know if it’s what you mean or if it was tongue-in-cheek but… It *is* a Granfondo (“marcha”), indeed.
      To be more specific, it’s “La Purito”. Have a look here:
      It was held this year for the first time.
      In fact, before the start of the stage, Purito commented: “If tonight any of my colleagues should complain about the route I [contributed to] draw, well, I’ll make them speak with some of the 1,200 amateurs/cyclotourists who happily finished it and said they were just charmed”.
      He acknowledged that he was joking, it’s not like he doesn’t know the difference 😉

  15. Thanks for that. Can’t get the thing to play on this Italian internet connection ( have just spent 30 minutes unsuccessfully trying to order some new cleats). Now if only can get the time off and a pass from the missus purito can sign me up for 2016.

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