The final mountain stage of the Vuelta a España and the last throw of the dice for Fabio Aru and Astana who want to dislodge Tom Dumoulin from the top step of the podium in Madrid tomorrow.
Stage 19 Wrap: A stage win for Alexis Gougeard. The neo-pro still had the power in reserve after a busy opening week going in the breaks. His problem if we can call it as such is his endless energy. This has been an issue for his team where they’ve struggled to focus him and contain his instinct to attack. Behind in a lively run into Avila Tom Dumoulin took time on Fabio Aru. The three second gain is symbolic more than real in that Dumoulin has shown he can still punch past the others rather than being reduced to following the wheels. He’ll have slept better last night.
The Route: almost an out and back route as the race heads out on one road and then returns on it for much of the way back to the finish so when you see the Puerto de Navacerrada and the Puerto de Morcuera listed twice each time it’s once up and then down each side rather than the same climb twice. At 175km this isn’t a short sprinty stage but the pointy profile doesn’t quite make this a full mountain stage, the climbs are moderate. They’re 10km long and 5-6% and little more, a few steep sections but nothing wild. Note the intermediate sprint at 141.5km and its 3-2-1 second time bonuses.
The final climb of the Puerto de Cotos is a gentle climb of 10km at 5.5% and the steep gradients mentioned in the profile above must be the max measurable for the briefest of moments as it’s not so steep. It’s chased by a 7km flat section before the descent, ideal for Tom Dumoulin to hunt down Fabio Aru.
The Finish: after a long descent the road rises to the finish line. There’s a sharp bend with 500m to go and then the road kicks up with a short steep rise to the line. Not enough to make six seconds difference but with time bonuses in play it’ll be close.
The Contenders: a good chance we get two races for the price of one with a breakaway going clear from the start and then the GC riders clashing afterwards. Astana may want to rip up the race but they can’t afford to do this too early otherwise they’re isolated, better to start the fireworks on the second climb back to the Puerto de Morcuera. They’ll hope that a lot of hungry teams fight hard to go clear prompting a raging battle from the start. If a move drifts clear without trouble then it’s advantage Dumoulin.
Alejandro Valverde was looking frisky yesterday and now he can bide his time and try to snipe the stage win after marking the others on the climbs. He’s the obvious pick for his combination of climbing and sprinting. If not Joaquim Rodriguez might have a consolatory stage win and there’s a chance for Esteban Chaves and Rafał Majka. Given Tom Dumoulin must only follow the moves he’s freed from taking risks, wasting energy and being chased down so if he can sit tight he could be a stage winner too. It’s hard to see Fabio Aru winning because he may want to use up his energy before the finish in order to dislodge Dumoulin. Otherwise see Alessandro de Marchi, Nicolas Roche, Vasil Kiryienka, Rodolfo Torres and for some breakaway suggestions.
How to beat Tom Dumoulin? Normally Astana would crank up the pace climbs before trying to launch Fabio Aru but this linear, predictable method is no way to shake the stoic Dutchman off Aru’s wheel. Instead Astana need to fire riders up the road and then have Aru use them as relay points, no sooner do they get 50 metres then he can jump across and then get a tow. It’s the stop-start action that might prove too much for Dumoulin but hill-reps are hard enough on a good day with fresh legs, yet alone on a 175km mountain stage after three weeks of racing at the end of a long season.
|Joaquim Rodriguez, Rafał Majka
|Dumoulin, Aru, Roche, Kiryienka
Weather: a cool and cloudy start with the sun appearing later and a top temperature of 19°C with a 20km/h wind from the SW.
Daily Díaz: Several mountain passes communicate both parts of Spain’s Inner Plateau across the Central System (Sierra de Madrid, as locals call it): Navacerrada, Morcuera and Cotos are just three of them. These roads have been in use since the Roman Empire times, and in the 20th century new highways were projected, only to realize that digging tunnels was, actually, quite a good idea. In today’s picture you can see a hypsometric curve of Spain, where you can check that 90 % of the country is over 200 m above sea level, 50 % is over 700 m, 20 % is over 1,000 m, and 5 % over 1,400 m. Remember, Spain is a mountainous country, although its highest peak is not in the mainland, but in the Canary Islands.
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel