Stage 3 and the Mirador de Ézaro climb awaits, the first uphill finish of the Vuelta. It’s an established and familiar test that’s arguably harder than the Flèche Wallonne’s Mur de Huy. Promising for Monday.
Stage 2 Wrap: a stage win for Gianni Meersman helped by his team who looked the strongest in a hectic final that was hard to control, a handy result as he tries to a find a team for next year. One more year with Etixx-Quickstep or a move to Fortuneo-Vital Concept, Bahrain-Merdia or elsewhere? Lots to think about. Back to the heat of the sprint and Michał Kwiatkowski got involved and took the red jersey as a reward. Some GC outsiders lost time, Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural) 1m07s; Pierre Rolland (Cannondale) 1m38s and Alex Geniez (FDJ) 3m58s.
The Route: 176km and 2,715m of vertical gain from the naval town of Marín and appropriately most of the stage follows the coastline. Two marked climbs await, the Alto de Lestaio (8.3km at 5.3%) and the Alto das Paxareiras (9.3km at 5.4%) and in between an unmarked climb but with some 7% ramps for 2km.
The Finish: the same as in 2012. The Mirador de Ézaro might have a lowly third category label but it’s a wall bordering on a fortress being 1.8km long at an average of 13.1% and with ramps at 22%. From comparison the Flèche Wallonne’s Mur de Huy is “only” 1.2km at a kinder 9.6%.
A fast approach along the coast leads to the final climb to the finish, a wall of road. It is 1.9km long averages 13% with some sections at 20%. The middle has a concrete section, rougher and slower than normal tarmac. There’s talk of 30% gradients but only if you ride the wrong line through the inside of a hairpin bend when you’ll be so slow there’s time to deploy a theodolite. There are good sections at 20% and if you remove the brief “easy” section with 1km to go then the typical gradient is 17% with double-digit gradients all the way to the finish line, surrounded by wind turbines that spin in the Atlantic breeze.
The Contenders: a short, explosive finish? It’s over seven minutes long making it an intense but awkward climb where pacing and restraint matter as much as explosivity and punch.
In 2012 it was Joaquim Rodriguez back his pomp when he was unbeatable on a finish like this. Nostalgia? No, his victory is informative because he’s the prototype rider for a finish. In his absence this is a good test for Alberto Contador who was second then, has he got the sizzling form of old? The same for Alejandro Valverde who was third in 2012, has he got the zip needed, the passage of time and 71 race days (only 14 riders have more) so far this season mean the question needs to be answered today while Movistar team mate Dani Moreno has excelled in uphill finishes before – he’s won the Flèche Wallonne – but looks slower these days.
Fresher picks are Orica pairing Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates, both pack an explosive finish and surely trump Simon Gerrans who would have been a pick here but surely has to work for the team today? Outsider picks are Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-Quickstep) and Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Drapac). Can Chris Froome win? He was close on the Cumbre del Sol finish last year so he should place but an outright stage win seems unlikely.
Can a breakaway stick? Unlikely because the finish is so important, the first uphill test will mean all teams with overall hopes are on red alert and they will not want to let others take time.
|Alejandro Valverde, Esteban Chaves
|Alberto Contador, Simon Yates
|Brambilla, Froome, Talansky, Moreno, Anton
Weather: sunshine and a top temperature of 28°C.