Vuelta Stage 14 Preview

Labelled by everyone as the Queen Stage of the race, today’s route is packed with climbing and ends with a tough summit finish. Nairo Quintana leads the race but has to take time on Chris Froome. Can he do it?

Stage 13 Wrap: a breakaway of 12 riders rode away and stayed away, finishing almost 34 minutes ahead of a relaxed peloton. The best rider on GC was Cofidis’s Stéphane Rossetto, a strong rider but suffering from a large cut to his leg that tore skin and muscle tissue and so over an hour down overall. Given this the group could have taken more time. As the finish approached the riders traded moves with Valerio Conti proving the best by forcing his way solo. Conti’s a promising rider and a rarity among Italian cyclists as he’s from Rome, pro cycling is big in Italy but not in the country’s capital. You might have seen him during the Giro when he was essential for Diego Ulissi’s stage wins and after finishing this he was still active in the mountains during the Dauphiné. Perhaps it’s genetic, his father was a pro and so was his grandfather, nonno Noé was a team mate of Fausto Coppi no less. Movistar got some flack in the media for not chasing harder but that’ll all be forgotten if – big if – Quintana wins the race overall and in order to do this it was important to save energy for today.

The Route: 196km and a whopping 5,200m of vertical gain, all of which is in France. The first climb is the little-known Col d’Inharpu, never used in the Tour de France but it should be, 11.5km at 7.1% and a scenic, wild climb. The comes a more famous climb, the Col du Soudet but better known to many as La Pierre Saint Martin, the spot where Froome delivered the knock-out attack to his rivals early in the 2015 Tour de France only this time they climb the other side, 24km at 5.2% but irregular and the second half is really 11km at 8%.

A valley section and then comes the Marie Blanque, a mythical climb of the Tour de France that’s famous for its severity, “This is just the mountain I don’t cope with very easily and it seems to defy analysis” said Bradley Wiggins in 2010. It is climbed from its steep side via Escot and the middle of the climb has a long straight section that’s 3km at 12-13%. After the hairpins resume the top is near and there’s a short plateau section across the top. It’s hard but there’s still 40km to go from here so a long range attack is unlikely given the valley roads ahead will allow the stronger teams to chase.

The Finish: a summit finish at the top of the Col d’Aubisque, 16km at 7.1%. Note the irregular gradient, there’s a a gentle start and then a steep 10% moment after 4km marks the start of the harder climbing. The graphic above from the race roadbook says the maximum gradient is 10% but there’s a nasty 13% where the second 10% warning sits. The slope eases in the final kilometre to 6-7%.

The Contenders: Chris Froome or Nairo Quintana? The almost daily iteration of uphill finishes has seen these two emerge as the overall contenders. Quintana seems to be climbing better so far but the two are close but Quintana needs to go clear today and take the stage win for the time bonus to compound any advantage on Chris Froome.

The next wave of contenders include Esteban Chaves, often zippy on small climbs but he’s been saying he’s been prefers the longer climbs and better still stages with a lot of climbing: he’s got his wish here. Alberto Contador knows this climb well having duelled with Michael Rasmussen on the slopes here back in 2007, the Dane won the battle but lost the race after he fled on the rest day leaving Contador to win; such lively riding is impossible but he’s still there on the climbs. Alejandro Valverde should be close too.

Can the breakaway stick? The chances are higher in this Vuelta but we can expect Movistar to take up the pace setting on this stage and they might not leave many crumbs to a breakaway. Still several bigger names have come to the Vuelta with the idea of poaching a stage and the likes of Tejay van Garderen, Pierre Rolland and Thomas de Gendt are obvious picks but infrequent winners, the same for Robert Gesink and Mathias Frank. Among others Astana’s Andrei Zeits seems to be in the form of his life and Hugh Carthy, a man so thin you wonder if Chris Froome feels compelled to offer him an energy bar, has been struggling during the race but should finally be on terrain that suits.

Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome
Esteban Chaves, Robert Gesink
van Garderen, Rolland, Zeits, De Gendt

Weather: hot and sunny with a top temperature of 33°C.

TV: the finish is forecast for 5.40pm. It’s on Eurosport and you can rely on Cyclingfans and for links to feeds and streams.

24 thoughts on “Vuelta Stage 14 Preview”

  1. Ax 3 Domaines 2013. La Pierre St Martin 2015. Aubisque 2016?

    Chris Froome didn’t give us his Pyrenean romp in this year’s Tour. Some may say he didn’t need to. Nairo Quintana didn’t turn up at the Tour this year. But he has turned up at the Vuelta. Yet Froome loves these mountains as previous Tours have shown. But has this stage come too soon or has Froome now retained a measure of his full powers? Was Pena Cabarga a turning point? There are still so many questions remaining about this Vuelta. Isn’t it great? We have a race on our hands and for most of the year this is what cycling fans bemoan that they haven’t got. Today might give us some answers to our Vuelta questions if either Froome or Quintana win big. That might suggest which way this race is going to go. I wrote the other day that I think the pressure is on Quintana. He can’t leave Froome in striking distance with a time trial get out of jail free card in his hand and both he and Unzue (Movistar boss) have suggested that Quintana needs much bigger gains to feel like they have any real cushion. Today is the primary day that these gains are to be had since its the longest finish climb before that time trial. And then there is Contador as the spanner in the works since, by now, its almost soon he jumps first. This is what Contador does. But I doubt either will pay him full attention. Surely he is going to go too soon and fade and they will both pass him on the mountain? I don’t see him as as good as they are anymore and I don’t think the Chaves, Yates, König and Valverdes of the world are better either. So a shootout between the best two grand tour riders in the world. Viva La Vuelta!

    • PS I don’t think Froome needs to win today. That get out of jail free card is still clutched in his paw. He can defend and stay close by (assuming he can survive Nairo’s attacks). A small loss, less than 30 seconds, is no disaster for him. This will heap huge psychological pressure on Quintana and Movistar if the guy they could distance on Camperona and Covadonga cannot now be shaken. But if Quintana can land a huge blow, 1.30+, then its game over. But this surely has to be an outside bet and I’m not even sure if Quintana has ever beat Froome by that much on any stage anywhere. Froome must have climbed the top part of Covadonga faster than Quintana the other day since he closed the gap to him (and left Contador for dust). He beat him on Pena Cabarga (which is not a great comparison but still). As Inrng says in his piece, Froome isn’t that far off Quintana right now. It all tends to suggest a stalemate and a race that will go to stage 2o and the summit of Aitana. And that’s no bad thing.

      • Well I said Froome didn’t need to win and I think I was right. That’s a big chance for Movistar gone out the window. Plus I thought it was nicely played to allow König to move up on GC as well after a tonne of work by Team Sky. Big, big cheers for Simon Yates. What a ride. He will now contest for a podium with his team mate Chaves and probably König too. And it seems Valverde is human after all.

  2. I’m not convinced that Quintana needs that much time. Remember The 37,5 km ITT in The tour where a top (if not peak) form Froome took no more than 2.05 off of an uncomfortable looking Quintana. (Did we ever hear why he rode with his knee out like that?)

    • Quintana is good in the time trials, not the best but solid especially if it’s less than 40km. The Calpe course suits Froome more though as it’s rolling and high speed rather than twisting and hilly but it all makes for a close contest at the moment. Still if Froome is going to be, say, 90 seconds faster that’s still a lot of time for Quintana to take back.

  3. What if the grand tour organisers are getting it wrong with putting more and more climbing in the race? Maybe the way is to have only one or two big climbing stages – then the climbers would have to attack because they wouldn’t have the next day to redeem themselves. This way you eliminate stages like yesterday where they rode tempo all day without attacking.
    Besides sprints in other stages they could put smaller hills close to the finish like in Bilbao or finish on shorter hills – up to 5k long and ensure that with small gaps in the GC the racing would be interesting.
    What do you think?

    • Depends whether you think the organisers are trying to promote a close race with one or two explosive stages that decide everything or one that’s full of scenery that looks good on TV even if the racing fails to match the hype. They’re also looking for ways to advertise the race and ‘taller, faster, harder’ is one easy way to do that. The other problems would include time trials almost certainly becoming more important (yawn), and the big mountain stage would almost certainly be ridden defensively as blowing up certainly means losses you can’t recoup tomorrow.

      I think you’re right though that the current template tends to be a little formulaic in approach, although the Tour appears to be trying to shake things up a little, and that the racing becomes just as predictable. Unfortunately we now have a template for a GT rider and there would be an outcry if the course was designed to give a sprinter an equal shot, The best bet is probably to try and shake up the tactical possibilities – maybe try some of the old ideas again, such as split stages, that mmight encourage someone to roll the dice.

    • I constantly read in cycling forums and under race reports that mountain stages are by far the most interesting/exciting to fans. For many sprint stages are yawnfests that are only about the last kilometer. More climbing would seem to be a response to this kind of thinking if you ask me. Today’s stage is a perfect case in point. And its followed up with another hard MTF tomorrow. What’s not to like?

  4. You think this race hasn’t been interesting? Granted yesterday was boring as hell and, yes, I blame Movistar for effectively making it an unplanned rest day. But it was a one off and the reward is, I hope, full on racing today. And, to be fair, most of this race has been full on and at a fast pace. No one can design the perfect race course which guarantees an interesting race because too much is in the hands of the participants. I see nothing wrong in this Vuelta course really and neither did I in this year’s Tour or Giro.

  5. I’m not sure why people think yesterday was boring. The GC contenders may not have made a move against each other, but there was still a proper race within the break for the stage win. The beauty of a stage race is that there is more to it than just the GC – surely it is unreasonable to expect the GC contenders to spend 21 days trying to batter each other? So when the leaders decide to shut up shop, just enjoy the racing for other competitions rather than worry about a day of stasis at the top of the GC.


    • I’d agree, not every stage has to be raced the same way and seeing the breakaway and their tactics in the finish was different. Plus it meant the GC contenders will start today fresher which means a greater chance of action today and tomorrow.

    • Agree, I wonder if this idea that every day needs to be about the GC contenders stems from the Armstrong years. It’s not unrealistic to keep up that kind of level day in and out. We have had very few ‘boring’ days on the Vuelta and I can handle watching a group of riders who took a chance and made the most of it. Making the most of an opportunity to rest is an important part of the skills and tactics required for a team to win a Grand Tour.

    • It also gave everybody a chance to switch channels for a bit of a change-up and watch some good racing on good racing roads in bad weather while admiring some of my most excellent designs over in Norway.

  6. I feel sorry for La Vuelta, sort of the “red-headed stepchild” of the Grand Tour family. One essay sings its praises while another one says the whole thing needs to be redesigned… even in the middle of the race. Perhaps it’s just the internet’s capacity for everyone and anyone to publish whatever’s in their head at any given moment vs taking any time to really think through their opinion? This NOT a comment on INRNG’s comments section, which is (thank you!) usually free of this, but more a general comment on what else is out there.

    • I thought all the GT courses this year were well designed and offered something different. Definitely superior to the early 90s TdF which I grew up with, I loved them at the time but looking back there seemed to be far fewer mid-mountain stages then. It was just a week of flat stages, couple of mountain stages, rinse and repeat. A shame the likes of Bouhanni, Coquard and Demare weren’t involved though as I think a few DS’s read the course wrong – there were a few stages on offer for sprinters who can get over a small climb.

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