A short, explosive stage of just 118km and a difficult uphill finish await.
Stage 14 Wrap: if they still sold DVDs they’d be selling the film of this stage and it’d be a good buy for sports and tactical students alike. A stage win for Robert Gesink. Nicknamed “the Condor” for his climbing abilities, in recent years Dutch website Het Is Koers have labelled him “the Glass Condor” for his fragility and misfortune but finally it all came together. He joined a giant breakaway of 40 riders which included Movistar’s Dani Moreno meaning Team Sky had to chase. The move thinned down and Gesink looked to have missed the way but hauled himself back on the slopes of the Aubisque to beat FDJ’s Kenny Elissonde and Katusha’s Egor Silin.
Behind Simon Yates jumped clear on the Marie Blanque. Too far from the finish? Normally yes but he had two team mates up the road, a classic relay move but it worked as and ended the day fourth overall just behind team mate Esteban Chaves. Quintana attacked repeatedly on the final climb, five times within a short space, but could not shake Chris Froome which means Quintana leads overall but increasingly Froome looks to be waiting for the time trial to take over. A thriller.
The Route: 2650m of vertical gain, less than some of the “sprint” stages so far but this is a mountain stage condensed into just 118km and much if it on a succession of twisting roads where the gradient keeps changing. The opening climb of the Alto de Petralba is notionally the steepest of the day, 5% for 6km and a steady climb up the valley. The second half is a clone – a repeated theme of this race – of a stage of the past, this time Stage 16 from 2013 when Warren Barguil took his second stage of the race, out-playing Rigoberto Uran on the final slopes. They repeat the Alto de Cotefablo, 12km at 4%.
The Finish: 14km at 4%. But the road rises and falls as it passes through villages and bends around pastures, a challenging climb not for its severity but for the constant changes in slope.
The Contenders: this promises to be a lively and explosive stage, the short distance incentives those who’ve saved energy to expend it today right from the start.
It’s a good day for a breakaway. If persistence brings rewards then Ben Hermans (BMC Racing) is due a stage win, the Belgian is a powerful rider who can excel on hilly mid-mountain courses. FDJ’s Alex Geniez is a pick too, he’s won stages like this and the reduced gradients suit while Geniez’s future team mate at Ag2r La Mondiale Pierre Latour is quietly riding a solid Vuelta and can turn on the power for a finish like this, it’s said he’s better suited to gentler climbs.
Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana are safe picks but the finish might not be hard enough for them. Gianluca Brambilla is climbing well and Alejandro Valverde might dust himself off after yesterday’s minor collapse.
|Ben Hermans, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde
|Latour, Brambilla, Froome, Geniez
Weather: sunshine and some clouds, a top temperature of 31°C in the valleys.