Notionally a crucial time trial, last weekend’s racing saw Nairo Quintana build a big lead over Chris Froome and the Colombian’s margin looks secure. But there’s all to play for with the stage win and Alberto Contador is only handful of seconds off a podium finish this Sunday.
Stage 18 Wrap: a win for Orica-BikeExchange’s Magnus Cort Nielsen. Once the cream of the European U23 crop but it’s taken him a good while to start winning in the World Tour until he won the sprint ahead of Nikias Arndt. Arndt did his sprint in the saddle once again, it’s his thing and he was close but surely this kind of straight and stable power makes him an invaluable lead-out?
The Route: 37km and 330 metres of vertical gain. Many of the roads will familiar to a lot of the peloton as they visit Calp or Calpe for their pre-season training camps. Not that local knowledge matters too much, most of the course is on wide and regular roads where two cars in opposing directions could pass with plenty of room to spare.
The profile suggests the hardest part of the route the climb away from the coast to Benitatxell but this is a regular and steady road. Instead it’s the coastal roads and small capes as they head to La Fustera that are harder because they’re steeper. Overall it’s a fast course for strong riders rather than one for the technical specialists.
The Contenders: Chris Froome‘s chances of a stage win are a lot higher than his hopes of taking over the race lead but one will follow the other. The course suits the Sky rider and rather than flailing around trying to take back seconds in recent days perhaps he’s been resting in order to try and recover minutes. Having taken a bronze medal in Rio he’s not going to have any of the main rivals around in Calpe.
Next come two specialists. First is Movistar’s Jonathan Castroviejo who’ll be interested in a solid ride for several reasons, first he’s a time trial expert so today is his day but he can also set a pace for his Movistar leader Nairo Quintana – who won’t win but should aim for the top-10 – and then he’s said to be on the jobs market too. The second specialist is Giant-Alpecin’s Tobias Ludvigsson.
Alberto Contador can do well but this course may prove too flat for him but every second counts as he looks to overhaul Esteban Chaves, who is just five seconds ahead on GC, and claim a podium finish in Madrid.
Among the outsiders Luis-Leon Sanchez, Leopold König, Andrew Talansky and Victor Campenaerts could cause a surprise.
|Alberto Contador, Jonathan Castroviejo
|L-L Sanchez, König, Ludvigsson
Weather: warm and sunny, a top temperature of 30°C