Vuelta Stage 20 Preview

Another day, another summit finish. This is the last decisive stage of the Vuelta and it ends with a giant 21km summit finish.

Stage 19 Wrap: a stage win for Chris Froome which allowed him to reduce his deficit to Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador kicked Esteban Chaves off the podium.

The Route: the summit finish looms large but there’s plenty along the way, a 193km stage with 4,200m of vertical gain. After the start in Benidorm the race heads inland and quickly reaches the first climb. It’s not prime ambush country though, for starters the first climb is steady at 5% for most of the way and it’s also on a lot of roads known to half the peloton thanks to the Vuelta, other races and the numerous pre-season training camps held in the area.

The Finish: labelled as Spain’s version of Mont Ventoux the comparisons work with the rocky scenery and a road leading to a communications tower but not with the ride. This is longer and not as severe. It’s a grind, 21km at 5.9% with the final 6km at 8% for most of the way. It’s uphill almost all the way to the end, only in the final few metres does the road level.

The Contenders: another breakaway? As the final set piece stage any early fugitives might not have it their own way if the main GC teams try to up the pace. Otherwise the usual suspects should appear, think Robert Gesink and George Bennett, Mathias Frank, Ben Hermans, Dario Cataldo, Valerio Conti and Pierre Rolland among others. Watch Kenny Elissonde and Omar Fraile as the mountains jersey is still in play and there’s Thomas de Gendt too, discreet so far but strong on a hilly stage with a long climb like this.

Will Chris Froome take a risk? He’s 80 seconds down on Nairo Quintana so a late attack and the time bonus will bring nothing, either he sits tight and hopes for the stage win or goes for a bold early move and risks a boomerang scenario.

Nairo Quintana has won a stage already but not in the red jersey – David de la Cruz took the jersey for a day – and he’ll fancy his chances on this long climb, just the kind of route where he can deploy his Movistar team like booster rockets before he tries to go clear.

Among the others Alberto Contador has been close on the climbs but never incisive while Esteban Chaves looks sharper but expect the pair to mark each other. As the climb is not so savage it still suits Alejandro Valverde and Gianluca Brambilla.

Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome
Esteban Chaves, Gianluca Brambilla
Valverde, Contador, Gesink, Hermans, Frank

Weather: warm and sunny, a top temperature of 29°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.

29 thoughts on “Vuelta Stage 20 Preview”

  1. I’m sure others will correct me if I’m wrong but this is the first time I can remember Team Sky in such a position on the penultimate day of a grand tour – do they roll the dice or not? I’d like to think they’d go all out and attack earlier but I fear it’ll be a more conservative approach with Froome leaving it too late to claw back the time. Having said that, they aren’t robots, and maybe he just doesn’t have the legs to do such an effort after yesterday’s TT effort.

  2. Froome lay 2nd to Cobo in the Vuelta 5 years ago, Sky weren’t quite the GT machine they are now and the parcours was less challenging on the pun ultimate stage (this is from hazy memory, not Google) – Froome was reduced to going for time bonuses at intermediate sprints from memory.

    Hard to see what they might do here unless one of the other GC contenders goes for a win or bust manoeuvre – and I can think of one who might

    • Froome is quite a different rider now, I feel that while 2nd was big for him then it won’t be for a three time Tour winner, especially with two minutes over third and three and a half over fourth.

    • Yeah, watched that Vuelta and can’t remember the exact details but it never felt that tight this close to the finish? I could be wrong though, maybe it was my perception at the time as all eyes had been on Wiggins until Froome’s unexpected challenge.

  3. I’m really hoping for a great stage today. It’s all down to Movistar to defend and chase so could be interesting when the attacks start to go and we see what the TT took out of the top 4’s legs.

  4. “labelled as Spain’s version of Mont Ventoux”…. ah so Froome is going to run up it?

    What to say about today’s stage? Its very hard for Froome to win. As INRNG says, relying on the last 6kms and the time bonus won’t really help Froome here although I’m fairly sure Team Sky will leave it up to the last mountain to decide their fate. They just have no form or history of very long range attacks. Froome has taken time from Quintana before, of course, but only once 1.21 or more when he took 2.02 out of Quintana at Ax 3 Domaines on stage 8 of the 2013 Tour. At La Pierre St Martin in last year’s Tour he only took 1.04 from the Colombian in about the last 6kms. You get the feeling that the time he needs is at the top end of what’s possible if even Froome was the strongest and Quintana not – which is highly debatable. To be honest I expect Quintana to follow quite easily. If the worst comes to the worst Quintana can pay out the tow rope for a few seconds but not let it snap and win by a reduced margin.

    I wish Froome and Sky were the kind of people who would just say “To hell with it” and kick off from the flag drop and make it a 200kms war. But they aren’t and they won’t.

    • I think you’re probably right, although he might as well go for it as second or fourth in the Vuelta isn’t really any difference for his palmares. Having said that no-one expects epic shocks/turnarounds until they happen, that’s the beauty of them, so we live in hope (nothing against Quintana, I’d just like an exciting final day whoever ends up winning).

      • To His credit, Froome has made many unexpected attacks this year; maybe today they have something to try.

        Everyone is vulnerable today; the only way to tell who’s about to crack is to create stress.

        Teams may not want to finish today’s stage and wish they tried something they left on the table…

        Hoping for fireworks. Hope for more shake ups.

        • The unexpected attacks have been attributed to faulty voltage regulators in the magnetic wheel motors. Team Sky is rumored to be switching to Bosch for 2017 as a preferred vendor given Bosch’s success with diesel emissions spoofing.

  5. I just read that Quintana always podiumed in every stage raced he entered this year, in January, March, April/May, June, July and August/September. Notable continuity. A pity he wasn’t well at the Tour, but perhaps nowadays it’s too hard to perform strongly throughout the whole season.
    Sky tried hard today, but it’s just not in their playbook (yet?). At the end of the day, they made up the kind of stage Quintana excels in, and it was quite apparent on the last climb. But I’d acknowledge that it was worth trying – Quintana complimented them, he said he felt the pressure all the way from scratch to the start of the last climb and credited his own team for a proper defense.
    Gutsy ride by Froome and hats off for wearing himself out, but it’s just incredible how much his level can drop or rise depending on the kind of stage gets developed on the road.

  6. I think Froome deserves a lot of credit. For going for the double, for proving it’s perfectly possible, and for fighting for it all the way. But so does Quintana.

    • Yes, absolutely. I was very impressed with both of their efforts, for different reasons. Still think the edge for TdF has to go to Froome b/c his TT advantage outweighs Q’s climbing advantage (when they’re both on form), but Q is a double tough bastard, no doubt, & I’m looking forward to hopefully another couple years of them going at it.

      • Agreed, yet whereas an ITT is (more or less) an ITT, little to plan or change about that, instead the climbing advantage may vary a lot depending on the way you’ve riddent the rest of the stage. But, again, it’s harder to take a *pure* advantage out of it, because of the whole slipstream thing, which brings us back to the stage-long strategy and the role of the team.

        The two *skills* are really asymmetric and hard to compare to each other, even if to do that is indeed a common, fascinating and historically well-established narrative trope in cycling.

        A different way to race the stages would spread Quintana’s climbing advantage, but that will hardly ever come from his team. It’s telling that, for different reasons, he must “thank”, so to say, Nibali, Contador, Rolland for their role in some of his most relevant climbing victories – as wellas it’s telling that in most of these cases his team asked him to stay back, with more or less success.

        (However, after seeing today’s stage, I also suspect that Quintana was holding himself a little back in the ITT. Perhaps “holding back” isn’t the right wording, more of “not going 110% flat out”. Froome produced an impressive performance and, giving for granted that Froome’s was the best power-distribution along the stage, it’s interesting to observe how extremely regular was Quintana’s time loss. Besides, he took absolutely no risks, whereas Froome was (and rightly so) about to overcook a couple of corners at least).

        Anyway, it must be said that on a *classical* TdF course, Quintana wouldn’t have any hope. It’s simply because they tilted the race a bit towards the climbers that he’s got some chance. It’s not that, before, the Tour was more balanced (quite the contrary: for decades it had been nearly impossible to win the Tour for any lightweight rider. It was a realm for the welter guys or above – even for the podium, more often than not. A first shift was to be seen when super lightweight started to kick in, less than 10 yrs. ago, but the the real change was to be seen only from 2013 on). It’s just that the classical Tour was unbalanced… towards very balanced riders, a very definite body type, and it just worked like that.
        Recently, they started to copycat the Giro, which has traditionally offered a chance to a broader range of physical types (despite the occasional *climbing ossession* which might last for some 2-3 editions in a row). I don’t know what to think about this evolution… on the one hand, we’re getting better Tours more often than not (2016 not included!), on the other hand I feel like the Tour is losing part of its “personality”, so to say.

        • I’d add that Quintana clearly took great advantage of his PM during the ITT. Which doesn’t make me more favourable to the use of such a tool while racing.

  7. And what a team performance by Orica… this is great racing, not just because of the results but for the way they built it up, too.
    Podium both at the Giro and the Vuelta (with a great Chaves), the Yates brothers getting top-5 or thereabouts at the Tour and, again, at the Vuelta.
    And the stages victories! (I prefer not to think again about the Roubaix, yet).
    Less victories than in previous year, but a great step up in quality and a true all-around team, now.
    I also like the way they’ve building up their young talents.
    Personally, I’m not utterly fond of a thing or two about the team (not at all concerning the riders), but this has been a *huge* season.

    • Orica had a couple of nice relay moves in this Vuelta, which I don’t think we have seen too many successful attempts at lately.
      Was it due to superior tactics and brilliant legs or was it just that Movistar is not as good as the Sky A-team at controlling the race? Where Sky locks everything down Movistar seemed to focus solely on Chris while letting the others fight for the scraps.
      Anyhow it made for some good racing.

    • Astanas strategy was to for GC with Lopez. When that hope faded they tried for a decent GC result with Scarponi and for stage wins with LL Sanchez. On the 20th stage, it seems they decided to prioritize stage win, as Sanchez would otherwise have been valuable help for Scarponi. It might have been a case of fading at the end of three weeks for a rider that wasn’t set up as a GC guy from the start.
      Anyway – you cannot blame a team for trying on stage #15, even if they fail on #20.

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