Vuelta a España Stage 5 Preview

The first of two consecutive mid-mountain stages, today’s route offers a good course on familiar roads for many in the peloton and race convoy before a tricky uphill finish that is twice as steep as it looks.

Matteo Trentin, Tarragona

Stage 4 Review: a sprint win for Matteo Trentin. What ever the Vuelta may be – more on this later today – it is not a big draw for the sprinters. But want a grand tour stage win? A world tour win? Then go for it in the Vuelta. Trentin makes Quick Step’s Vuelta even better.

The Route: familiar roads for many because this takes place on roads used by many teams for pre-season training camps. The climbs are steady, lots of 4-5% until the Coll de la Bandereta, listed as 4.6km at 7.6% but with some brief double-digit sections.

The Finish: uphill. The roadbook says 3.3km at an average gradient of 4.2%… the reality is 3.6km at 8.8% including some long 10% sections, a good example of why the first rule of stage previews is binning the roadbook. This is a sharp uphill finish on a twisting road that climbs quickly from the coastal resort to a chapel.

The Contenders: Julian Alaphilippe was supposed to win Stage 3 but finished way down instead. Still this kind of uphill finish suits him and the form isn’t absent, he’s been working hard for his team and had a good Vuelta a Burgos. Otherwise Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) are obvious picks for the uphill finish. Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) could be close too. There are already big time gaps so Sky could be happy to let an non-threatening move go clear but who to pick for the breakaway?

Chris Froome, Esteban Chaves, Julian Alaphilippe
Woods, Poels, Moscon, Bardet, de la Cruz

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

TV: It’s on La1 in Spain and Eurosport around much of the world and often on the same broadcaster you watch the Tour de France on. The finish forecast for 5.40pm CEST.

Daily Díaz: Benicàssim and Alcossebre are only 30 km away along the busy coastal roads, but the race heads inland to pay a visit to the Maestrat area, where guerrillas were active during the 19th and 20th centuries. Benicàssim might ring a bell if you’re into music, with the FIB festival held every July since 1995. The finish line is uphill, in the southern end of the Natural Park of Serra d’Irta. This mountain range is not very high (572 m above the Mediterranean), but has protected about 20 km of the coast from the voracious building frenzy happened in Spain in the last 20 years. The views from the top are spectacular: you’ll enjoy both the mountains and the sea while hiding from the sun in abandoned castles or watch towers. Totally worth a visit. Just north of the Serra d’Irta lies Peníscola, or, if you watch Game of Thrones, Meereen.

Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel

63 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Stage 5 Preview”

  1. Money on Froome today. Could his taking bonus seconds and the way his team and the man himself attacked the final climb on stage 3, indicate they see his peak form and, TT aside, most effective opportunity to take time being the first half of the race? Thanks for the great insight INRNG into the reality of today’s finale… Looking forward now to another exciting finish that didn’t seem there on paper!

    • This is the second time I’ve seen the “Froome’s peak form might be in the early part of the race” theory. It doesn’t make any sense to me and, should it be true, he’ll almost certainly lose the race when the key mountain days are stages 14,15,17 and 20 with the ITT on stage 16. Much more convincing to me is what Froome has actually said himself which is that he is chasing every second as he’s lost here by only 13 of them before. That and the fact they actually prepared for the Vuelta as a target from day one all year. He wants to win this race before its too late and what better opportunity than right here, right now?

      • If you don’t think Froome is in his peak form during the first week, you must assume that he will be in better form during the second and/or the third week.

        It would make sense to me that no matter how clever his coaching team is or how succesful a season plan built around one peak in July and another in August will be, his “form curve” during the Vuelta must look different to that of the GC riders who aren’t doing the Tour-Vuelta double.
        I’m not saying that his peak will be shorter or followed by a steeper descent, but I would expect that he cannot be as far from his peak form now as those who didn’t finish a three-week stage race in Paris might be or probably are – and it would be plain stupid not to try and use this relative advantage to snatch seconds from the other contenders.

        • All the riders get worse as a grand tour progresses. The idea that some grow into them, or hit their best form at the end, is the same optical illusion that said that Carl Lewis accelerated in the last two fifths of the 100 meters. He didn’t: all humans decelerate from their maximum speed after 60 meters, it’s just his form was so perfect, he could hold speed better than almost anybody else. Same with Grand Tours.

          • The idea that peak form, simply put is something that follows when your training load is reduced for a short period is quite commonplace. For most riders even the easiest possible first week of a three-week stage race means a “training load” that is not sufficiently reduced.
            That much is so obvious that I did not find it worth mentioning. We are discussing relative, not absolute form, if that helps to concentrate on what is or could be of interest.
            There are some genuine differences on how the changes in the performance level of one rider differ from those of another – and on how the changes of one rider can differ from those of the same rider depending on what his training and racing has been in the weeks and months prior to the three-week race.
            But I’m afraid I’m not qualified to even speculate here, I’m barely able to assume I get it when things are explained to me in simplified terms.

      • Nobody has said that he wont win or be the strongest rider across the 3 weeks, so you can get a cloth and wipe the foam from around your mouth. What people, including me, have suggested is that he has likely trained to reach a peak in form at the Tour and held it into the beginning of this race. Those who didn’t race the Tour wont be as sharp. As the Vuelta progresses Froome with the accumulated fatigue of two 3 weeks races in him as well as the reality that form doesn’t last forever may become less sharp. Someone like Nibali who didn’t ride the Tour and came into this race not quite at a peak of race sharpness may become more sharp. Ergo, Froome/Sky may wish to make hay while the sun shines. Even a fatigued Froome is comfortably stronger in a time trial than anyone likely to be up on GC with him come the end of this race. I suppose the interest lies in if someone can ambush him or if the toll of the Tour and the Vuelta catch up with him somewhere on the Angliru.

        • That’s cheesecake Richard not foam. I still have trouble with the hypothesis though, not least because it seems a silly strategy when your main climbing days are in the second half of the race. Why maximize days where you can get a few seconds when you could lose much more in the Sierra Nevada or on the Angliru? I choose to believe Sky aren’t that bad at their job and that the Vuelta was the target all along hence the undercooked Froome in the Tour who never attacked. Right now, having just watched the end of stage 5, Nibali clearly isn’t climbing at the level of Froome and Chaves so I imagine he must be thankful these are only short tests for now. Something needs to change along the lines you lay out for things to swing away from the British rider.

  2. It will be interesting to see if Sky let a proper breakaway go, I suspect not . Though we may see riders who want to collect KoM points trying to push on. This type of steep finish has not seemed to be Chris Froome’s forte in recent times but he does look very determined. Out of the GC group I would be inclined to go for Esteban Chaves or Fabio Aru.

    • Yeah… very interesting – another option is they let others chase, stage hunting teams? Call their bluff.

      They may choose safety, you can’t expect Froome to blast every climb… and 3km to significantly drop the others? I guess you could get 20-25 secs with a bonus and successful attack, is it worthwhile were it to drain F for later stages?

      Going off Froome’s attack first mentality it probably is?

      If so interested to see how Nibali and others fare – I have doubts over his ‘bad positioning’ line from Stage3, and have a feeling he may have been dropped whatever, today would be a moment to put it to the test quickly.

      • I have the feeling Sky are just as happy sitting on the front, out of trouble, calling the shots… altho today might be a bit lumpy for Stannard and Knees to just swap out all day long…

        • Well let’s face it: nobody else is going to. As J Evans pointed out only yesterday, the others seem to be passive in the face of Sky’s assumed leadership. It will be interesting to see their attitude today, race to give Froome a chance at the win (he won Pena Carbarga ahead of Quintana last year so is not exactly all at sea on relatively short, steep inclines) or let the right break go to mop up those pesky bonus seconds others would love to have but that Froome can let go provided others don’t get them instead? If we get the more aggressive “go for the win” option it will indicate supreme confidence in Froome’s form.

          • Yeah, I’m never quite sure where the “Froome is no good on short, sharp climbs” comes from? At this year’s Tour he finished alongside Sagan and GVA on that stage where the former unclipped (which was more of an Amstel style affair). Then there was the one in the Vuelta a couple of years back where he and Dumoulin vied for the win. Froome’s no Valverde, and I expect Chavez to be strongest of the GC men, but I think he’s as strong as the other GC riders on these climbs, if not stronger.

          • Agreed Michael B. It’s rubbish, Froome seems good across the board in Grand Tours. The one possible weakness (unless age has taken away top end climbing) is third weak fatigue. Although that’s certainly not proven.

            Just seen Nibali dropped, slipped near 30secs. Not surprised, wonder if we’ll get the poorly positioned line again…

            He’s ’36secs down… see him dropping more in climbs next week and TT, his famous 3rd week recoveries would need to be incredible to nip this from Froome should mechanicals/illness/crashes/surprises not play a part. But you never know. My thinking is Froome is more nailed on than ever now. Do not expect Chaves to really push Froome.

          • You likely need to add minus 3 minutes to the time of Chaves as against Froome’s. Froome will happily role in with Chaves every day. That’s no way for the Colombian to win red. As for Nibali, that’s two stages with an uphill near the finish now and both times he was dropped by Chaves and Froome. Must do better.

      • This is interesting though…

        I cycle looking at Strava/Garmin occasionally – you see read outs which feel completely wrong (Ditchling Beacon is a good example, I’m sure Strava says there’s sections of 30% which surely isn’t right)

        Even road signs feel wrong sometimes.

        How is everyone coming to these figures? That is a huge discrepancy for today, I assume INRNG has ridden or has intel from people who’ve ridden but surely the organisers do also?

        • Assuming the image above is accurate enough (i.e. distance from start of clim to end and height at the start and the end would seem to be easy enough to measure), then whoever worked out 4.2% must be pretty bad at maths.

          • I saw Jose Ben (@TourDeJose) post on twitter a profile that suggests section up to 18% and also discussions on Cycling Podcast from somebody who rode the climb yesterday that it is significantly harder than the profile suggests, I think they said up to 20%.

            I know inrng has discussed how gradients are measured before and the fractal nature of the mathematics but this does seem a big discrepancy in the road book.

            Expect the finish to be significant with some big gaps.

            Alaphilippe for the win based on previous Fleche performances?

        • The Vuelta road book is notorious for this and the Giro Rosa road book always takes it to the extreme! Plenty of examples of incorrect gradient values for key finishing climbs from both the last two Vuelta. I loosely use the official climb lengths in the stuff I provide for the teams I work with but only rely on barometric data for the elevation and gradients. 5 teams using my package for this year’s Vuelta so none of this will come as a surprise to them.

          • Hey just curious, in what capacity do you work with the teams? Do you do stage analysis for the teams? Anyways, it just sounds really interesting which is why I’m asking!

            What is barometric data?

          • CA – I go through every single stage/race that the teams do in the season and source reliable elevation/gradient data for all of the main climbs. They then have fairly reliable total elevation numbers as well as climb profiles. This is also visible live during the race for the DS’s in the car. More info in this video –

          • CA, “barometric data” means in this case “altitudes derived from pressure differences measured with a barometer”. Some cycling computers can give you gps-derived altitudes or barometer-derived altitudes. With current technology the latter tend to be more accurate. There is a complication, though: the conversion from pressure to altitude follows a “scale” know as the international Standard Atmosphere. When the baseline air pressure or the vertical temperature gradient differ significantly from ISA the computed altitudes will have errors that may be quite large.

            This is of course no excuse for mistaken data in roadbooks. Almost every nation of Earth has been fully surveyed and detailed cartography is available for anyone to use.

          • I doubt that every nation of Earth has been fully surveyed and detailed cartography for any given part of a minor road up to a minor lighthouse.

    • It looks like the Vuelta organisers’ calculator was missing! They clearly made a typo/error when calculating the elevation gain or when they wrote it down.

      Approximately 315 vertical meters gained / total 3.6 km = 8.8%

      They must have made a mistake when calculating this gain.

  3. Discrepancies in gradients commonly stem from the way the data is gathered and compiled. Most approaches take a 2-d map and drape the roads over a ‘terrain model’ to make it sort of 3-d.

    Discrepancies come from the various sources

    * some terrain models don’t accommodate roads very well or even at all, especially the subtleties of any manmade cutting or banking. Also automated methods when there is tree cover have limitations. I have also seen some that fail to accommodate bridges and tunnels suggesting the route goes over a hill it passes through.

    * the data is commonly captured asynchronously and therefore the detail of the road may not correlate fully with the terrain model. Running across steep slopes this can make quite a difference.

    * Resolution of the terrain model may be too coarse. If the terrain model has say 50m spacing between data points you can miss quite a bit.

    It can all be done with good data, but these typically are not the places that require high quality data capture for other purposes.

    At least we can read inrng to look beyond the stats!

    • If I may I’d add that: roadsigns are to warn, so they can be extremely accurate as they’re made after theodolite measurements, but they show the maximum, not the average – if you’re in a heavy lorry or aging car you don’t care about the average, just if you can get up it or not.
      Strava’s elevation model was originally draping a 2d map over satellite elevation data (of varying resolution), which in some areas was extremely inaccurate (steady climbs appearing as a succession of bumps, often doubling total elevation from real figure). They’ve altered this now to build up an average of barometric elevation readings, effectively crowdsourcing the data from users. This is very clever and an improvement, but once again it isn’t perfect, having the opposite effect of smoothing the altitude changes a little. This means steep ramps are more poorly represented, and exact altitude is more accurate than exact slope.
      Lots of it is guesswork, but the best tips you get often are the waypoint gradient markers on alpine climbs. Theoretically these use figures from the surveyors who either built or who maintain the road, are taken regularly and are accurate. I don’t know of any better system, or if races take the time to make their own measurements.

          • It’s part of my job, but some work time was lost 😀.

            Most roads were originally ‘levelled’ using optical spirit levels accurate to say 10 cm over long distances, if done properly.

            Now you get a mid size van, high accuracy GPS and multiple sensors and drive the road.

            Not much call for that volume and accuracy of data in the mountains though.

        • Strava’s model is very ‘web 2.0’ and thus depends on its users telling them which segments work or not. Best thing to do is ride that route, make a new segment with good altitude data, and hide that old one. Hopefully others will hide the old segment and use yours, and over time the problem goes away. But I agree it needs more work, and old segments can be very poor.

  4. First time poster, long time cycling fan…

    Tough stage to call today…almost impossible.

    On one hand the Sky train may come out to just defend what they have and tick a day off, or alternatively it could become a “marking” day with a breakaway allowed to go. Those small time gaps will define today and how the riders feel about them.

    I’ve stuck Fraile in my fantasy team as a long shot who may be allowed to go… I’m not even sure what his current form is like though. Does anybody know?

    • Fraile’s forms a bit of unknown. He didn’t show much at all in the Vuelta a Burgos but, apart from San Sebastian, that was his only racing since the Giro. He won the mountains classification at the Vuelta last year after having pretty similar results in the first few stages to this year so it might be that he is initially targeting that rather than a stage win.

  5. This is the kind of stage where Chaves or Nibali, people who came to win, need to take 20-30 seconds from Froome in a focused finish. But I doubt anyone can see that happening. Each grand tour this year has been won by seconds and I doubt this one will be different. Stalemate suits the Sky man.

    • ?

      Yes stalemate suits Froome – but the line implies he settles for a stalemate, apart from the TDF he usually one of the most aggressive riders out there, rarely happy to settle for a stalemate…

      Also, not really sure C+N need to be taking the time here, they just need 2-3mins by the end, can come anywhere… in all fairness, if that was there tactic it would be a pretty dumb one… Nibali has never taken that time in Froome in a short finish, nor would Chaves be likely to?

  6. No love for Fabio Aru?

    I’m not a fan of his but this kind of short, punchy climb seems like the kind of thing he excelled at in the Tour this year, notably the stage to La Planche des Belle Filles. I can see him wrestling his bike away on one of those steep ramps and taking the win.

    • Possibly.

      I didn’t think Froome looked invincible at the end of uphill stages in the TdF…in fact he seemed better with downhill finishes coming off the tops.

    • Aru’s win on Planche des Belles Filles was as much about the other contenders letting him go for too long as anything else. They were all well matched in the Tour. But Aru seems to have dropped a level since then so far. Master plan or simply not got it?

  7. Indeed, especially on the stage to Peyragudes, which was another short, steep finish where Aru looked strong.

    I think a lot will be decided by how hard the pace is pushed earlier on; there’s a fair bit of climbing on the stage but I don’t think it’ll be anywhere near as selective as Stage 3. I can see a sizeable peloton reforming after the penultimate climb and a fast run-in to the foot of that final climb. Could have a bit of an Ardennes Classics feel to it?!

  8. I think that Jack Haig should get a shout out looking at his form in the short steep climbs of the tour de pologne. Also betancur, looking at his form in the hammer series. Still alaphillipe is the favourite for me.

  9. This isn’t looking good.

    Froome obliterating competition looks written on the wall.

    I cannot see Nibali taking any time on the climbs in this form, TVG will fade, Contador too far off, Chaves will never take 2-3 mins on the climbs…

    Froome is going to walk this one without another Formigal.

    It needs a

    • The first proper mountain stage isn’t until stage 11. At least wait until then before handing out the prizes. Cycling gods can be capricious!

  10. I was watching the NBC Sports Gold streaming of today’s stage. On the last climb, there was a helicopter shot and the commentators said that they couldn’t see Froome in the group; then the video went to the last k to the line for Lutsenko. When the shot went back to the peleton, the commentators said something about a truce in the peleton, and Froome was back to second wheel. Did Froome have a mechancial or some other incident, and did the group slow to wait for him?

    • Probably because too many Jerseys are in red and the NBC commentators didn’t have the sharpest of eyes.

      Don’t know why Trek & Lotto couldn’t swap out of red as per special colour jerseys during TDF. Used up their special Jersey quota this season maybe?

      • Trek were white in the Tour. There’s only one change allowed per year I believe. Perhaps Lotto Soudal were also white in Paris-Nice (they have been before).

  11. A pity that the Vuelta site contains some errors. It (copied by ProCyclingStats) shows Astana leading the overall team competition from Movistar and Orica. This should correctly show Orica (Chaves & Yatesx2) leading. Any others, and which team was on the podium?

Comments are closed.