Vuelta a España Stage 8 Preview

One difference between Vuelta and its cousins in Italy and France is that it lacks a rich catalogue of famous climbs. But slowly names are emerging and today’s climb Xorret de Catí is one of them.

Stage 7 Review: a breakaway and a stage win for Matej Mohorič. He’s famous for that downhill tuck and pedalling action and it did help but he built the win thanks to his climbing through the ramparts of Cuenca when he forced the pace and thinned the group. He established a slender gap over the top that the otherscould not or would not close. J-J Rojas looked frisky but the sprinter was also playing poker in hoping others would help. Once the descent came Mohorič deployed the tuck and was helped by the twisting road which allowed him to quickly get out of sight.

The Route: “un final clásico” says the Vuelta website only the Xorret de Catí climb has been used in the Vuelta since 1998, albeit the name is famous in cycling because it has featured in local races for much longer. In the Vuelta the first of the five winners was José María Jiménez who thrived in the Vuelta but struggled in life and would die in a psychiatric hospital in 2003. There’s a memorial to him by the road. The climb is 5km at 9% but it’s the irregularity that’s the story, a 2% gradient to start with and then ramps at 18%, some say 22% even. It’s a sharp and selective climb and from the top it’s just three kilometres to the finish, two of which are downhill, one of which is steep and if there are no hairpins there are some awkward bends without a clear line of sight to the exit.

The Finish: the final kilometre is back uphill, not a climb but a drag up to the line.

The Contenders: hopefully we will get two races for the price of one, a breakaway to contest the stage win and then a secondary contest among the GC contenders once they tackle the Xorret de Catí but as ever if the teams drive the pace the breakaway’s chances are over.

As for the breakaway, the likes of Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step), Davide Villela (Cannondale-Drapac) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) are likely picks because they can cope with a punchy climb even if Alaphilippe is still searching for top form. More leftfield picks are Matvey Mamykin (Katusha) who climbs well and Darwin Atampuma (UAE Emirates).

Among the main names Chris Froome (Team Sky), Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) are the obvious trio and if forced to pick one – for a sprint between the three? – then Esteban Chaves showed his finishing skills in Lombardia late last season but perhaps Froome will go all out to finally get that first victory celebration of the year?

Esteban Chaves, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador
Poels, Woods, Atapuma, Mamykin, Alaphilippe, Pozzovivo

Weather: warm and sunny, a top temperature of 31°C and a light SE breeze of 10-15km/h

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. They reach the foot of the final climb around 5.20pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.40pm CEST but beware the race could travel much faster.

Daily Díaz: The race visits Ibi in km 146 and Tibi in km 158 of today’s stage. It’s not a spelling mistake, these are two distinct towns in the Alcoià comarca , not far away from Alicante. Ibi is known for two things: toys and ice creams. Several toy companies produce their goods in Ibi (or nearby), and for every boy and girl in the area a trip to one of those factories is a key moment during the school years (Playmobil when I was a kid). About the ice creams, the altitude traditionally allowed to have ice reservoirs during most of the year, which explains the number of ibense ice cream shops all around Spain. Tibi is a much smaller place; its main feature is the 16th century dam, one of the oldest in Europe.

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

75 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Stage 8 Preview”

  1. It looks like a finish that Nibali could factor in, no? If he can be there with 500 meters to climb its his to lose in the GC group. I don’t see how he pulls back 36 seconds but I would not be surprised to see him onto the podium at the end of the day.

      • Too short and explosive a climb for him. I think he will lose further 20 sec odd today. He is waiting for Weeks 2 & 3’s longer climbs. Doubt he can make about 2-3 mins on Froome. Nibali will need about 45-90 sec advantage on Froome w.r.t. the TT. Already 36 sec down, he will need to overhaul ~95 sec in the next 2 weeks (before the TT). That’s a very tall task, IMO, considering his is unable to match Froome on the short climbs.

        • I’m wondering if Nibali should convert himself into a one day rider, a la Zoetemelk. He’s won all the grand tours and this season at least doesn’t look likely to win another.
          He’s shown he’s good over cobbles, is tactically astute, punchy and attacking – why not a change of scene?

          • 1st – Lombardia
            2nd – Liège–Bastogne–Liège
            3rd – Milan–San Remo

            Did well over the pave in TdF 2014 – maybe not a P-R winner, but the Ronde seems possible.

          • +1. He should try a Kuiper career change. Let’s remember he even won Plouay hen he was very young. He can’t sprint, but so couldn’t Zoetemelk and Kuiper.

          • Interesting suggestion, J Evans! However, if you ignore Froome, Nibali is at par with anyone else w.r.t. GC rider – yes, NQ is about the same level wrt GC. So, Nibali can still cobble a GT win or two, playing it smart. Doubt he can beat Froome in a one-on-one.
            I do think though, that Nibali should try part of his season towards one day races. He does well in longer (250+ KM) hard races than most. He seems to have won some sprints in the last year from these reduced groups surprising critics (Queen stage in Giro defeating Landa, Vuelta stage against the lead group).
            For this Vuelta, I suspect he will place 3rd. Doesnt look good for the top two spots.

  2. Good to see Mohoric get a win. It felt like he’s been around (and winless) for ages – was surprised to see he’s only 22, most kids are only just entering the pro-ranks at this age – so he’s still got a lot of years to develop the talent he showed at the junior world’s.

  3. Given the previous few stages this seems likely to end up in a GC fight for the win, presumably depends on how Sky see the breakaway. Whether or not their group is the first across the line the GC contenders will certainly be looking to take time on the competition. Alberto Contador seems a good pick, he clearly wants to go out on a high. Chris Froome and Esteban Chaves are unlikely to be far away. Perhaps of most interest is to see how some of those a bit further down eg Vincenzo Nibali & Fabio Aru perform. Loose more time today and it would suggest they might be looking for stage wins rather than securing 8th place.

  4. Not being a “bike” person but someone who loves the racing I have a technical query about gearing & the possibility of another Froome downhill attack using an extra front tooth re: last year’s TDF. I understand that “compact” gearing is usually used for extremely steep climbs like the longer, steeper Angliru, but what about today’s shorter length final climb with its “gentler” gradients?
    Last year’s TDF win was on a 7.8% average climb with a 12km pretty straight downhill. If you take out the first flattish 1.5kms, today’s climb is an 11-12% ave. with an approximate 2km straight downhill if you include one sweeping turn.
    So after my long winded set-up; Can a bike be set up with compact gearing plus use an extra tooth on the front ring? And is it even worth bothering about for such a relatively short effort?

    • One tooth at the front won’t make any difference on a downhill, especially a short one. You lose or gain time on the corners, not on the straights where everyone’s speed is more or less the same.

    • You certainly could set up a bike like that. Either with a wide ratio cassette or with a larger than usual difference between chainrings at the front. Or both. Depending on the total range you wish for, it might take some customization, which racers aren’t very fond of unless the reliability has been tested before.

      • You certainly wouldn’t run a 53/54t with a compact little ring, ie a 34t. The jump between rings is too big for the FD to handle. Plus Froome’s asymmetric rings already make FD setup more difficult. Pro’s wouldn’t need a compact for a short segment, even if the pitch was 20%. Maybe a big cassette on the back, but a standard 53/39 on the front would be my bet.

        • A 55t on the front might be worthwhile if banking on being solo over the top and a 2k downhill pedalling descent to the finish mind you.

  5. One stage where Alberto wasn’t dropped on the climb and a largely fruitless attack on the next day and suddenly we are ready to hand out the wins to Contador? My my, we’re feeling generous today! The heart is well and truly ruling the head with some as they get misty-eyed over El Pistolero. There is an old saying about form being temporary and class being permanent and while Contador certainly has the latter he has not always had so much of the former recently when judged against the top guys. It would be rash to judge him against people who, so far, have only had to follow him since he’s 3.10 in arrears. Its barely a month since the Tour finished where, once more, he tried to conjure up The Ghost of Alberto Past only to find that this guy wasn’t home so we shouldn’t rush to hand out the prizes to him just yet, albeit a great champion on his final hurrah will be highly motivated. Its just that in the end it depends what you have in the tank and in the last year or two that’s been not so much as previously in Alberto’s case. His fans may be fooled by his “animating a race” (which is no substitute for not winning) but more cautious observers should not be.

    Chaves and Froome to show they are the best climbers here once more.

    • Contador is clearly one of the strongest in the race (though he did suffer one bad day). It happens.
      Those who refuse to see the obvious either are not very bright or…actually I can’t think of an or. ….

        • No, he probably won’t podium, but not because he’s not the 2nd strongest in the race, but because TJ/Chaves/Yates/Roche etc. don’t race to win (with the exception of Nibali/Froome) and will be all to too happy to simply follow wheels the remainder of the race to secure their “high” placing. AC has always tried raced to win, which is what I like about him.
          What did Cancellera once say about his rivals? “…they’d follow me if I stopped for coffee!”
          The same could be said for virtually everyone ahead of AC on GC.

          • Too true qq.
            Also, RonDe, your previous claim that Contador had folded and was making up his illness was yet another example of you slagging people (anyone but Froome really) off without justification (see your various claims of nationalism below, both against Sunweb and another person here – it seems you are the one who is consumed by nationalism).

          • Nationalism Mr Anonymous? Tell me, which country do I come from? And where did I say Contador was “making up” his illness? Reference me the exact quote because I said no such thing. As far as I’m aware his illness was entirely legitimate. Its just a shame he had it because being a fan of Froome I would much prefer it if he beat him fair and square. I have no problem with proper racing and my attitude is may the best man win.

          • All riders who lose time blame “illness”. We have several doing it in this Vuelta right now. I call it folding. – RonDe, on Vuelta a España Stage 4 Preview.

    • You should apply for a WH job, Kelly-Ann RonDe. You just can’t accept that everyone talks about another rider than the beloved shopping cart pusher.

  6. For the longer climbs I would agree with you but I think he can still hack it on the shorter ones. I dont think he is a threat to the podium but will try for a stage win or two. Stuff like the stage into Foix.

          • Barguil is French, Kelderman is Dutch. Barguil is leaving, Kelderman is staying. But Barguil was maybe the better bet here as Kelderman is no better than him and he has recent form. Not showing Sunweb in a good light for my money.

          • Apparently, it was a series of events that led to him being expelled, so good riddance. Another Frenchman who thinks he’s king of the world after one good stage race…

            For sure he’s got loads of talent, but choosing a french team is never a good idea if you want to become a GC contender. Look at Bardet – AG2R were impressive in the mountain stages of the Tour, but clearly they spend nearly no time training on the TT bikes. Maybe ASO could build a Tour course with 0 km of TT…

          • Anonymouse, Barguil doesn’t want to be a GC contender, hence his choice of team – one that will allow him to chase stages and the polka dot jersey in the Tour, and pick and choose his other races.

        • Au contraire, @RonDe : this is showing Sunweb in the very best light. Regardless of whether Barguil was stronger (I think Oomen is stronger than Kelderman in this first week too, but that’s the point: a GC rider needs to improve in the race), Kelderman was the appointed leader. Sunweb are above all a team: they perform above their level because of this congealed team mentality. Barguil refused to help: they could have kept him in and accepted that, but that would be contary to their entire ethos. Nationality has nothing to do with this, and it’s poor form to say so. This was all about their entire philosophy: unlike almost every team in cycling, they actually honour it.

          • Are you Dutch by any chance? By ditching Barguil they’ve enforced a team ethos which denies them whatever Barguil may have gotten from the race and for what? Are Kelderman or even Oomen going to win anything? Most would doubt it. So Sunweb lose perhaps their best hope for a win to enforce an ethos on a rider who is leaving and doesn’t care anyway. Pointless.

            About as pointless, in fact, as backing Wilco Kelderman, the Dutch Tejay, in the first place. Surely, Sunweb’s leadership could have found a way to accommodate the ambitions of both Kelderman and Barguil in a race where it was very much an outside shot they were going to get anything fro GC in the first place? So to my mind its very much a failure of Sunweb leadership and hubris on their part.

    • Teams shouldn’t have the authority to do that. Once the rider is given a number, he should be able to finish the race regardless of the team’s opinion. Would be much healthier for cycling. Rebelliousness against team orders seriously increases the emotional element of the race.

          • Exactly. I’m just hearing to Jacky Durand on Eurosport calling Barguil an “employee” and he’s driving me bananas. Cyclists are not “employees”, FFS, they’re artists. showmen, artisans if you like, but at any rate individuals projected directly to an audience. Not “employees”. DS want to turn them into civil servants, hence the boring, rehearsed, predictable racingwe all hate. Audiences should make it clear that regimented cycling (that is, team-spirited, DS-controlled, one-leader-centered) is their enemy. DS should especially be made to shut up.

        • Historically, we’d be robbed a few great GTs if teams decides to send the rebalians rider home. That said, the rebels in those cases were eventual race winners.

          Keep the spirit of agreeing with both line of thoughts, probably Sunweb should keep Barguil in the race but have him maintain his own bike & fetch his own water.

          • Anyone remember that Irish guy who dared betray his Italian leader, in an Italian team, at the Italian race??? And what happened subsequently? Would it have been right if he team had expelled him after his first indiscipline? Or shouldn’t we celebrate his cheekiness and insurgent spirit?

  7. The hilarity surrounding Contador amongst these “intelligent” posters is so amusing I wonder where my laughs will come once Alberto retires in two weeks. Well, at least the whole peloton will at last be clean.

    • You’ve used the words ‘hilarity’, ‘intelligent’ and ‘the whole peloton will at last be clean’ in your post.
      Days after a rider failed a doping test.

        • Ah, missed that. There seem to be so many who can’t mention Contador without mentioning doping. Most of these people seem to think it’s not doping if:
          The drugs are not (or not yet) illegal,
          The authorities do nothing, apply rules incorrectly or otherwise let you get away with it.
          They’re also seemingly happy to ignore/excuse all sorts of nefarious activities as long as those in charge do nothing.

          • Enlighten me. Is a doper:

            a) Someone found guilty of a doping offence by the appropriate legal authority, later investigation or by their own later admission


            b) Someone who offends J Evans’ ideals of cycling propriety?

            Its my intuition that sport can only work on the basis of point a above which is the public criterion of guilt rather than lots of private ones.

          • Neither of these.
            See yesterday’s Stage 7 Preview:
            My own comment that starts: ‘Do you really believe that Wiggins has been more honest about his use of PEDs than Contador has?’
            CA’s comment that starts: ‘Same spit different day’
            I don’t really want to continue the debate, as I’ve little to gain.
            If people want to believe that the only people who dope are the ones the authorities catch, or choose to punish, I’m unlikely to win them round.
            If you can look at the likes of Impey, Wiggins, Van Avermaet (amongst a host of other names) and come to the conclusions that these cases were fine because they went unpunished then I would suggest you’re either not looking carefully or you simply want to believe in these people.
            Not to mention the behaviour of teams like Astana, Katusha and Sky.

          • How is ‘legal doping’ defined?
            If it’s “anything that makes an athlete function better” we should ban broccoli too.

          • The book ‘Run, jump, swim, dope’ is illuminating on this point. The authorities turn a blind eye to some amphetamines (caffeine – which apparently is actually the most performance enhancing of amphetamines – the rest just screw with your head) and not others. Effectively there is a moral compass on this, rather than an empirical set point.

            The problem is that the moral divide between sports people and spectators. Fans like to idolise their heroes as Demi-Gods or Gods – someone who has an innate ability beyond anything they could do. The reality is that sportsmen and women will work hard and ‘do whatever it takes’ including pill popping.

            Interestingly the idea that our sports stars are genetically superior is relatively unlikely. That’s not say that they are not shorter, taller or stronger than a percentage of the population, but they are not a significant outlier – note than the tallest, shortest, and fattest are not Olympics athletes – testosterone production is a factor, but so is the predominance of different types of muscle fibre. The point being that when a good athletes takes it to the ‘next level’ to become an international athlete special sauce is usually involved (and a lot of hard work).

            The real issue is the harm the inevitable pharmacopeia of drugs they take does to both the top stars, but also those that try to emulate them. Witness the growing number of footballers collapsing and dying of heart attacks, or getting some form of cancer.

            Anyway, I have no beef with Contador. He did his time, and I actually think that there is something more honest about competitors who have been caught and compete, as opposed to those who we are supposed to believe in as clean, but who are clearly on something that makes them go like lightning.

  8. I’m hoping that either Contador or “Superman” Lopez take the win today. Most of all, though, I hope that the winner doesn’t come from a breakaway group – this climb deserves better!

  9. WB would still be in the race if he had extended his contract with Sunweb. I was surprised the team brought him to the Vuelta in the first place. He had one foot out the door when the race started,

  10. Is Contador’s retirement irreversible? I know some have regrets and change their minds, I wonder if Contador might also have regrets if his improvement persists.

    • What short memories people have. A man in his last race manages to raise his game for a few stages and people want him to continue! Don’t you think he is retiring because of what has gone before? Did all those races he was getting beaten in in the last couple of years not happen?

      • Even you have to admit that AC has inspired many (=more than half) of the stage races he has entered. Same now. Despite being 3 minutes back in GC he fights as if he still has a chance for the GC. And provides us with some entertainment in a race that GC-wise would otherwise be another Froomey-show.
        I fully understand cycling fans who regret that he’s going to retire soon. You don’t have to be a fan of him to like what he does.

  11. What a race! Long live La Vuelta!

    That was one of the longest victory parades ever. Ala knew already when going into the last climb that he will win the stage. All he had to do was staying on the bike. Riding in a finale with that kind of certainty concerning the outcome must be a great feeling.

    • A good forum is welcoming and polite to people of all knowledge levels. If you wish to steer discussion in a different direction you’re welcome to do so.

  12. Polite you say? So far it has always been that way. But today I see this place turning into all other comment sections online. Which is a shame

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