Vuelta a España Stage 15 Preview

Up, up and away. This is a short stage at under 130km with a variety of climbs in a short space before the high altitude summit finish in the Sierra Nevada. It’s all live on TV from start to finish.

Stage 14 Review: Rafał Majka won the stage and needed it. It might be his fourth victory this year and he’s not a prolific winner but a stage in a grand tour saves his season and there could be more to come too. Behind amid the GC contenders the steep slopes of La Pandera were a living demonstration of the school physics class where F=ma and so to accelerate requires a lot of force. Even to open up a small gap required a lot of energy and so those launching moves typically paid for their efforts while Chris Froome kept his effort more linear. Miguel Ángel López did so too and wins the physics prize for the day with an attack… on a flatter portion and duly got away. Wilco Kelderman is now up to third place and is an excellent against the clock, he made a name for himself back in 2012 in the Dauphiné were he was fourth in the TT stage and finished 8th overall aged just 21.

The Route: after a start in Alcalá la Real which featured in yesterday’s stage the race heads directly to Granada and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. There’s enough time for a breakaway to try and get a lead but they’ll struggle to hold onto after the first hour.

Things start climbing before the climb starts with the valley road up to Güéjar Sierra but it’s gentle for the most part, just 8% along the way which is nothing compared to what is aroumd the corner. It’s in the village that they start the Alto de Hazallanas proper.

If the name is familiar is because it’s featured in races like the Ruta del Sol and the Vuelta in 2013 when Chris Horner rode away with the Vuelta in 2013 and where the twisting road and the irregular, steep ramps make for a hard start and the upper section. It’s followed by a long and fast descent to the edge of Granada.

The race loops back to climb to Monachil, the scene of Cadel Evans’ undoing in 2009 when he flatted and had to wait a long time for a neutral service vehicle to supply a wheel which took an age to change. Even without those woes it’s a hard climb, 8.5km at 8% and with some steep moments, 12% says the roadbook but steeper out on the road.

The Finish: a 19km climb. It’s 6-7% for a lot of the time and on the kind of wide road you could drive a bus up but the altitude and duration of the climb can cause plenty of damage. If a rider is dropped from the lead group then they’ll find it hard all alone to limit their losses compared to a group of riders able to share the work. It’s 7% for the final kilometre to the finish.

The Contenders: the same names as usual but in what order? Chris Froome is looking the most consistent and so the safe pick. Alberto Contador wasn’t as sharp yesterday but could bounce back but Vincenzo Nibali is improving and his small sprint for the time bonuses after some attacks was a small gain but that’s all he needs again to take a stage win. Miguel Ángel López is riding well too, with his head and his legs and could take another stage win while the main names mark each other. Wilco Kelderman is doing more than tracking his rivals, he was impressive yesterday and the reduced gradient of the final climb could suit him.

Chris Froome
Miguel Ángel López, Vincenzo Nibali
Contador, Kelderman, Poels

Weather: warm and sunny but not as hot as yesterday, a top temperature of 31°C in Grenada and cooler in the mountains.

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 start is at 1.50pm CEST and the finish is forecast for 5.30pm CEST.

Daily Díaz: Today’s stage visits some of the most valued heritage sites in Spain. There are 46 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (3rd country in the world, some shared with Portugal and France), and the Alhambra (“the red one”) is one of them (in Granada, km 45). This was the palace of the last Muslim kings in Spain, until their final defeat in 1492. Some Christian kings resided there in the 16th century, notably Charles V who commanded a Renaissance palace: a circle inside a square. Sierra Nevada is, of course, Sierra Nevada National Park, the biggest of the 15 national parks of Spain. There are fifteen peaks over 3,000 m, including Mulhacén (the highest mountain in the Iberian Peninsula, 3,482 m). No wonder why a capra pyrenaica will probably win today!

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

Map thanks to Wikipedia’s Galjundi7

63 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Stage 15 Preview”

  1. If Wout Poels / Mikel Nieve are still around Froome on the final climb, then he should remain unscathed after today.
    The others, and particularly Bahrain Merida, have to isolate him to have any chance?
    The bad news is Poels looked strong yesterday and Froome, afterwards, as cool as a cucumber.

    The heat is tremendous. It’s a major factor in the race and it’s done for a lot of northern Europeans.
    The Yates’ are frazzled with it for instance. The temperature for Bury today is 16C 🙂

  2. I think today is D day. Altitude, recuperation, and steepest slopes far from the finish, will all matter. Nibali’s looking good. But so is Froome. I just hope he fights himself, without his teammates. Grit vs grinta, please.

  3. It seems line the two last climbs are really one masssive 28 k climb with a 1 km section in between which includes a half way Kom award. Am I missing something besides that they get to use two names this way ?

    • Both parts have featured in the past as separate climbs – you don’t *need* to take the Monachil before tackling the final climb. And I don’t mind them being billed as separate climbs – this creates another incentive for action, as riders might battle for the KOM points.

      I wonder if Majka has anything left in the tank after yesterday, because this is the day he could really kickstart his claim for the overall KOM title. Problem is that the final climb is an “Especial”, so realistically he has to be there or thereabouts at the finish line if he doesn’t want to see the GC contenders claiming the prize.

  4. I doubt I’ll get much thanks for carrying the Team Sky/salary cap conversation into a new day, but to me it’s still an interesting topic. I can’t pretend to know how the big corporates determine where to spend their marketing dollars, but pro cycling perhaps offers an entity like Sky the opportunity to dominate a mid-range sport and gain huge exposure within it. Perhaps as a sponsor of a football or Formula One team the same budget would be lost among the other 40-50 million (and upwards…) Euro investors. Pro cycling also perhaps allows high exposure in various markets across the world, whereas other sports are less widespread.
    If a salary cap was imposed would Sky in particular decide they’d lose their advantage – less incentive to be one of a half a dozen or more equal sponsors than the biggest fish in the bowl?
    Closer to home, I’ve seen the Australian Rugby League struggle to enforce salary caps in their competition, with every recent season it seems featuring teams losing competition points for breaches. All manner of rorts and scams exposed to pay players under the table etc. etc.
    I’ve never been a big Team Sky fan, but I think pro cycling would be the poorer were they to leave it. Not that there seems any immediate chance of that in the current environment.
    Anyway, back to the racing. Whoever wins in the end I’d enjoy seeing everything close up tonight so that there’s still a fight on after the ITT…

    • I don’t really have a strong opinion one way or the other. It can be annoying to see so much talent tied up at Sky, but on the other hand pro sports live from a good “David vs Goliath” story. Talented riders signing for Sky know that it’s likely they will be pushed in a helper’s role, and indeed, other riders have said that they didn’t want to join Sky for that particular reason.

      Btw, to add some (g)estimated numbers to the discussion:
      (This was for 2016 – I’m pretty sure that Bora for instance have significantly upped their budget.)

    • Sky have just signed Bernal, Sivakov, Halvorsen and Lawless who, if you didn’t know, are not a new boy band but 4 of the best U23 talents going. (All won stages at the recent “Tour of the Future” and Bernal won the overall.) It seems they are thinking ahead so I imagine not planning on going anywhere soon.

    • Would TeamSky be as wealthy is they didn’t achieve the goals demanded of them? I don’t follow the economics of the sport much but surely to a certain extent their wealth is a result of their success, as well as success being a result of wealth. Also, a brilliant young rider wants the chance to work with proven coaches… capping salaries won’t change who they decide to sign for in that regard.

      • I always thought that if pro teams didn’t early very nearly no wealth at all from their success then they earned very actually no wealth at all. The prize money goes to the riders themselves, as supplementary income well below their salaries, contributions from race organisers served only to defray expenses, and TV rights went elsewhere. The only wealth/return on investment the teams gain, I think, is the value of marketing exposure. Perhaps a cut of team clothing comes back, but even in Sky’s case a, let’s say, five Euro slice from each of a million jerseys would return little more than ten percent of expenditure…
        But I agree the allure of being part of their infrastructure would surely appeal to up and comers. Sooner or later, though, market theory dictates they’ll go to the highest payer, in most cases.

  5. One factor not mentioned is the wind – the last 6 km is exposed, above the tree limit, and this could play havoc with little climbers that took off on the early steeper parts.

    If you add it all up, this stage looks like a perfect fit for Froome. Or will we see Nibali try to break him on the downhill?

    • Not much wind from the town (2100m) to the parking lot for the university camp and accessing the Pico de Veleta. There is reasonable shelter on the bus/truck road i beleive they will will be rideing.
      A lot more wind on the long straighgt run in between 1800 and 2100m

      Heat and lack of shelter from the burning sun from 1400m could be difficult for some as its within thed last 20k.

      Rode these rode incl all the way to Pico de Veleta back in 2009 with 41 degrees down in Granada. My main issue was carring sufficent water, i had to do it in 3 attempts (1600, 2500 (the parking lot) until i managed to time my water consumption. Only place until the town in 2100m is the gas station where the 3 roads teams up in aprox 1300-1400m.
      The climb tonthe top goes from approx 600m to a whopping 3382m (u can cary your bike up the final rocks).

  6. Unless one of Chris Froome’s main rivals gets away, which seems unlikely but of course it is possible to come up with a scenario in which they do, we will see an elite group marking each other up the final climb. I suspect Sky would be happy to see one of the riders a bit further back eg Ilnur Zakarin or Miguel Lopez get away in the final stretch to take the bonus seconds. Otherwise I suspect it will be Chris Froome v Vincenzo Nibali.

    CF looked very cool yesterday, pacing his effort very well and was very calm in the post race interviews. It was also interesting that Wout Poels seems to be riding back to top form, he rode back to the leading group then eased off for the final run in. Vincenzo Nibali was a bit grumpy with Alberto Contador and musing about ways to isolate CF, maybe a bit too negative?

    • I’d say that Nibali was being Nibali there. Even one of my Italian friends who follows cycling loosely thinks him whines too much.

      Though I have to say that with Nibali, he usually follow his whining with actions.

  7. Lopez looks fantastic at the minute and he’d be my favourite. Zakarin blows hot and cold. He’d climbed up the GC by stealth, although that could be his undoing today as he won’t be given as much leeway. Ditto Kelderman. It’ll be interesting to see how Froome and Nibali approach what looks like a 30km climb on the profile. Quite an unusual scenario.

    • It’s an interesting day today for M.A. Lopez. He’s clearly in better form than most of the riders ahead of him in GC, so does he attack early today to try to get on the GC podium? Or does he continue his waiting-until-the-final-k’s game to win the stage?

  8. Surely the fact that tomorrow is TT day will influence how today pans out. Anybody who goes ballistic to gain 30 seconds here could wind up losing a lot more tomorrow if they go too deep. If I was Nibali I think I’d be tempted to sit in today, nip out for any bonus seconds that might be there, try and limit my losses to something sensible tomorrow and then go all out to break Froome on the Angliru. If we consider those last two climbs as one though this is a huge effort and we could get significant changes without anyone attacking as such.

    • I think the fact that today is almost one huge climb will encourage Nibali. He seems to go better on these prolonged efforts, especially if the weather is bad, whereas he often loses time to Froome on the steepest slopes.

      • The problem for Nibali is that him begging Contador for help openly on the mountainside to make a gap doesn’t speak volumes for his own gap-creating abilities. Yesterday once Froome had dropped off Poels he fairly cruised up to the back of his more adventurous co-competitors. Gaps don’t come for free.

        • I’m not convinced Nibali can gap Froome uphill either, but today is an opportunity and he will try. The more likely route to a Nibali win is him forcing mistake out of Froome on a downhill stretch or a Formigal-style attack. All easier said than done, of course, but Nibali will at least continue to fight.

  9. Hoping against hope that with the GC gaps a bit wider now, a much shorter stage, and very little valley between the climbs it’ll be all on tonight from halfway up the Cat. One climb. Those who were close and are now outside three minutes have less to lose, perhaps. Perhaps.

    • Aru is more and more hanging on by the skin of his teeth, whereas Lopez looks fresh as a daisy. I’m sure Aru is honest enough to admit defeat for the GC, and willing to help Lopez if the opportunity arises.

  10. As I write there are an interesting set of comments, many of which I agree with. The climber impressing the most right now is Superman Lopez. But he’s not getting much out of it and you should all know by now that I weight the riders by achievements and not just appearance. Lopez gained 15 seconds on the road on Calar Alto and just 4 on Sierra de La Pandera. This is why Froome does not chase him when he is the thick end of 4 minutes down. As for the rest of the climbers its very much of a muchness. Nibali gives the appearance of trying to attack but it comes to nothing. In the final 2kms we have so far always found a certain Sky rider by his side. Alberto joins in the fun too but if he is always losing a few seconds in the dying meters (17 on Calar Alto and 6 yesterday) this is because to me he is operating at his limit. He is trying but its a big effort for him. Others such as Kelderman and Zakarin are doing a solid job of staying close yet without themselves threatening any gains.

    So I think Superman Lopez has to be the favourite again unless Froome himself is interested in dealing a blow. We never can be quite sure how he is climbing because he is very up on preserving energy. Let no one forget that he is here only for Red and NOT to fulfill any cycling fantasies about style or panache or head to head battles. Of course, we do not know Froome could beat Lopez, for example, head to head. But its very likely he doesn’t need to. He will be more interested in marking The Shark who faces his own battle today. He won’t win this race without making a gap. This is his third long climbing day to try and days one and two were failures for him in that respect. I don’t think he can out climb Froome. Others may take a different view.

    A different scenario from the riders marking each other out and a win for someone in the top ten with only small GC gaps is if someone comes along with huge balls who wants to kick off an attack from far out. I see only Contador being prepared to risk that. Nibali, certainly, still has dreams of winning. A reckless attitude now could eliminate him. Others will play the long game. I don’t think it will come to anything anyway and I think if Contador tries it he’ll pay for it. I just noticed that I haven’t mentioned Chaves yet. But it should be apparent why. He’s losing time on the climbs and seems likely to get nothing but a top ten from the race. His Orica support has also evaporated in the heat.

    • I suppose you must be happy about the success of big-corporate-bureaucracy calculation-and-advantage. But I see more glory in Contador’s and Nibali’s losing, Quixotic craftsmanship and risk.

      • I am happy that someone I want to win defended their lead well. Is this also a bad thing now? Does it upset you that I called Contador’s attack and its inevitable failure? This wasn’t really difficult to predict unless you have Contador posters on your bedroom wall. Equally predictable was Nibali’s weak attempt at the same thing. He been searching for help all the second week because he knows he cannot do it alone. But he soon fell back to the peloton when he realised he was wasting his time.

        Froome defended the whole stage yesterday without once having to put his nose in the wind. Its a team game, at least if you actually want to win the jersey at the end.

        • Dude – It’s more that you tell us EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. that Contador is all bluster, Nibali doesn’t have it and Froome is the best.
          Maybe, just maybe, we all already know that Froome is the overwhelming favorite and that the others need to be daring / risky to try even get close and we don’t need you jamming it down our necks constantly.

          • I would add that you vary rarely comment on anything else. Like the potential winner of a sprint or medium mountain stage or whatever. Your focus is on Froome and Froome only. It does get tiring. Like the little kid(s) at school in the 90’s who constantly rattled on about how great Man Utd were.
            Also you make a (valid) point about it being a team game. With that in mind, what exactly did Froome do that was so impressive on that stage? He sat behind Mikel Nieve and then Wout Poels, then he darted out and the end and nabbed a few seconds at the last. Contador and Nibali shouldn’t be mocked for attempting to get away from 3 riders doing a temp ride, they should be praised despite their failure being perhaps inevitable. If they were sat behind Nieve and Poels its likely that Froome would’ve found an attack just as hard and ultimately fruitless. I think Nibali realised he’d missed a trick not going with Lopez and Contador and probably out of frustration gave it a bang for the hell of it knowing he could get back in the train when it came past.

  11. To me it seems that Nibali had a big opportunity to pull back time on Froome on stage 13, but wasted it.

    He had it in him to make several big accelerations from 3.2 to go when he was away with Contador . But incomprehensibly, he did not want to pull with Contador in tow and slowed down several times because Contador did not want to share the burden. That to me seemed like a big tactical error – No 2 expects No 9 to share the burden when he could get time on No 1? Especially with 2.5 to go, when Poels was gone and Froome had to pull by himself. Look at Nibali 2.2 to go! This wasn’t lack of physical strength but whining in the most inappropriate moment. A big opportunity gone due to lack of a real champions mentality.

  12. Had a feeling that the uber steep climb yesterday is stifling the race by making acceleration Much more difficult. Nibali never really got away from Froome who always hangs around 40-50 meters back with Nibali insight. That certainly made it easier for Froome to slowly claw back Nibali.

  13. Whomever is isolated, whether out the back or going alone in front, when they come above tree line with about 6km to go will forfeit maximum efforts and possibly minutes.

    For Froome’s rivals I’d say jointly isolate him there and with his temp riding he’d have to chase against gradient and winds alone.

    I don’t understand why Kelderman, Lopez and Zakarin took the Froome bus up to Contador and Nibali. Had they both jumped ahead. Froome would’ve been alone working against 4-5 GC guys

        • If you want to win, the one dude you have to take time from is the dude in the lead. It’s the most basic thing. Especially when he has a much better time trial than the others.

          We all knew Contador would try something, surely? But only Lopez had the stones to go with him, and it worked. Many seem to be just hoping for a podium, but I can’t see how that means much to the likes of Nibali, and even Chavez has already achieved this.

          Suggesting riders attack the leader of the race doesn’t show bias against that leader, it’s just the only way they can beat him, and is what grand tours have always involved.

          • Its seems to me that they have it all on to stay with the leader on most of these climbs. Only Lopez has got away on the 3 high mountain top finishes so far. And Froome wasn’t even concentrating on him yet. And by the way, you don’t beat the leader by letting your co-competitors go up the road. Why do we think Zakarin gave it his all in the last km yesterday? You can’t win by letting more of your rivals take time from you so you have more men to beat.

  14. Froome will almost certainly go into the lead in the points competition today as well (only behind by 5 points in 2nd). If he wins the stage he’ll hold all four jerseys assuming Villella doesn’t figure. Merckx-esque.

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