Vuelta a España Stage 18 Preview

A day for a breakaway but the final climb allows the GC contenders to scrap for seconds too.

Stage 17 Review: a stage win for Stefan Denifl. When Aqua Blue were invited to the Vuelta the first thought was “that’s a surprise wildcard” quickly chased by “Denifl’s going to win the mountains jersey” because he’s won the prize in the Tour de Suisse and hows how to pick his moments. But the Austrian has had a quieter start to La Vuelta. It turned out he’s been saving himself so come the final climb and its wild ramps he had the energy to drop the likes of Dani Moreno and Julian Alaphilippe and hold off Alberto Contador.

Contador attacked and surged past Miguel Ángel López who was the first big name to attack but as suggested here yesterday the Spaniard was much more at ease on this kind of climb. Only he could only finish second and is still fifth overall. That stage win could have happened if Trek-Segafredo had joined in the chase led by Astana and Bora-Hansgrohe, a couple of extra pairs of legs and the break could have been reeled in earlier to set up Contador for the first Spanish stage win of the race. He’ll have to wait for the Angliru.

Meanwhile Froome lost time. He was distanced but was this “Covadonga” Froome who paces himself to the finish? No, it was not and at one point he seemed to reach for a gel on the final climb, the sort of thing you’d only do in a panic. Perhaps the cold got to him but he lost time. Vincenzo Nibali might be hopeful but the Angliru climb is steep but steady and hardly the place to take back over a minute.

The Route: 169km and the race goes along the coast of Cantabria before heading inland. This is ambush country where Alberto Contador mugged Joaquim Rodriguez to win the 2012 Vuelta and a series of climbs come, the Collada de Carmona (4.8km, 7.2%), the Collada de Ozalba (6km, 6.6%) and the Collada de la Hoz (7km, 6%). The latter is where Contador launched his race winning bid in 2012.

The Finish: 3.2km 6.4% in the road book sounds OK but this a Mandelbrotian case study as it’s really a 2km climb at 10% including one kilometre at 11% and sections that are even steeper. It’s on a wide road.

The Contenders: a breakaway but who to pick? Julian Alaphilippe is suited to this course but went in the move yesterday meaning wooden legs for today but he’s still a prototype rider for this course. Alexey Lutsensko is good for a powerful finish like this but he’s gone quiet after his strong start. UAE Emirates pair Jan Polanc and Matej Mohoric could strike. Thomas de Gendt is good for a breakaway but his win rate is low, still these steady climbs are ideal terrain for his power.

Among the GC riders Alberto Contador, Michael Woods and Wout Poels have the most “punch” on paper but surely a break will have its chance today.

Lutsensko, Mohoric
Alaphilippe, Polanc, De Gendt, Jungels, Gougeard, Yates

Weather: cloudy and a top temperature of 20°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 is forecast for 5.40pm CEST.

Daily Díaz: Do you remember Stage 10 and the lignum crucis ? The monastery of Santo Toribio de Liébana has the largest surviving piece of the True Cross. Liébana is a valley surrounded by high peaks and only connected to other lands by hostile mountain passes or narrow canyons. This was the ideal place for an 8th century monk, Beatus, to find the solitude he needed to study the Bible. The result of these meditations is the Commentary on the Apocalypse . This book (often called Beatus) was copied and illustrated in monasteries around Europe, including the 10th century Escorial Beatus, a masterpiece of medieval illumination (image). The cave where Beatus retired gave origin to the monastery where the finish line is.

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

106 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Stage 18 Preview”

  1. I’m sure like most people I’m starting to think that the only time Froome seems to look vulnerable is when the road rears up beyond 15%. His only real loss of time in the TDF was in those last 200 brutal metres to Peyragudes, and so it looks like if Nibali or anyone else has a chance it will come on the steepest sections of the Angliru.

    • Unfortunately this isn’t the case if you go over his career – many times he’s won on climbs with steepest sections of 15% –

      Including –
      Peña Cabarga x2 (Vuelta ’11 & ’16)
      Planche des Belles Filles
      Alto de Allanadas
      Prati di Tivo (okay 14% at the base but you get the idea)

      I have no idea if he’s losing top end climbing speed on these gradients to be honest, but his history doesn’t prove out what you say above.

  2. I would pick Alaphilippe, but he spent most of yesterday in the break. Orica are likely to go all out again, so maybe Jack Haig, he looks to have some good form

  3. Second time, long time. An amazing stage and a standing ovation for inrng for all that (it) does.

    After the Mandlebrot reference to irrationality, I may have missed it and all of it is cycling chaos. I always thought it should be Zen and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance. Who knew?

    Go Berto. Im sure you learned how to suffer next to Lance.

  4. Tricky stage to predict today!

    In all likeliness, a break should battle for the victory, but the likes of Astana and Bahrein should keep the pressure on today and tomorrow to not let Froome have an easy ride before Saturday’s monster stage. On top of that, the unpredictability of Contador will keep everyone on edge. Even if a large bunch stays together, the GC guys will battle it out for seconds on that final 2 km of climbing.

    I was cursing Alaphilippe yesterday for attacking on a stage that was too tough for him. Today would have been his for the taking! He did seem very fresh still, so maybe he’ll recover enough compared to all the other pairs of tired legs, but his chances reduced significantly.

    My outside punt for the day is Van Garderen. If he makes the breakaway, he’ll find a final that suits him very well. Roche might have the same idea, and they would make a great pair to hunt the stage victory.

  5. Steep and irregular, heavy road surface, wet and colder, all things Froome is not best suited too. Was I surprised he lost a bit of time, no. Do I think this spells the start of a fall, no I don’t.

    • He looked bad, though. He could hardly hold the wheels of his bodyguards and was clearly provoking about the lack of power, given the gel pack. The facial expression at the photographs at the end, too, was fear and exhaustion.

  6. Will bonus seconds not come into consideration for Sky and Bahrain? It would be so very Sky-ish to try for an extra seconds over today and tomorrow. But then there’s Saturday…

    • Froome is of a similar level as Nibali on an uphill sprint and worse than Kelderman, so Sky will want the seconds to go to breakaway riders (like most of the past two weeks…).

      • This simply isn’t true.
        Nibali has consistently lost time on Froome in uphill sprints throughout this Vuelta and going back years. I do not know where you get them being on a similar level in these finishes? As Nibali losing 20secs today once again proves.

  7. Good stage on its own with everyone expecting froome to grind back to the leaders and it never happening… Massive for the race overall.

    Froome still massive favourite but the first real chink in the armour at least dangles the hope of a crucial stage still to come.

    Remembering contador’s attack in 2012 it occurs that froome is probably opportunistic enough to try a surprise attack and strong enough to make it stick on the flat if needs be.

  8. Perhaps we might now see less comments about how the rules need to be changed so we can see more exciting racing (I doubt it somehow).

    Difficult to know what caused Chris Froome’s less than stellar performance, perhaps he had put too much into the TT ,perhaps he wasnt feeling 100%. However I suspect this will be no more than a blip along the lines of the TdF rather than anything deeper. On the steep stuff until yesterday he had shown no weaknesses, so it doesnt seem to be course related. Maybe it has something to do with the cooler weather, in which case Saturday might not be ideal for CF, forecast is damp and fairly cool.

    Vincenzo Nibali will clearly be keen to try to take more time, not sure today is the day for that but sure he will make an attempt. Alberto Contador will undoubtedly continue his farewell celebrations but continues to be too far back to have any realistic hopes.

    • Like you say, I doubt it. He still had 3 or 4 body guards around him whilst everyone else was working alone. Its just that when the road goes over 20% they aren’t a great deal of use.

    • One stage doesn’t change what people have seen over many grand tours.
      What this has *possibly* shown is that when Froome has to work alone he’s far less invincible. Who’d have thought?
      And isn’t it more interesting to see whether or not that’s the case?

    • Difficult to assess what happened yesterday with Froome. On such a short and steep climb, he lost close to 1m30 to Kontador. It seems a lot to me, even if this kind of climb is really Kontador’s. As well, it seemed like he had difficulties to follow the pace of his team mate. Just a bad day or something else?

    • Sky this year are surely too strong to be ambushed. But if Froome can’t identify and resolve yesterday’s problem, his rivals won’t need to ambush them.

  9. Today does look prime for an ambush, but if we have noticed that then you can be sure the teams have too. Also you have to take into consideration that Froome is not Joaquin Rodriguez and Sky aren’t Katusha. Froome would have to have a real shocker to lose significant time, as in be ill. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sky keep a good pace on today to make sure Contador and Nibali cant spring anything.

    Yesterday was a very entertaining stage. I got the impression Nibali didn’t quite believe Froome was in trouble at first and was . expecting him to pace back up, as he usually does. He kicked on quite late after I presume he was told Froome was on his arse

    • Look up “Formigal 2016” to find out if Sky can be ambushed 😉 That fresh in their minds, the chance of it happening again is actually very small.

        • Surely Contador will just try a little something, maybe even a bit of late night chit chat and have someone else try a little something, just to test Froome out. See how he’s doing?

      • I was listening to an interview with Michael Boogerd who says he is not surprised that Froome is showing declining form in the last week of the Vuelta considering it is his 2nd Grand tour in a few months. It is what you would expect from all GC riders who have done the Tour this year. Conclusion: Expect GC riders that have not ridden the Tour to improve relative to those that have done the Tour. The question is how much and how quickly Nibali/Kelderman/Zakarin will improve relative to Froome in the last stages of the Vuelta.

        • How could Boogerd even know what happens to a body that’s not high on EPO? :p

          Joking aside, he’s right of course. It’s still possible that it was just “one bad stage”, and one data point doesn’t make a trend, but it wouldn’t come as a surprize now if Froome loses further time on Saturday.

        • Isn’t that what most commenters here have been saying since the beginning: that Froome would decline as the affects of two GTs really start to bed in? I think the analogy I made was a 100m sprinter: after the 60m point, everybody is slowing down, and it’s just who keeps the right form/technique. It might appear they’re running away from everybody, but they’re actually just slowing down less.

          That was what was so smart about Froom attacking and picking up bonus seconds in week 1 — it was bound to be the time when he was at his strongest in relation to the others. Unfortunately, this tour seems to be backloaded.

          • This stuff is all heresay… we literally do not know and neither do commentators…

            Froome has weakened at the end of 13,15 Tours but both have also been put down to reasons which seem fair enough and we have no way of disproving…
            He has then strengthened at the end of Vuelta’s, both times after Tours…
            He has also been untested at the close of Tours so hard to say if he always weakens…

            There’s a lot of know-it-alls out there but looking back for info across Froome’s past must be a bit like cycling next to him – you just can’t tell how he is really feeling… (As Nibbers said following yesterday’s climb).

            A lot will claim to have predicted correctly if he weakens, but as a comment below says – he could just as easily win the Angliru as lose the race there, you just can’t say with him…

            Sometimes he blows away the competition (Pierre St Martin, Ventoux), sometimes he grinds people away to win be seconds, sometimes he allows gaps and gains, sometimes he gets dropped… he’s done all across so many different kinds of terrain it’s just impossible to know for sure…

            My hunch was he was weakening after yesterday’s climb, but then he’s just gone and taken 20secs out of Nibali today… I don’t believe anyone on the outside can reliably say which way his form will go in the remaining days.

            If I had to put a bet – I suspect he will lose time on the Angliru but win the Vuelta.
            I also wonder if we’ll be questioning again whether it was wet weather or form that caused the downturn in pace uphill.

          • I agree Dave. I think Froome will ride the Angliru at his own pace knowing what time gap he starts with (assuming, with one day before that stage, that he still has a time gap). He only goes all in if he has to. He is well used to defending leads in grand tours and even if yesterday was an aberation it was a controlled aberation not a total capitulation. And one half corrected today in any case.

  10. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Froome lose the Vuelta on Saturday but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him win the stage by a handsome margin.
    He has been since the TDF saving his energy as much as possible, always thinking ahead at the Vuelta. We saw that on the stage where he punctured but didn’t lose anytime that he was much stronger than Uran and Bardet but he was keeping his powder dry knowing that with the TT he had the tour in the bag and he could save all of his energy for the Vuelta. Similarly in this Vuelta, he has rarely attacked unless it is in the last KM. On Sunday it was a perfect stage for him with his TT skills but he didn’t do anything. For me it is him saving energy knowing that he could accomplish something incredible. On Saturday there will be no need to save energy, he will go all out . It just depends on what he has left in the tank but at the top of Angliru it will be empty.

    I do hope Froome wins, the double willbe good for him, for the Vuelta and for cycling in general (unless he is a cheat). But I hope Nibali continues like this and we have a fight until the end.

    • Do you seriously think he let Nibali and co ride away from him in order to save energy? He couldn’t hold the wheel of his chief domestique, Nieve had to keep looking back to check on him and wait. He was in serious trouble on that stage and looked scared in the face, and relieved when he finished. Nibali is going to come hard in the next few days, particularly Saturday. Froome would still be favourite clearly, but things look different now than 2 days ago. On a side note, how the hell is Moscon climbing with Froome until 2k’s to go on a climb like that? Doesn’t seem right.

      • No yesterday showed me that Froome has maybe run out of energy despite all his calculations. I feel, at the tour in particular, that Froome has had it in him to attack big and take time out of his rivals but he hasn’t done it because he believes he can without, therefore saving energy and having a better chance at the Vuelta. Even during this Vuelta he has preferred to stick behind his team mates and then gain 10 seconds than to attack take a minute but be more tired (Sunday being the day where he could have done much more)
        I personally think Froome will be holding on for dear life on Saturday but it could be the opposite as he will no longer be trying to calculate.

        For Moscon, he is a very young and extremely talented rider. Yes it is a surprise to see him at this level during the Vuelta but not completely abnormal as we have never seen him before on anything like this. And, it is very different to be riding with someone until 2km and then grinding to a halt than to be riding with someone until the end of the stage and then doing that again day in day out.

          • Yes, both questions are reasonable.
            His climbing prowess is very sudden and he’s still good enough in a sprint to come second. That’s very rare. And no-one seemed to expect that sort of riding from Moscon previously.

    • Like this post JT. Not sure why Nicktarios has taken it that your saying he let Nibali ride away, but nice to read someone thinking of the impact a Grand Tour double might have on cycling in general and what an achievement it is by Froome should it happen. A lot of people losing sight of the scale of what Froome is close to making happen.

      Likewise hope to Nibali keep pushing.

      Not sure I completely agree it’s been energy saving all along, as it’s quite hard to really know! If Froome drops everyone up the first climb of next years Tour maybe we’ll be able to say then! My hunch is things have been as real as they appear and Froome may have lost top end climbing ability of ’12-’15 but lets see…

    • Never mind him – it’s interesting to me how different the view of the ‘majority’ or perceived majority is here in the Vuelta to the Tour. Poor RonDe probably wonders why the Froome-hate stepped up so much – and whilst I proudly nurse Froome-hate myself, I wonder the same thing.
      Maybe it’s just in the UK, or UK media, but it seems that maybe to have Froome win the Tour was OK – boring maybe, predictable maybe; but to have Froome win the Vuelta just isn’t on. Sky’s continuing PR blunders (the Race Hub, the filming (now confirmed) of the AG2R riders holding the car) can’t be helping, but they themselves don’t explain quite the level of resentment I’m seeing around cycling media. Why now do you think?

      • He already has more Grand Tour 2nds than Poulidor, and he’s booed like Anquetil. I actually think that the fierce division that Froome causes is perfectly in line with cycling’s traditions. If he wins his detractors will just have to deal with it. If he comes 2nd that’ll probably warm the Spanish public to him.

        • The Froome hate on CN is quite real. Though mostly by that few individuals probably with too many emotion/free time on hand and not enough outlets to channel their energy.

          I suppose Froome also has quite a few more Tour wins, which may explains the hature. He had come second here many times before, not sure one more time would warm up Spanish audience more (they did gave him quite a big applaud this morning as he signs in, pursumably for his tenacity in managing damage yesterday and CN couldn’t help write that in a negative sentence). Working with AC and help the latter onto podium might.

      • I haven’t read any Froome-hate on these comments. People complaining that the train is dull to watch, yes – but no-one was criticising Froome, nor Sky’s very successful tactics.
        People suggested rule changes, etc., but no-one said that Sky should not be allowed to do this.
        People criticising RonDe were also not criticising Froome (believe it or not, they’re not one and the same thing) – they were criticising the fact that so many of his comments say the same thing: ‘Froome is great, everyone else is rubbish’. The race has shown those comments for what they were.

        • Find just ONE comment that says that. I’ll accept just one. I’d say my position is “Froome is the best grand tour rider in the world at the moment and the rest aren’t”.

          And no one can argue that based on results. We can discuss that if you like.

          • RonDe – I think statements like this are why you get the nasty comments- “Froome is the best grand tour rider in the world…….and no one can argue that based on results.”
            I believe until Mr. Froome is hoisting a trofeo senza fine while wearing a pink jersey, your statement is merely your opinion. Get back to us after Froome has won all 3 GT’s, even once.

      • You PROUDLY hate a sports person?

        Well done. I can recommend a good Psychiatrist.

        Why not just watch the Vuelta without hate and enjoy the entertainment?

    • Agh.
      This is not asking for quiet, please hold any opinion you like.
      I just think this a little unfair on these athletes to label them boring.
      They’re racing on the limits of their bodies and doing their best within a sport where they don’t control the money, team structure etc.

      I’ve seen exciting racing from all the top contenders, Nibali in the Dauphine a few years ago on that rainy day with Rui Costa was brilliant, Quintana up that snowy mount in T.Adriatica, Contador on multiple occasions obviously. And likewise Froome, examples being vs Cobo, the brilliant duel with Contador in Vuelta a Andalucia 2015 and many more, coming past Nibali, Horner, Santambrogio on Stage 4 of T.Adriatico 2013 was spectacular.

      I don’t know whether you’ve seen these races but to label incredible athletes giving everything to win and sometimes have to be tactical to compete intelligently, as boring feels quite disrespectful.

      RonDe has obviously slightly over extended in the comments section here recently, but a lot of what he says isn’t stupid – many people whoever they support or prefer would agree with much of it, maybe with just a little less partisanship. Let’s all get away from the arguments and talk about what we see.

      Nibali fantastic yesterday, Contador spectacular, I certainly didn’t see that all coming, going to be a thrilling few final days.

      • RonDe’s comments are a reason I’ve started visiting this website. He (she?) provides some positive enthusiasm that’s a welcome countermeasure to some of the darker corners of e.g. the CN website, and I like the freer chat style too.

        • I like RonDe a lot also, but can see why people have got riled a little this Vuelta – although clearly a few aren’t quite as well informed as the regulars here! Nice to see some support for him coming out, the last few days have been an onslaught of arguments so I’ve steered clear. Final few days and with it being close hopefully something for everyone to enjoy at the Vuelta!

  11. Kontador will try something today. It is his last race, and route goes over the collado de la Hoz.
    Now the question is: will it be possible to stay in front on the 18km false flat after Hoz downhill.

    • Aru proved that to be a no! Contador has been magnificent this Vuelta. I absolutely did not think he still had the highest climbing in his legs after the last few years, but we’ve seen multiple times so far this Tour that although the legs of ’09 have gone as has maybe Grand Tour consistency, he’s right up there still. I did not think this was the case.

    • It is a great feeling to wake up in the morning, knowing that Contador will be attacking today. These last few days, it’s been a virtual certainty. How can you not tune in?

      I know the iconic image is of him dancing on the pedals, but for me this Vuelta, his gritted teeth have stood out. One gets the sense that he’s really going all-out, trying to put in a performance he can be proud of for years to come. I’ll miss the guy. Such a competitor.

  12. Cycling News are reporting that the top ten on GC will be given a ride on a helicopter provided by race organizers to cut out the long transfer after the stage. Extra motivation for someone just outside the top 10 to get back some time this afternoon? Kruijswijk is only 3 seconds away from 10th and Chaves is only 36 seconds away.

    • You’re right, it’s not the same. It has a lot less passive-aggressiveness. But there’s also a lot more outright aggression. So it’s not all good.

      • I am sad to say, I believe you hit the nail on the head on both counts.

        Over the years this blog has been a place to enjoy excellent cycling articles, discussion leading to fascinating extra-curricular learning such as word derivations, snippets of humour and respectful views shared, all guided by the even-handed approach of our host. May we all learn from such an example. People will always disagree at times, let us show once again we can do so without the negativity that has increased in the last year or two.

  13. What are these rumours of Aru rift with Astana?

    I’m not surprised, do we know if he’s leaving as yet?

    Astana have a gem in Lopez, if they’d have a Landa, Lopez double act next season that would have been formidable, if the cards fell favourably could see that tandem winning two tours next year.

    What might have been…

    I struggle to see Aru winning another GT.

  14. Careless of Nibali to give back half of his gains from Los Machucos, don’t you think? My own take on Froome from stage 17 is that he decided, for reasons I can’t know, to ride it at his own pace. He has the luxury of being able to do that. I’m sure that others may have imagined, or hoped, that it was the start of a collapse but today’s stage seems to suggest that we aren’t quite there yet. Indeed, it was the Italian who lost time and not the man in red. Those making herculean efforts, Contador, Lopez, too a lesser extent Nibali, have to pay for those exertions somewhere down the line. Sky weren’t in a charitable mood today and gave them nothing. Two days to go.

    • Agree with a lot of what you say, but think you’re wrong on that. Froome had either an off day or is weakening (we’ll see tomorrow) – defo not choosing to ride at a slower pace yesterday and intentionally giving away seconds or miscalculating. He’s far too competitive for that, plus would have closed some of the gap himself at the close rather than stuck to Nieve’s wheel. Even when he allows himself to be dropped he always comes back, and if he doesn’t admits he didn’t have it (as he did yesterday and today and in the Tour) or admits he miscalculated after showing his strength late on (last years Vuelta).

      • What Dave said. No way was Froome saving himself. I think he was on the limit on a hill that just did not suit him. He will always have off days (see Peyragudes) and this was one of them.

        To add to what many have said above…I’m loving Contador this Vuelta. I thought he was done…

      • A bit of both I reckon. Initially when he let Nibali at al go it looked like he’d decided to do his usual let them go, keep a tempo, and then work his way back up to them (or at least manage the gap) thing. But then when it came to the second part of that plan he was surprised by how well those ahead kept going, and didn’t have enough in the legs to execute the plan.

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