A short and sharp stage, just 117.5km and packed with climbing including the Angliru, the reference point to which other climbs in Spain and beyond are compared.
Stage 19 Review: the breakaway had its day and breakaway specialist Thomas De Gendt had his. A large move went clear and it swelled further when others including Romain Bardet bridged across. The group was large bordering on chaotic, a peloton in its own right rather than a bunch of fugitives. The late climbs thinned things down and on the final climb for a moment Bardet seemed to be in the best position but he and local Ivan Garcia of Bahrain-Merida were caught on the descent by others and in turn caught again by more riders including De Gendt. This was anti-De Gendt, in the breakaway yet not surging up the road out of brute force. This time he surfed the wheels and timed his surf and sprinted to the stage win.
Behind Alberto Contador attacked and quickly gained mucho time but even with relays from Edward Theuns who sat up from the breakaway he couldn’t stay away. Contador is pure pepper and salt, a nutritionist might scan the race result and not notice his contribution but he adds spice to the race. He may be racing his last Vuelta like there’s no tomorrow but there is, or at least today is his stage only now he might have wooden legs.
The Route: uphill from the start, there’s no marked climb but the road up to La Reigada certainly climbs, a launchpad for a breakaway… and a chance to taste breakfast again for others. Otherwise it’s a quick procession south towards the mountains of Cantabria.
The first climb is the Alto de la Cobertoria, 8.1km at 8.6% and on a regular road but with several sections of double-digit gradient. It’s followed by a reciprocal descent straight into the next climb.
The Alto de El Cordal is 5.7km at 8.6%, short but with little recovery time before or after and this is an irregular climb with frequently changing gradients. The descent is more steady to La Vega.
The Finish: the Angliru isn’t as famous as Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux or Mortirolo but it’s arguably harder. Included for the first time in the Vuelta in 1999 it’s proved a tough contest for each of the five editions. We saw Bradley Wiggins surrender his lead to Juajo Cobo in 2011, the race winning moment and in 2013 race leader Chris Horner pulled away from Vincenzo Nibali to seal the race.
It’s true pro riders have the ability to level any mountain with a click of a gear or the installation of a compact chainset but the Angliru is a real challenge for its irregularity. No more so than the Cueña Les Cabres section that is illustrated by the box above in the profile.
The Contenders: Alberto Contador should be the prime pick but his efforts yesterday mean he spent a lot of energy for no reward and so it’ll be harder to dance away for that essential Spanish stage win. He’s still the default pick.
Chris Froome is next. He’s taken stage wins already and can take one again, to triumph on the Angliru would avenge the shetani he’s lived with ever since playing second fiddle to Bradley Wiggins in the 2011 Vuelta and the 2012 Tour de France.
Miguel Ángel López is better suited to diesel climbs like the Sierra Nevada finish but all the same the Angliru is a long slog and he can win.
Vincenzo Nibali returns to the mountain where he surrendered the Vuelta to Chris Horner. A stage win seems hard especially as he can consolidate his second place overall.
Michael Woods is great on steep slopes but winning is his problem, to actually take the stage win is a big ask, especially since the steep slopes go on and on here.
|Chris Froome, Miguel Angel Lopez
|Woods, Nibali, Majka, Denifl, Moreno
Weather: sunshine at times but often cloudy and a top temperature of 21°C with a rain shower possible at altitude.
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. It’s live on TV from start to finish and the first of the three climbs begins at 4.20pm CEST and finish is forecast for 5.40pm CEST.
Daily Díaz: Today’s stage is 117,5 km long, and the riders are expected to race between 3h26’ and 3h49’. Does the Vuelta favor the shortest stages of the grand tours? In 2017, the average length of the regular stages (excluding TTs) was 186,3 km (Giro), 184,4 km (Tour) and 172,1 km (Vuelta). It seems so. My next question is: does this make the Vuelta harder or softer than the other grand tours? Let’s have a look at the time gaps. In the Giro the 10th rider was 15’17” slower than Dumoulin, the 25th 1h26’41”, and the 50th 2h25’08”. In the Tour the 10th rider was 9’25” slower than Froome, the 25th 1h04’22”, and the 50th 2h04’53”. With only two stages left, will the Vuelta confirm the trend (the shorter the stages, the smaller the gaps)? Put it in other words: are the Vuelta organisers favoring narrower gaps by shortening the stages?
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel