Vuelta a España Stage 15 Preview

The first long summit finish. The Vuelta doesn’t have many mythical climbs, there’s no Ventoux nor Stelvio but the Lagos de Covadonga are the closest the race gets, a climb that’s been a regular since the 1980s and climbed for the 21st time today.

Simon Yates

Stage 14 Review: what the course lacked in altitude it made up for in attitude with steep climbs, twisting descents and rough roads. After giant breakaways for most of the week a small move of Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), Nicolas Roche and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Michael Woods (Education First-Drapac) and Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-Merida) got away and were kept close by Cofidis and Movistar. Cortina himself sat up and then Bahrain-Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali led the chase, the Sicilian not yet at his best but better than he’s been since exiting the Tour.

With Kwiatkowski the last to get caught by what was left of the peloton after Nibali had shredded it, we saw Nairo Quintana active among seven riders, with M-A Lopez, Alejandro Valverde, Thibaut Pinot, Enric Mas, Steven Kruijswijk and Simon Yates. They traded attacks with Yates, hiding behind giant sunglasses that appear to double as a welding mask, got away for the stage win and took the race lead. The constant attacks made it thrilling but while the steep slope made it look as if riders were almost halted by gravity the TV helicopter above was also contributing with its down draft blowing riders at times.

The Route: the Vuelta doesn’t really have mythical climbs in the way the Tour de France has the Galibier, Tourmalet, Ventoux or Alpe d’Huez, so famous they’re practically brands in their own right and destinations where you can rent a road bike at the foot; like the Giro has the Stelvio or Mortirolo. But Covadonga is as close as it gets.

They climb the Mirador del Fito twice, a 7.8% average and with 10% ramps along the way and plenty to shrink the peloton.

The Finish: It’s long at 7.2% average but a very irregular climb with constantly changing gradients, a staircase climb. By the time they pass the lakes a rider with a gap can often maintain or even build their lead on the descent and then the road rises at 7.5% to the finish line.

The Contenders: this is a long climber, after the short intense efforts of recent days where the finishing climb took between 12-15 minutes, today’s longer ascent is more alpine in feel and will last 25-30 minutes, the double. As such this is a climb to suit Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who won the last time the race came here, and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) who has been holding his own so far. Readers were asking why Lopez wasn’t tipped yesterday, the answer is he’s not explosive enough for these short climbs to be touted as a stage winner but now he finds terrain more to his liking and if he wants to win the race there’s no point sniping the stage win, he has to take time too. Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) is also a pick for today and we’ll see how he fares on a longer climb. Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) is one to watch, he’s struggled on the short climbs and we’ll see if the longer ascent suits him better.

Can the breakaway stick? Today should be harder, we can expect the big teams to drive the pace into the foot of the final climb but still Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Pierre Rolland (EF-Drapac) come to mind as outside picks.

Nairo Quintana, M-A Lopez
Simon Yates, Alejandro Valverde
Pinot, Mollema, Rolland,

Weather: sunshine and clouds with a chance of rain, a maximum of 26°C in the sunshine.

Tune in: the finish is forecast for 5.40pm CEST.

55 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Stage 15 Preview”

  1. Bauke has seemed a bit tired over the last few stages. Maybe Brambilla will try for Trek though he’s only 5’ or so down. Also a real KoM battle on the way as Matè was shown using an inhaler along side the medical car early in the stage yesterday and seems to be feeling the effects of those early efforts. After his whine to Mollema the other day about the ills of fighting for dots, Bauke might get in the break just to put some distance between the two of them…

    As for GC, Kruijswijk was frisky yesterday and normally the longer climbs suit. Any chance he’ll go early on the final climb and no one will want to chase?

    • I was thinking the same thing Larrick. Remember Kruijswijk’s death or glory Froome-style attack at the Tour? Kelderman also needs to gain some time ahead of the time trial if he’s thinking of red. And who knows, maybe Uran will put his nose in the wind!

  2. Great win for Yates yesterday. Let’s hope he’s still got something in the tank for today.

    Some reports I’ve read suggest it’s between him and Quintana for overall victory now. I’m not so sure. There’s still a LOT of mountains to get over. A jour sans here, a mechanical or crash there…

    Looking forward to this afternoon’s racing.

    • I do like the welder’s mask comparison, the out-size glasses that many riders wear are not for me.
      I think they make their heads look like giant insects.

      Anyway, Yates, yes. Tremendous yesterday, I think he surprised Movistar.
      I do fear MA Lopez today. Quintana often seems to need a catalyst and I feel that his countryman could be it. They could even work in tandem if they get the jump on the Briton.
      Today is a severe test for his hopes.
      His team are on leader’s duties too. Interesting.

  3. If Kruijswijk can time it right and get away in the first 6k I can’t see anyone with the team mates or willingness to pull on the front across those stairs to catch him. None of the top contenders seemed to want to work yesterday

  4. Valverde been very strong up till now. I wonder if he can keep that up on this long climb. In any case Movistar have the strongest team with Carapaz one of the last helpers to fall away, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear leader yet. But with the final week in mind Quintana would be the more logical pick for the top step in Madrid. Yates seems to use a similar tactic to what he did in the Giro, riding away in or near the last km. I don’t dare to make any predictions about how long he can keep that going this time around.
    I love Kruijswijk’s attempts at longer range attacks, he’s not very explosive so maybe he can make it stick finally? He’s won so few races for such a strong rider.

    • I was thinking more Elton John was his inspiration…those things are absurdly large!
      But whatever, he seems to have learned something at the Giro…

  5. I found Kwiatkowski’s ride yesterday inexplicable. He’s been increasingly slipping as a real GC threat, but he was still only a few minutes down from the favorites. If he wanted to shift gears to try being a stage hunter, it seems like he would need to ship more time before he’d be allowed sufficient freedom. And if his goal was to gain some time back to stay in the GC hunt, that very early move seemed like a foolish way to go. It seems like he put out a huge amount of effort, which will surely affect him today and going forward, with only a “most combative” jersey to show. This all didn’t seem very Sky-like to me, but perhaps there’s something I’m missing.

    • What about training block to be ticked off? It is more incredible for me that the peloton actually let him go into the break in the first place being only a few minutes down. He did drop more towards 10 minutes down mark after yesterday. I suppose it wasn’t to be his day today anyway.

      • You’re probably right about him targeting Worlds. I recall now that being mentioned yesterday in the on-line commentary. That’s part of what makes this race so interesting – so many different agendas, both individual and team.

  6. Some of these sunglasses (that’s probably incorrect, should be eyewear?) remind me of the old Oakley Factory Pilots from the ’80’s. Since I’m old enough to have worn them I wonder if the new versions are as hot as the old ones were? Half of your face is behind plastic and plenty of heat is reflected back onto you, yet a lot of these guys keep ’em on no matter what.
    Can someone explain what I assume is a British-ism..the use of the word SHIP? I checked a few online English dictionaries and couldn’t find any reference to things like “He shipped time” or “His chain shipped” This use of the word puzzles me.

  7. No mythical climbs in the Vuelta ?
    – how about the Angliru ?

    (or Sa Colabra, so famous Evans Cycles brand Hoy have a bike named after it
    – big grin)

  8. Was giggling about the giant insects look. I could only think of the movie The Fly, then Elton Jon… and big head size of a melon. You wear big in the head above then skin tight piece of jersey even a mild wind can blow it away into shred pieces. Not long ago you witnessed all sleeves were cut XXcm short as if bit by a mini shark. All because rules were made by ‘professionals’ who have lost track with the two-wheeled vehicles.
    Quintana is on his track to final victory. Astana will probably take a 2nd/3rd place in one single stage. Team Lotto ditto. Yates let’s see how he descends. (st 20).
    Again just enjoy the syntax lessons on ‘shipment’ Imagine James Martin and Jamie Oliver traveling to American mid west, New Orleans. Mary Berry probably wouldn’t even bother except indulging in country house meeting gracefully true blue blood.

  9. I’m surprised that Adam Yates was wearing a skin suit yesterday and didn’t do anything. Maybe it was a bluff of sorts, or that things didn’t pan out for him in the break. A number of riders have been using them. I know they are meant to afford aero efficiencies, but they’ve been used in mountainous areas where the benefit (due to lower speeds) is less. Seems to be more of a norm these days.

    • I hope they are not making ‘aero’ claims about them. Not one single creature on this planet has developed a look like it, whether flying or swimming. You’d think that some beast would have evolved to alter their eye sockets if there was a speed advantage to looking like you’re about to begin repairs to the Titanic.

      I have a pair of Oakley Radarlock XL which has a larger frame to the normal Radarlock. They do increase the field of view for cyclists, compared to the normal design (because you tend to look up through your eye wear as a cyclist, not down) but these are bigger still. He might as well be wearing his favorite ski goggles.

    • They’re a Scott product so it’s probably a contractural obligation to wear their products too, though obviously there’s a range to pick from. Trentin has been wearing the same shades but in black too by the looks of things. They’re cooler, the yellow isn’t easy on the eye (any pun not intended).

  10. Was amazed at the lack of effort to fight for the line by Quintana. He lost at least 2-3 seconds. After everything Valverde did to close gaps the least he could do is race to the line. He seems to have lost mentally and I don’t think he’ll even make the podium now.

  11. Was a very interesting stage im quite new to cycling. I thought pinot was just to strong on the day. Lopez and Yates tried to crack there opponents multiple times but didn’t quite have the legs. Was an amazing ride by valverde. Quintana seemed to be quite disappointing but as with poker sometimes it’s the chips you save as opposed to the one you win that are most important. I don’t know if any of the top gc guys are tt specialists so will be intesting to see the time gaps after the next stage. Hopefully Yates doesn’t fall apart after the tt like he did in the giro.

    • I’ve got a terrible feeling that somehow Valverde is going to walk off with the red jersey. Indeed he could well be in it by tomorrow evening. Damn

  12. After Yates tried to wave him through, he did the same to Valverde as if he were a domestique expected to do all the chasing. Not surprised Valverde didn’t respond.

    • Agreed, that was quite telling. It seems like Quintana does think Valverde is in his service, but Alejandro’s having none of it. I’m guessing that Valverde will take time off Quintana in the TT tomorrow to keep things interesting between them in the third week!

  13. Can’t help with the sunglasses. Bolle, don’t they look similar one way or another? Why sports watches never seem to appear to become a dominant sponsor, a wearable device?! A safety issue:)?

  14. Another sad but true day… it’s impossible to win today a grand tour without TUE. We really should have had two separate classifications for normal riders and handicapped ones (Froome, Yates, Wiggins asf). Yates was disqualified for illegal drugs in not so far past, but cleared after ridiculous team’s explanations that “it was team’s fault, because they forgot to tell about TUE”. Are we serious about this sport? Can we have real cycling? I’d be passionate to see what not-ill guys can do on their bikes. Currently we have grotesque situation and as cycling is dominated by British influences everybody pretends that everything is fine :)))

    • Your first sentence is, in fact, completely correct. Assuming that the words you elided were “If you take medication that contains a prescribed substance, then”

      Because what you’ve done is describe how the TUE system is supposed to work: if you’re on medicine that’s on the banned list, then it’s impossible to compete without a TUE, so it’s impossible to win a grand tour without one.

      Even if, like Yates, you write the name of the substances on the form you complete when tested, that isn’t enough to escape a ban: you must also complete the TUE.

      Thank you for the reminder.

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