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.
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 12.km 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.