Vuelta a España Stage 18 Preview

A likely sprint stage.

Stage 17 Review: another day, another giant breakaway and if it included several usual suspects like Bauke Mollema, Rafał Majka and Dylan Teuns it was Michael Woods who won the stage and made an emotional tribute to the still-born son he lost earlier this year. It was Woods’ first big win and with hindsight on ideal terrain for him, the severity of the slope was almost akin to running rather than riding. Everyone seemed to suffer and helpers were on hand to catch the floundering riders after they crossed the line.

Behind Alejandro Valverde was the best of the GC contenders and gained a few seconds on Simon Yates and the race leader has every right to be concerned given the races he’s lost this year but all the same he ought to fancy his chances and if anything after this stage things are easier because both Nairo Quintana and Steven Kruijswijk lost time and so there are fewer riders to mark. Enric Mas is now up to third place overall.

The Route: 186km across the plains of Catalonia to Lleida.

The Finish: look at that risky ramp with 2km go to on the profile above. Only it’s fake, the finish today has no such descent. Instead there’s a small hump to get over in the final kilometre, not much but enough to make riders change gear once and then back again, before an uphill drag to the line at 2.5%.

The Contenders: Elia Viviani (Quick Step) is the obvious pick, he’s won two stages, he’s got the lead out train and he’s still in the race. But sprints are sometimes chaotic, he’s lost out to Nacer Bouhanni earlier in the race.

The flat finish allows a few other riders into the mix, notably Max Walscheid (Team Sunweb) and Danny van Poppel (Lotto-Jumbo) who has won here in Lleida before when he took a stage of the 2015 Vuelta. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) could be close too, he ought to have gone home in the race but has stayed on and presumably the form is improving.

Elia Viviani

Weather: warm, sunny and calm. 33°C

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

67 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Stage 18 Preview”

  1. The Vuelta narrative is shaping up well: still a close call at the top. Can Valverde maintain his form at altitude? Does Yates have enough of a gap over Lopez? Is Quintana seriously cooked?

    A note on the latter: I wonder if training solo during the start of the season is the wisest move for Quintana? He seems to be lacking in race craft. Perhaps getting some classics under his belt would help his positioning in stage races.

    • Apparently now there are only certain types of climbs that suit Quintana.
      What’s happened to him, would a change of team help him?
      His bad days are never truly bad, but his good days seem to be becoming rarer.

      • I think the rest of the cycling world has advanced but he’s largely stayed the same. He’s still the 2013-2015 Quintana, but so is everybody else now too.

        • His look rarely changes and doesn’t give much away so is it a lack of race craft when he is flicking elbow or looking around expecting others to chase or it is simply a case he simply not capable?

          He hasn’t met what I expected him to become but the Movistar set up doesn’t help either.

          • +1

            Quintana’s been largely disappointing in recent seasons, when measured against expectations and past form – it does make me wonder when the expectations will adjust to become what we’ve seen more recently.

            The Cycling Podcast (Fran Reyes in particular) seemed especially convinced that Quintana was the strongest going into the race and persisted with it for the first two weeks, and I couldn’t really determine why they thought that would be the case – he’s hardly set any Grand Tours alight for a couple of seasons now, and even in the racing there was little to suggest he had anything Yates didn’t other than facial expressions and the little dig where he took a handful of seconds (but where I thought Yates may have the “handbrake” on due to Mitchelton’s plan). Valverde has looked stronger than Quintana throughout, to me – though obviously things can change. It’s set up excitingly, regardless.

      • Problem is, one by one nearly every climb has been ruled out in this Vuelta. Probably all that remains is the long, long slog type – so tomorrow’s 17km climb better suit or his GC days look numbered.

    • Has Valverde got form at altitude? If I remember correctly Stage 9 has been the only one with climbs above 1600m and he lost quite a bit of time to Yates. It’s all shaping up for a real showdown on Saturday.

  2. I’d be interested to know how many rings Inrng would give the top five for the GC at this point.

    Someone postulated that Valverde May try to snipe some bonus seconds at the finish today, presumably on the basis that the road map shows an uphill. I don’t that any sprinter that hauled himself up that climb yesterday is going to allow that.

    It was telling that Adam Yates did a significant pull yesterday. He will be key to Simon’s success Friday and Saturday.

      • They won’t be doing him any favours if he’s getting on a wheel they want, and they’re not going to gift him points – if I have to spell out what I mean any further, so they will look to muscle him out of contention. If he wants to risk a crash in a sprint at the end of a GT then….well, I’ll let your intelligence figure out the rest.

  3. Fascinating Stage, spectacular scenes through the clouds and mist.

    I enjoyed Nairos comments in the press saying “the criticism doesn’t hurt but his legs do” a rare bit of humour from the quiet Colombian. I wonder how much use he can be to Valverde in the last days?

  4. He probably can’t make the time up on Yates, unless he cracks spectacularly, but Mas looks like the real deal, doesn’t he? He’s handled the high mountains very well for a young rider, real TT capabilities, and he’s holding Valverde’s wheel on the steep stuff. Plus he seems level-headed but very confident in his ability. Will QS be able to properly support him in GTs?

    • Mas is a really exciting rider. And whats more impressive is he has done all this with virtually zero help in the mountains from QS.

      QS don’t invest in this type of mountain domestique, but I have no doubt he will be snapped up by a grant tour focused team soon. Possibly Astana, UAE or BM.

      • Will be interesting to see how Quickstep allocate their resources today. Surely they won’t use everyone to police all breakaways to ensure a sprint for Viviani. Only Rohan Dennis in the time trials has been a shorter price than Viviani ($1.44) so it should not be necessary, particularly with such a weak field of sprinters.

    • Exactly what I was thinking. Seems a very odd match up. I suspect he’ll need to find a new team to match his GC aspirations. Trek need someone – oh wait, they’ve got Porte…

  5. Watching Simon Yates through the mist yesterday the question that crossed my mind is whether or not his performance indicated the start of yet another collapse. I do hope not because he is an exciting young rider, but being out sprinted by a veteran at the top of a long climb does raise questions.

    I simply don’t want to see Valverde win this Tour for obvious reasons.

    I’ll get my hat.

  6. Unzue, are you out there? Are you listening? What have you done with the real Nairo Quintana and why have you replaced him with this terrified dud who is scared to attack and stripped of the form and promise he once had? Reaching what should be the peak of his career, you have made him worse under the umbrella of your team and not better. In 2013 when he was 2nd only to Froome in the Tour you wouldn’t have found a cycling fan alive who didn’t think he would win the Tour one day, if not multiple editions. Instead, he gets worse and worse amongst the greatest of company, 12th in last year’s race and 10th this year having targeted the race specifically! What’s that you say? Last year was his fourth grand tour in a row when he came 12th so he has the tiredness excuse? Not so, Unzue! Froome did four grand tours in a row too and in his fourth he still finished on the Tour podium, beating all 3 of your tridente duds! How can you be so inept Unzue? And now, in a race that Nairo really should walk if his past reputation and promise be any guide, he meekly slips down the GC ranking again, currently 6th in a race in which the best grand tour riders of our day have all excused themselves. Thank goodness you rely on the vampire that is Valverde to bring you regular success. In truth, Unzue, he saves your blushes and the much bigger savaging that you and your team deserve! This race should have been Movistar’s for the taking, and at a canter, but one thing you can always count on is that if Unzue can **** it up, he’ll find a way!

    • Quintana’s goose was cooked long ago. If you are a top ITTer and can climb (think Dumoulin, Froome, Roglic, Thomas) then you beat Quintana. Simple as. Nairo Quintana is not an all-rounder and not the power rider you need to be to win modern grand tours. In that respect, at least, Larry T’s “mow ’em in the chrono” analysis is spot on.

      • The pundits love the “pure climber” tag but it’s putting a positive spin on things as what it really means is “good climber who can’t TT”. I can’t remember the last time there was a “pure climber” who was actually a better climber than the best GC riders. Maybe Schleck was a better climber than Evans, I suppose, but even Armstrong regularly had the better of Pantani/Virenque etc in the mountains (although I admit I switched off from cycling a little during that period).

        In the present era Froome and now Thomas/Dumoulin/Roglic all look stronger climbers than Quintana, Chavez or Bardet (much as I love the latter). Contador/Nibali could both pull out a good TT on their day as well. It’ll be interesting to see if S.Yates can break that mould and mix things in the mountains with Froome/Dumoulin/Thomas/Roglic next year at the Tour, if he chooses to do it. You’d imagine he’d have to take minutes out of them in the mountains.

        • PS – I suppose Quintana took time out of Dumoulin in the mountain at last year’s Giro but some of the time was THAT toilet incident and I think Dumoulin showed he is a stronger climber this year too.

        • Armstrong’s rise coincided almost perfectly with Pantani’s demise. The two of them head to head at their peak would have been absolutely great (2000 Tour Pantani wasn’t the best version), and I’m not sure Armstrong would have come out on top. 1998 Gir0 – 1999 Giro Pantani was incredible, with all the relevant disclaimers that also apply to Armstrong. If Ullrich had stayed on the straight and narrow and maintained his 1997 Tour level I reckon he’d have had the better of them both.

          • Yeah, that was sort of my perception but I think the last 90s Tour I watched closely was probably Riis’ win. I think I’ve learned more about those years from reading retired riders’ biographies than I did from actually watching the racing, as it wasn’t until about 2009 I started really paying attention again.

        • Our perspective on this is all a bit distorted too because many ‘pure climbers’ à la Barguil or Majka don’t even bother about the GC anymore and simply save their legs for the mountain-top finishes most to their liking. It’s almost like we now have a separate class of riders the ‘pure gc-contender’ who doesn’t really care about day-succes anymore but powers his way up and down the landscape with one eye on the gizmos fixed on his handle-bars and one eye on the standings. you can’t really fault anyone for trying to maximalize the return on their talents and investments but entertaining it ain’t…

    • I suppose Unzue, and his teams, reputation is based primarily on the success of Indurain and to a lesser extent Valverde. And I suppose you could argue that a duck could have been in charge of Banesto and Indurain still would have won the Grand Tours that he did, he was by farm the best time trialist of the GC men in an era when there were an awful lot of time trial kilometres. Likewise I’m not sure it requires any great tactical planning for Valverde to win his usual array of hilly one dayers and one week Spanish stage races. Quintana has unquestionably got worse since that 2013 Tour, since the 2015 Tour really. Though you could argue that even if he had stayed at that level, or improved, he would never have bested Froome or Dumoulin in the Tour. He seems a shadow of the rider he was, devoid of spark and confidence. Valverde meanwhile just keeps on keeping on. I’ve generally always been against him but I wouldn’t begrudge him this Vuelta one bit.

      • Valverde had his Operation Puerto ban but he seems a pretty popular guy in the peloton which might suggest he’s thought to be clean now by his fellow pros? I know it’s easy to allude to things with Valverde – and almost all of the podcasts are guilty of it – but maybe the alternative possibility is that he is one of the all-time greats and this is his true physical capability when matched against his peers? Yes, he doped at a time when it seems 95% of the peloton did but in an era which has tighter controls, he’s still putting out amazing results. Maybe he just is that good. I hope that’s the case and a Worlds for Valverde would finish off an incredible career…

        • There’s also the middle view that he’s as clean as anyone else now and he’s obviously top class but the previous doping is still impacting positively for him.

          • Fair comment. I’m not really sure what I think to be honest, and realise the above post could be hopelessly naive. I suppose the only thing I know for certain is that I hope he’s clean.

        • Michael, with respect, I think a Valverde win would prove right all those who wrote under the Vuelta preview article on this site that this is a second class race, a race of guys who wouldn’t win if the real grand tour contenders were here. Valverde has never won a grand tour except for the 2009 Vuelta which was not against the best field either (beating Sammy Sanchez, Cadel Evans, Basso, Mosquera and Gesink) and, for some at least, might be mired in the “vampiric” suggestions that kim jong vaughters seems, rather cleverly, to have alluded to.

          Whilst some will praise a “Sky-fee race”, others just see lesser riders fighting over scraps.

          • There’s no doubt in my mind that Thomas/Froome/Dumoulin and maybe even Roglic are a step above the GC contenders here, although I can still enjoy the Vuelta for what it has – a slightly chaotic last chance saloon vibe. It’ll be interesting to see if Yates/Mas can translate this performance into a Tour challenge, but only time will tell on that. The Giro is my favourite GT, and the Classics my favourite part of the season, although I still enjoy the Vuelta and Tour for what they are and their own characteristics.

  7. Never crossed my mind Yates could win this Tour. What if the same squad placed in TdF next year?. Valverde seemingly a better climber than NG. Many losers in cycling betting this year.

  8. I frequently wonder about the (negative) impact that Valverde has on Quintana.

    There is no doubt that Valverde is the boss of the team. Imagine the team bus before each stage. He will be calling the shots. Quintana is forever in his shadow.

    Indeed maybe Quintana simply doesn’t have it. But anyone at this level needs 100% support and commitment to them – not this shady grey area of dual-leadership.

    At the elite level of any sport, the differences between athletes’ physical capacities is minimal – it all comes down to psychological strength.


  9. “But anyone at this level needs 100% support and commitment to them – not this shady grey area of dual-leadership.”
    Didn’t seem much of an issue in France in July for the Team That Can’t Be Criticized in my memory.
    “At the elite level of any sport, the differences between athletes’ physical capacities is minimal – it all comes down to psychological strength.”
    So the “marginal gains” idea promoted by the TTCBC is bogus? Doesn’t seem to be working for them here for sure, but did they just decide not to care much after victories at the other two GT’s this season?
    OTOH, I do wonder what’s happened to Quintana? I’m tempted to chalk it up to the old “concentrate on getting better in the chrono at the expense of climbing prowess” but I wonder if there’s something else involved. This guy certainly doesn’t seem to be one who falls apart mentally – which I do think might be part of Fabio Aru’s problems. I assume Quintana’s going to Innsbruck – perhaps he’ll surprise us all there?

      • Excellent question hoh. I’m just going on how many times in the past guys with great climbing ability that get mowed down in the chrono stages come to a new season with talk of how they worked during the off-season on their chrono skills (wind tunnel work, etc) only to find they lack their old spark when the road tilts up steeply.

        • I don’t see why improving TT capabilities should have a negative effect on climbers, if all they’re doing is working on their position. I don’t see any climbers putting on weight to improve their flat TT power?

          I suspect the reality is often that a climber peaks, possibly knows it, and talks up theoretical TT gains to secure a better contract or team leader role at a race. The downward trajectory has begun without the wider world realising and a natural decline is put down to TT specific reasons. Unless a rider puts on weight for flat TTs I don’t see why TT specific work should harm their climbing abilities.

  10. You are a very strange man Larry , you can criticise Sky as much as you want , who is stopping you ? You can also criticise Movistar or Astana or any other team

    Just call them Sky and don’t pretend your posts will get deleted or something

  11. I am lured to believe that to win any WT consecutively you need a minimum magic body height/weight with specific ratio in order to perfect in TT/descending/climbing skills. It seems 1.8m is the prerequisite to all three. Might be an exception this year.

    • Sadly, I think this is pretty accurate. The entire thing is getting to be little more than a formula. Which is why race organizers need to make the courses and races more rewarding of bike handling skill, tactical smarts and other things that can’t be boiled down to a formula. Race radios, power meters, TV screens in the DS’ car and the like all contribute to this formula, which is why they should be banned.

      • Larryland, where every day is the 1950s. But its funny, because when your guy wins it seems everything is fine, including the power meters, race radios, tv screens in the team car of your guy, and the like. You never say it was bad, wrong or formulaic then.

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