Vuelta a España Stage 20 Preview

97km and almost 4,000 vertical metres, today’s stage has a y-axis of evil with more hairpins than a Broadway dressing room.

Stage 19 Review: Movistar worked hard all day but imploded on the climb of the Coll de la Rabassa. It ought to have been a stage where Alejandro Valverde chipped away at Simon Yates’s slender lead but the Spanish team imploded and Yates went on the attack himself turning his 25 second lead into 1m38s. It was brave of Movistar to try but they seemed caught between two objectives, setting a fast pace as if they wanted to launch an attack on the mountain, and shepherding Valverde to the finish so he could take the time bonus. Nairo Quintana did try a move and was joined by Steven Kruijswijk and Thibaut Pinot but in the end it created a bridging point for Simon Yates who flew across and suddenly Valverde was losing ground. Yates eventually cracked Kruijswijk but not Pinot who jumped clear for the stage win, his second in this race.

The Route: 97km and 3,700m of vertical gain with barely a flat road. It’s a tour of the microstate – part mountain kingdom, part duty free outlet – and starts in town and takes the climb of La Comella, 8.7% for 4km and so twisty it pays to be near the front. A quick descent and it’s onto the Col de Beixalis, 7.1km at 8% and up to 1,800m above sea level before the descent and straight into the Col d’Ordino, 9.8km at 7.1% and steeper at the start but otherwise a big wide road and then a steady drop back down before scaling the Beixalis once again and then climbing La Comella once more but in reverse, 4km at 6.3% and then down all the twisty hairpins.

The Finish: the Coll de la Gallina but not all the way to the mountain pass, instead just the first 3.5km. It averages 8.7% and is steepest at the start. It’s a twisty climb with 18 hairpins in the final four kilometres and is a steady 9% to the finish line.

The Contenders: the breakaway has a good chance. The teams with GC aspirations are likely to play it steady, nobody looks capable of overturning Simon Yates and to work hard throughout the stage just risks imploding in the finish, like we saw yesterday. Still Astana may want to stir things up, M-A Lopez is fifth overall and has a 90 second buffer on Quintana in sixth place so could gamble. Otherwise today’s stage suits Michael Woods (EF-Drapac), Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), half of BMC Racing with Dylan Teuns and Alessandro de Marchi as the lead picks. We should see Team Sky try en masse too, they’ve barely weighed on the race and this is the last chance to show before tomorrow’s Madrid criterium.

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) has a stage win already but not while wearing the leader’s jersey and he could also win a stage in his adopted home of Andorra too so there’s added motivation to win. Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) blows hot and cold but has nothing to lose.

Miguel Angel Lopez, Simon Yates
Teuns, Pinot, Majka, Woods

Weather: cloudy and the chance of a thunderstorm, 22°C in the valleys, 15°C at altitude.

Tune in: the stage starts at 2.50pm CEST the finish is forecast for 5.40pm.

84 thoughts on “Vuelta a España Stage 20 Preview”

  1. “…adopted home of Andorra.” Surely he’s still as British as Chris Froome, though? Whatever. Great race, thanks for the devoted coverage etc., Mr. Ring!

  2. Interesting “tactics” from Astana yesterday, Pello Bilbao (at one hour down on Yates) sitting on the back of the GC group for most of the climb as if trying to protect his GC position, then eventually comes to the front but not to set tempo for Lopez but rather launch a futile attack. Movistar are rightfully criticised for the way they race, but yesterday it just just Quintana and then Valverde cracking, but Astana weren’t even taking advantage of this let alone trying to most effectively protect their own position.

    • They may appear in a breakaway, purely to pick up mountain points, but I’m guessing they won’t be up for a stage win as a result. Other riders will let them waste themselves hovering up points on the early climbs and then will be in a better position than these guys to win the stage.

    • As RQS says, very unlikely to win (nearly certainly won’t) but it should be a great KoM fight. Not sure Maté has anything left but you’d expect Ben King to be there fighting it out too.

  3. Is Richie Porte still in the race (he is but where is he) he said the 3rd week he should be better I wished he would do something I’d like to see him give it a try there is nothing to race for and be nice to give BMC maybe one more win.

    • If I’d been a DS I would have been absolutely furious at Porte hitting out on a sprint stage earlier in the race.

      I thought at the time it was odd Porte being in a break on a stage that it was very unlikely for him to have a chance to win, but assumed it was a lead up to multiple stage win attempts on hilly stages.

      Now he hasn’t been in any breaks despite clearly being capable that day I would be even more infuriated, surely BMC will be very disappointed if he didn’t go for it today?

      I think you’re right he owes them a little, and a rider of his calibre even at 70% has a chance of winning a stage as long as he puts himself forward…. not on a flat stage… where he seemed to just fancy a nice ride…

      (I saw all this, having had a cold this week which completely destroyed a ride I was on… so Porte cycling on despite having stomach issues probably deserves more respect)

        • It is odd that he’s not tried for a stage win though isn’t it? Surely he’s capable of staying in contention for a mountain stage. Is he not doing trying on orders from Trek so BMC don’t get any UCI points? Or is he simply training for the World Champs?

  4. Carlton Kirby coming up with some Grade A terrible link up commentary yesterday:
    ‘it’s all been laid bare on the mount here, but it’s bare steel in the hands it seems’

    • It was good to see a race leader go on the attack at distance rather than ride defensibly. Hats off to Simon Yates for an exciting display of aggressive racing.

      Carlton Kirby somehow manages to become more dire every day without even trying. His new practice of reading from script the names of 60 riders who he considers ‘in with a chance’ at the finish is his latest nauseating and mind numbing habit. Mute the fool or don’t watch British Eurosport. There are plenty of decent alternatives.

      • Anybody remember Harmon …… he was the best IMHO

        IN CK defence its a difficult job to fill all the dead space, perhaps he should not feel like he has to, silence is good also

    • Maybe we could start a Carlton Kirby drinking game: down half your drink every time he repeats his tip for stage victory; shot of tequila every time he misses an attack etc.

    • Should anyone require more reasons not to read my comments I’d just like to assure you all that I am a big fan of Carlton Kirby. He is what you need on events that can be five or six hours long: entertaining. Yes, his dad jokes are stupid and don’t always land but I’ve watched worse comedians who are paid to be funny in a way Kirby is not. Its also amusing how he picks riders to win seemingly based on nothing yet claims he’s heard a whisper. You guys need to take him less seriously and enjoy the event. He’s just easing you through it, that’s all.

      • In the early stages of the race I totally agree with you Ron, but when football gave up with shouty commentators 15 years ago why do we think it is so clever for Kirby and Boulting to start screaming out their commentary to induce fake excitement when anything happens. This is so patronising and treats the viewers as comatose morons. It is almost certain that this is encouraged by the producers and seems to be a trend in two-wheeled sport, MotoGP having hired a shouty idiot to replace the sane and sensible Nick Harris. Boulting makes more mistakes than anyone since David Coleman and Carlton Kirby is becoming more unreliable the more he winds himself up into his silly shouty spells.

      • I like Carlton as well it must be so hard to find things to talk about in such long stages at times he does a good job I think he is my fav out of the commentators

    • I think Kirby is a blagger who has talked himself into an amazing career. But it is a difficult job. I’ve tried having a go and it’s tough, and I’m articulate enough to talk for a living in my own industry. So I can appreciate that he has some skill in being able to fill hours of relatively empty space.
      However, he is sub-standard at reading the race and would be well advised to refer to the expert analysts for expert comment because he doesn’t follow the action consistently enough (I guess he’s doing more stuff off the mic than we might think). I think he also appears to wing it too much and doesn’t prepare thoroughly enough at times.
      He does make me laugh every now and then: sometimes laughing with him, sometimes at him.
      Fair play to him for calling out Andorran riders as tax exiles

  5. Anyone wonder, like me, whether Yates needed to push so hard yesterday and gain so much time? He should win the Vuelta today but there’s a little doubt in my mind now that the past could be repeated if he went too deep yesterday and cracks today. I hope not.

      • Only problem is he has a history of kicking other riders’ plates clean and then not eating anything off his own. Let’s hope he’s very hungry today as I’d like to see him wearing red in Madrid (I am English after all).

        • It seems that for you Kevin one race makes a reputation. Presumably if he wins that means he’ll win lots of grand tours after that? Everyone seems to have admitted he was way too busy in the Giro, chasing every spare second. He hasn’t raced that way here or needed to due the the list of absentees he would have feared in a time trial.

          • “I’ve had so many setbacks,” he said. “I guess those setbacks also really give you the motivation to keep plugging away, keep trying to just pull it off.

            “Even in the final day there in Andorra I really didn’t believe that I could do it. I have been second many, many times, just missing out. We were really focused just to cross the finish line, really complete the job well and it was just an unbelievable journey.”

            Simon Yates yesterday. So there you go Kim. Not just me noting his his near misses.

        • That’s a terrible interpretation of that phrase (which I think is brilliant). If anything Yates made the mistake in the Giro of starting on his own plate before his opponents I.e. he used up all his reserves, whereas a GT winner in some ways waits for his opponents to use up theirs, but using his own in order to gain time….which, incidentally Yates has done this time looking his opponents implosions.

    • If you can take time, why not? I did wonder in the Giro on the stage to Sappada why he forced things so hard but yesterday he could “just” jump across to Quintana, a 10-15 second gap, and then to work with Pinot and Kruijswijk. This pressured Valverde to chase, only the Spaniard cracked.

      • +1 and he this was no licking others’ plates clean case. In fact, the brilliance in it was that it disrupted the normal pattern of waiting until all domestiques are gone.

        He even still had his brother with him as support, but he surprised everyone. I think it started as a spontaneous way to disrupt the obvious Movistar trap, but once Quintana dropped away it quickly turned into a tactical goldmine, with all 3 riders left having different causes to ride for. Kudos for going all in.

  6. From the other side of the earth I’m not greatly concerned whether Yates wins or loses but it would be entertaining to see him tested. I can’t quite see it eventuating but to have a rider four or five minutes back (there’s only three in that category) get into virtual leadership midway through the stage while the rest of the top five mark Yates would be something, especially if he had limited support. There’s a precedent for a vaguely similar situation involving a rider from the British Isles, but that’s more than 30 years ago now. Back then as a junior racer I thought it was pretty unfair, but now I just see it as another layer in the complexity of bike racing…

    • You’d have to concede that, to date, Mitchelton-Scott have done a number on their rivals in avoiding extreme exertion on leader’s duties.
      I’m not overly-familiar with the etiquette of the peloton but, at times, it’s seemed as if they’ve bordered on rudeness in avoiding / passing on chasing and tempo duties.
      Perhaps it’s something to consider in the post-review of the race.
      But I’m expecting (and hoping) that Simon Yates is crowned virtual King of Andorra today, he’s looked pretty much rock solid.
      Ey up Yatesy lad.

      • But isn’t that great? We’ve become used to team domination, and here are MS just sitting in.

        When the split almost happened in The Valley yesterday, Yates was caught out – which was a bit silly – but otherwise they’ve read the race very well.

        As INRNG (and Kim Jong V) says – Movistar’s tactics fell apart, caught between dominating and attacking.

        ps. I’m from the UK and hate all the patriotism generated by 3 British riders in 3 tours, but that’s inevitable. Yates has raced incredibly well.

        • What’s wrong with celebrating success ? I remember when British riders in a grand tour were the likes of Adrian Timmis riding for ANC Halfords with riders considering success just finishing the race

  7. What do you call a team that work all day like dogs so that there is basically no meaningful break to speak of but that then fall apart on the only test of the day like a bunch of choir boys doing an assault course?

    Yes, you call them Movistar under the leadership of Eusebio Unzue. Even by his standards, yesterday was a huge mess. By the end of today people called Yates and Thomas will have won as many grand Tours in 3 months as he has won in a decade. For the personnel Movistar have had in that time they should have performed a hell of a lot better. Quintana, for example, has not just underperformed but he seems to have been actively made worse. It looks like he might complete two grand tours in a row and not trouble the top 5 in either. How can that be?

    You’ll say I go on about this too much. But its only because they should be better. There are no excuses because they’ve had the riders. But, boy, do their tactics stink!

  8. Question for the stattos: just looking through my grand tour records list I cannot find a previous occasion when the same country won five grand tours in a row (which the UK will achieve today if Yates wins) except for the first 6 years of the Tour de France (1903-1909) when it was the only grand tour and largely contested only by the French. Certainly in the era of three consistent grand tours (after 1955) I can’t find the same country winning five grand tours in a row even though there are a few fours (Merckx, for example, won four in a row himself for Belgium in the 70s).

    If this is true and it actually comes to pass its a remarkable feat for a country mostly despised for its cycling process throughout the history of the sport. In fact they’d have two notable feats, same country winning five grand tours in a row and same country winning all the grand tours in the same year and with three different riders. Process and diversity. If you are British its an amazing feat. If you are from the “old countries” or the heartlands it rather embarrassing.

    • Seeing as Froome has little or nothing to do with UK cycling other than a Mum who was born here, I can’t see how this reflects on the UK as anything other than a statistical oddity…

      • Sons of British parentage (Froome, believe it or not, also had a British father, something Bradley Wiggins can’t claim, for example) are regarded as of British heritage. Froome’s two brothers both went to school in England. So it “reflects on the UK” because that is his ancestry however much people find dubious mileage in denying it. For all the “Kenyan born Brit” stuff beloved of hacks like William Fotheringham his ancestry is still British. Where he happened to be on the planet is irrelevant. In fact, none of the three riders from the UK who have won grand tours recently (or who soon might) currently live in the UK. So what? Its a cycling statistic not a claim for UK superiority. If he is so unBritish its strange that that was where he oriented himself to when he was ambitious to progress his career and strange that it was the British who spotted and nurtured him when racing in other colours. Why didn’t some other country do the same? But I digress.

        • I can see the point. Froome was born in Kenya, schooled in South Africa, became a pro with an Italian-based team. He’s not really a product of any British “system” in the same way that Wiggins, Cavendish, Thomas and Yates are.

          • There wasn’t a British ‘system’ like now when Wiggins (born in Ghent with an Aussie dad) was young. BC was run on a shoestring, the UK was a backwater in cycling. Pro riders live on the European mainland for various reasons, not necessarily to avoid UK taxes. Dan Martin is a Brummie who lives in Andorra and rides for Ireland. Who cares?

            People love to project their own prejudices onto riders, celebs etc and Froome doesn’t fit into an existing template of ‘Britishness’ so is a target for scorn from the trolling types. I don’t care where he went to school. I watch the sport to see the best riders in the world, not question their nationality or upbringing. I would like to see Yates win the Vuelta but if he is beaten by someone better then they deserve it. I want the ‘best’ (great / deserving / gutsy / clever / determined /whatever) rider to win every race.

          • There’s the argument that Sky (Bristish Cycling) developed CF into a grand tour winner. He was not a product of British Cycling development as a youth/junior, but he’s the poster boy for University-Graduate level school of British Cycling….Team Sky. Like or not.

        • Wait a sec, wasn’t Aussie considered pretty British back in the day? To date, Aussies still recognise the Queen as their head of state. Apparently she has the power to dissolve Aussie parliament as well.

  9. “…today’s stage has a y-axis of evil with more hairpins than a Broadway dressing room.” Love it!

    “It’s a tour of the microstate – part mountain kingdom, part duty free outlet –, …” is also great. Thanks again for the wonderful and witty context.

  10. Before I depart for the day I’ll just wish happy birthday to Fausto Coppi, born this day in 1919. He is remembered as the sort of racer that we want in cycling. His first race was at age 15 and he won 20 lire and a salami sandwich. He had a very interesting and at times controversial life which you might find interesting.

  11. At times I think simple and most often a naive person. Passport tells who you are, that could also be renounced should circumstances require, then reinstated through the Ministry services with a fee hopefully waived with connection. I am reading all these posts to be honest at a much excited HRs, Yates winning like you said feels like ages ago.

  12. I imagine Larry T must be very conflicted. On the one hand his prayers have been answered: an attacking rider who goes on instinct rather than on power meter data and what the DS in the car says, on the other hand said rider is from an English speaking country.

    As for me, I’ve been enjoying watching Yates ride just as I did in the Giro, and to state the obvious it looks like he’s better measuring his effort here, or perhaps without superstars like Froome and Dumoulin breathing down his neck he’s in a far easier position.

    • You are correct my friend. Add in the terbutaline affair combined with The Green Bullet’s dodgy past and I’m very conflicted. But I am taking comfort that at least the Team That Can’t Be Criticized has been pretty much a non-factor in this race and it seems Vicenzo Nibali’s form is coming back bit by bit for the Worlds. But that course also seems one that both of the above mentioned gentleman might do well on so I’ve kind of moved on towards that race and Lombardia. My glass is half-full, the question is full of what?

        • Yes, indeed. British success. You should be proud of your contribution to this, whatever it might have been. Is there a smugness category? I’ll note you sound like plenty of Yanks who crowed in the same xenophobic way about a certain punk from Texas back-in-the-day.
          I’m wondering if someone like, say Vicenzo Nibali had won this race instead of a Brit, how long before the chorus would begin singing the song they sang after Nibali won LeTour in 2014? You know the words and tune – something about how he won only because Rider X crashed out while Rider Y wasn’t there and so on…
          But I don’t want to let this diatribe take anything away from Mr. Yates himself and his team. He won the race in great style. Even today, when he pretty much had things wrapped up he zoomed down the last descent like he wanted another stage win. If he’d thrown it away and lost the Vuelta we’d all have written he was an idiot, but I admire someone who races even when it might not be the smartest thing to do.
          Chapeau, brilliant, congratulations, well-done… or whatever they’d say in Britain!

          • They’d say that the UCI need to invent a new grand tour since we’ve won all the ones they’ve already got!

            Doesn’t mean Yates would have beaten Dumoulin, Froome, Thomas, Roglic, etc. Its possible to both accept a win and give it wider contextualisation. But that wouldn’t suit your narrative. We will find out in time if Yates can go toe to toe with his possible betters. He’s certainly on a learning curve.

          • Couldn’t help but bring up LA hey Larry. It does makes perfect sense however as I’m sure the psychologists out there would tell you. There’s every chance that he was the birth of your ‘Anglo issues’ I think you’ll find.

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