Vuelta a España Stage 18 Preview
You wouldn't know what the hell happened today by looking at the results. It was a full on day of bike racing, 4 hours and 20 minutes is what took to go through the 220Km as right from the gun a group of over 45 riders including Quintana, Kelderman and Knox escaped. It was all day long, there was collaboration in front, in the end Deceuninck took advantage of their strenght in numbers to make damage with Stybar attacking early in the final climb, Sam Bennett who was in front closed down on Bennett and sprinted to the win. Bennett and Remi Cavagna completed the podium, with the three GC contenders gaining over 5 minutes over the "peloton". In the peloton it was Jumbo and UAE making most of the chase, on a little climb Movistar digged deep including an attack by Soler and Valverde but the GC contenders made it back. After it regrouped Astana did all the chasing in the peloton and helped save the day, not only for Lopez but for Roglic and Pogacar.
Positive: Movistar, tactics were very good today, only thing that got them off was a very strong Astana. Quintana, Kelderman and Knox had a tremendous day for the GC. Carl Hagen was brilliant and hung on the peloton the whole way and saved his GC, keeping his 9th place despite some riders moving up past him, Mikel Nieve and Esteban Chaves also hung on and Dylan Teuns was in front, all of them moving up the GC big time.
Negative: Edet, Pernsteiner, Higuita, Guerreiro and Frankiny all took a total dive down the GC today. Personally sad as they were all outsiders and having great performances, but a Grand Tour is about being a complete rider, not just a climber.
Stage 18 looks remarcably like a memorable stage back in 2015 where Tom Dumoulin dramatically lost his lead after a super breakthrough Vuelta. It's almost exactly the same in fact, only with a different finishing city. It's a flat start for a rought stage.
Starts with the first ascent of the Navacerrada, Madrid's most iconic climb perhaps that leads to the base of the Bola del Mundo, but that one won't be ascended this year, instead the riders will loop around the Puerto de la Morcuera and back up the Navacerrada.
The first Morcuera is fairly smooth, the gradients don't really bite but it's hard terrain and will further set up what's to come.
This one is where Dumoulin infamously cracked that year, it doesn't look any out of the ordinary, specially with what's been climbed so far but it's the sheer amount of climbing that makes such a climb a brute, where riders can crack at any time, it summits with 57Km to go.
And the final climb to Navacerrada, the Puerto de Cotos leaves the riders with 26Km to the finish and it's the hardest climb of the day, the start is steady but it ramps up and ramps up and the gradients really bite on those final kilometers.
There's no real traps to notice in this stage, the descents aren't technical and are mostly in wide-ish roads, other than that there's the slight uphill to the line, like today it's around 3Km at 3% but that won't surely make much of a difference taking to acount the amount of climbing in the day.
A hot day where the temperatures will be around 30 degrees. As for the wind it will be felt, today was the epitome, but tomorrow there's a strong eastern wind, it will mostly mean a crosswind in most of the climbs, with a lot of variations except for the final climb where it will be mostly a tailwind. The final kilometers will also be in a tailwind.
After today, I'm sorry to have to say this once again but I think it's for the breakaway... I'm sorry but it really makes sense, back in 2015 Ruben Plaza did an epic 110Km solo ride to take one of the most beautiful wins of the decade, and in that day it was the final GC challenge in stage 20, Tom Dumoulin was attacked in the penultimate climb as cracked, loosing the race. And in the final climb further attacks took place and the gaps were massive that day, it was stage 20. So as you can see, this IS a day that can see huge gaps appear, however they need to be well attacked. Movistar will take heart from today but wether they will take the opportunity to still try to win the Vuelta or to try to keep both riders on the podium will be important, but I think Astana will attack as Lopez is showing better legs again and was very storng on La Cubilla. UAE and Jumbo will be defensive but Pogacar does have the obbligation to attack if he has the legs, just doesn't have the team to do anything.
So, why a breakaway? Well if the GC fight is reserved to the final two climbs, which is well possible, I think there can be enough of a gap in front to hold on the big guns. Today some GC contenders lost 23 minutes, some climbers lost up to 33 minutes, useless to say they will be fresh as some climbers and well all riders involved in the GC went absolutely to the limit. This freshness after over two weeks of racing will be vital, and in a race where fatigue has been immense, those with freedom to save themselves will be more balanced in terms of power.
Looking at today's results, important to focus on that. With a rest day and a day of substantial less effort I fancy looking at those who came home very late, only because in that group came in Gianluca Brambilla. Other than him Mikel Bizkarra too, Daniel Navarro and well why not, Thomas de Gendt could do something special tomorrow too.
Those between the last group and the peloton, well the GC riders involved. I can't say they were saving themselves, they weren't for a long time likely but they will at least have freedom to move tomorrow. The way mainly Hermann Pernsteiner has been riding I would tout him as a serious contender, having Guerreiro, Edet, Higuita, Frankiny and also Oscar Rodriguez as big names to watch out for. Pierre Latour is also a big name from that list, however I doubt he is at his best, I haven't heard anything but logic would dictate he fell ill or suffering from fatigue last week, either that or he has been really saving himself. Geoffrey Bouchard can't be ignored aswell, he will be looking to defend his KOM lead but honestly he has the legs for more aswell.
From the favourites what can I say, I know who they are, you know who they are, we've been at it for almost three weeks and have seen lots of battles. What I can tell you is who would be favoured in these climbs but honestly they're mid-term, Pogacar, Roglic and Lopez should prefer it more than Valverde though as the gradients are regular and not very steep, also it's a sequence of long efforts. From Quintana, I don't know what to tell you, he's a pendulum and we can only see on which side he will fall tomorrow on the climbs.
⭐ Valverde, Quintana, Bizkarra, Latour, Bouchard, Higuita, T.Hart, Eg
My call tomorrow is for Gianluca Brambilla, obviously due to the mere lack of effort he's had today in comparison to the other climbers, but also because he's been really strong and genuinely convinces me he has what it takes to take a big win tomorrow.
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