• Rúben Silva

Vuelta a España Stage 19 Preview

Sergio Higuita took a big big win, saving his and EF's race in general after a big solo, attacking on the penultimate climb and resisting the GC riders that were charging towards him. It was again a brutal start to the day but after the break went clear in the summit of the first climb the peloton gave it total freedom, between those was Higuita who attacked the final climb of the Morcuera and there distanced what became then the chasing group, and despite having his gap threatened by the riders coming from behind he resisted and took the biggest win of his career so far. In the peloton Trek and then Astana pushed on Morcuera, Lopez attacked there and had Fraile as support, but Jumbo and Movistar too had riders in the breakaway that were vital in closing down the gap. Jumbo paced the final climb until Lopez made several moves again, eventually having Valverde and Roglic with him, Majka too later and the quartet would arrive to the finish with a big gain. Quintana, Pogacar and Carl Fredrik Hagen chased and managed to limit their losses but with a still reasonable loss. Roglic now leads the race by 2:50 over Valverde.

Positive: Higuita saving the race for EF with a great win, Roglic consolidating and Valverde and Lopez moving up the GC. Hagen also a massive surprise how he keeps his pace up and even seems to be improving.

Negative: Kelderman and Knox dropped early on, but so did pretty much everyone else so they can't be blamed. There weren't real negatives so they somewhat stood out.

The Route

Stage 19 goes through the interior and is another rough finish to a relatively easy stage, the stage is indeed mostly flat through the desertic straightforwards roads of Spain, not something you see everyday in this race but then the run-up to Toledo is a roller-coaster and the finish...

The climb is 750 meters long at over 8%, but there is quite the dificulty in it, first it is not constant, there are ramps of 15% in the bulk of it and most of it is in cobblestones, including the finish which although isn't rough cobblestones it is far from smooth. Besides it is maybe one of the most twisty finishes I've ever seen, with the finishing straight being a mere 120 meters long after a full 360 degree corner.

The Weather

There will be rain for sure, it will be a much different scenario than usual. Also, there will be eastern wind at around 20Km/h, it is quite strong, it's enough to make echelons but don't assume the same chaos may repeat itself, the wind intensifies more on the long flat section heading towards Toledo but is also presents some sections where there will be headwind which means it isn't exactly easy to create gaps. A very, very tense day I can assure but I don't see splits catching out the GC riders.

The ginish and it's influence in the stage

I'll be very clear, this is NOT a finish for a sprinter. There's no "if they go slow some may resist", the stage will be very tense and with the lack of climbing everyone will be fresh for the final climb, the fight for positioning will be brutal as both sprinters and GC riders will be in front as there is a possibility to see big splits occur. And the climb itself is so hard, just by street view you can see how much the gradients bite and even harder in such pavement, it is a finish for riders who are able to push the bigger numbers for 2-3 minutes, but are also 70Kg or lighter, above starts to be too much for this finish.

That is, if it doesn't go for a breakaway. I don't trust much this possibility because just the final kilometers may reduce gaps massively, but also because some teams will be willing to work like Deceuninck and even Bora I would trust to work, some teams don't really study the finish as they should so some big men may still be highly motivated to take the win. Still I'd have Thomas de Gendt, Silvan Dillier and some other rouleurs as dangerous men, the start is quite hilly so the strong riders will have a big opportunity to infiltrate the break.

The Favourites

If it's one for the peloton, firstly look at the GC riders, if there's a big group into the final meters they may not give 100% as they have another big mountain day coming right up, but if it shreds a lot in the finish they may go for bonifications, and maybe I'm wrong and the gradients in the finish will obbligate all go to the max to at least aboid splits. Hence, Roglic and Valverde are definetely men to watch, Pogacar and Lopez should be there too, positioning will be vital towards their odds to succeed.

As for the sprinters, I feel it's too hard for Bennett. Jakobsen and Gaviria no way, with Mezgec out of the race that quite opens up the field. Dion Smith and Owain Doull are great names to have into account, lightweight sprinters/puncheurs with a good finish, even Edward Theuns up to a point but I don't know if he'll have the edge there in the end. The real sprinters to watch are the Caja Rural riders, Aberasturi perhaps can't handle but Aranburu should definetely be there. He's maybe the main favourite if he's able to enter the climb right in front.

In the field of the puncheurs your eyes should be very open, I struggle to believe Gilbert can take it yet again but it does look like his type of finish, exactly, right? Maybe priority will be given to Stybar, but will depend on how they enter the climb. Tosh van der Sande, he's won on a similar finish in Wallonie some weeks ago in the Mur de Thuin, a very similar finish, Ruben Guerreiro who is also a big big rider to take into consideration, and it's not national preference talking here.

Prediction Time

Gilbert, Aranburu, van der Sande

Valverde, Roglic, Stybar, Smith

S.Bennett, Pogacar, Doull, Theuns, Guerreiro, de Gendt, Cavagna

My call is for Tosh van der Sande to take the win tomorrow, not only a recent win in a similar finish but in Oviedo he confirmed his legs are still firing. He's been on the podium a couple times already here, so tomorrow is his day.

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