With the Vuelta having taken a siesta after an engaging first week or so the main names of the general classification seem to have risen to the top of the order, the sprints have been dominated by one man and we even saw a successful breakaway early on in the week. The stage has been set for a thoroughly exciting conclusion to the year’s final Grand Tour, but who should you keep your eye on between now and rest day number two?
After getting up to speed with what has happened so far let’s look ahead to the next four days that take the Vuelta up to the high mountains. Fitting in with the first week of racing there are a variety of stages to look forward to, each providing a different type of rider with the chance for victory. With the real focus for the GC riders, and their teams, coming at the end of the week the race may allow a breakaway a chance at success.
Providing it all comes back together on Stage 10 (a more in depth preview can be found here) though it’s hard to look past John Degenkolb for victory. This man is the sprinter who has looked unbeatable so far and there is nothing about Tuesday’s stage that would suggest another winner. It’s worth considering the Sky rider Ben Swift: he has not looked totally up to speed in the sprints so far but is undoubtedly a class fast man and the slight incline in the final kilometre might just help him out. However the question is will the race come back together? The route and the profile suggests so but with the time trial tomorrow the main GC candidates will be sitting back a little so if a breakaway goes clear and works well together there is a chance they could make it all the way.
Wednesday sees the only stage in the first half of the week that could shake up the GC: a 39.1km individual time trial. Of the four riders at the top of the overall standings Chris Froome should be the strongest on this stage. Strong showings this time last year and at the Tour de France earlier in the summer have marked Froome out as one of the best in Grand Tour time trials and a bronze in London further enhanced his reputation in the discipline. Alberto Contador, at his best, can also time trial very well indeed and is a former Spanish champion. Given that the course is has a fairly sizeable climb in the middle this could help Contador post a good time. Valverde and Rodriguez are set to lose time on this stage and will just have to hope that they can limit their loses to a reasonable amount of time. Rodriguez has put in effort to improve his time trialling and there were signs of improvement at the Giro so he could surprise with a decent showing.
Outside of the main GC riders expect the World Champion, Tony Martin, to challenge for the stage win. Former race leader Castroviejo could also put in a good ride after a top ten in London; the only riders in Spain who finished above him are Tony Martin and Chris Froome. Andrew Talansky and Nicholas Roche are a couple of riders who will look to make up time on those around them in GC and possibly move up a couple of spots. The Rabobank riders currently sitting high up the overall rankings are also feeling good about this course, Robert Gesink in particular has time trialled very well this year at times. Cameron Meyer has also shown good legs in this race with a breakaway effort last week so the young Australian could rider well on Wednesday despite feeling he is still not quite ready for the overall.
Stage 12 does’t look as though it will cause the overall contenders much of a probably but the finish should be exciting. The final ramp with gradients in excess of 13% will suit Rodriguez and Valverde once again but Philippe Gilbert will not want to relinquish the winning feeling he has just recently rediscovered so he could feature in finale too. Depending on how the peloton rides of course this could also see a breakaway manage to go the distance but Rodriguez will presumably be looking for bonus seconds after the time trial so Katusha will probably look to keep the break in check.
However Stage 13 looks like a classic duel between the sprinters’ teams and any riders in the breakaway. This is the last chance for the sprinters until after rest day number two though so expect them to be fired up and catch the escapees, even if the GC teams take a break before the important mountain stages. The rolling terrain just short of the finish could see someone try and jump clear but John Degenkolb isn’t adverse to going over a couple of small bumps so it would appear to be another chance for the German.
Throughout look for riders from the Andalucia to be in the breaks. This wild card team impressed a lot last year with their attacking instincts and are doing the same this year.
These four days are build to some pivotal mountain stages but don’t think this will mean they will be quiet. Well planned finishes and a last chance for the sprinters for a few days will ensure some more great racing.