C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

03/09 - Stage 12 - Escaldes-Engordany. Andorra to Lleida - 173 km

The sprinters haven’t had many chances in this year’s Vuelta a España. Today, however, is one of the rare days where a bunch sprint seems inevitable. From the start, the first 35 km are downhill. Even though this stage should end in a sprint, we can expect lots of attacks. If a break hasn’t been established on the downhill section, it will happen on Coll de Bóixols. This category 2 climb is 15.8 km long and has an average gradient of 5 %. The steepest parts are at the bottom and on the final kilometers towards the top.

After a long descent of nearly 60 km - only interrupted by a few short uphill parts - the riders take on an uncategorized climb, which has it tops about 50 km from the finishing line. There are a few steep parts but it’s nothing that should ruin the sprinter’s chances. The intermediate sprint is located in Gerb with just 29.7 km left to go. From here, the peloton continues southwest towards Lleida.

As you can see below, the run-in is mostly straight-out on good roads. The last roundabout comes just as the riders enter the last kilometer. Soon after, it’s slightly uphill over the railroads before a short descent leads the peloton to the final stretch towards the finishing line. Here, it’s very important to time your sprint perfectly. As the riders will discover, the last 600 meters are actually uphill with about 3-4 %. If you start your sprint too early, you can easily end up paying for it at end.

C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

Looking at the list of remaining sprinters in the race, John Degenkolb is the favorite today. After an outstanding start to the season, the versatile German hasn’t had luck on his side lately. He missed out a couple of times in the Tour and in this Vuelta, he has already finished 2nd twice. He was clearly the fastest rider in Castellón the other day but poor positioning had him starting too far down. That day Giant-Alpecin worked a lot to make the stage ended in a sprint. This caused them to run out of teammates for Degenkolb at the end. Times time however, I expect them to have - a least - Luka Mezgec and Koen De Kort to lead out Degenkolb. The uphill finish suits him perfectly. Unless he gets boxed in or suffers a crash or a mechanical problem, I would be very surprised not to see Degenkolb win this sprint.

The level of Degenkolb’s rivals is very equal. It’s hard to pick a clear favorite amongst guys like Kristian Sbaragli, Danny Van Poppel, Jempy Drucker, Carlos Barbero, Julien Simon, Max Richeze, Tosh Van der Sande, José Joaquin Rojas, Vicente Reynes and Tom van Asbroeck. They all have a solid chance of making the podium today. The teams of these riders also know that this is one of their very last chances to win a stage in this year’s Vuelta. Even though it may seem foolish to help out Giant-Alpecin to control the race, Sbaragli proved that it is possible to beat Degenkolb. Therefore, I expect a handful of teams to work together to make sure this stage ends in a sprint.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.

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