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05/98 - Stage 14 - Vitoria-Gasteiz to Alto Campoo. Fuente del Chivo - 215 km

This is the first of three big days in the mountains. It’s a long stage of 215 km with all the three categorized climbs located on the second part of the stage. From the start in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the peloton heads west. The first 107 km don’t include any categorized climbs but it doesn’t mean there are any ascents. The riders will climb numerous times before they start on Purte Estacas de Trueba (11 km / avg. 2.9 %). From the top, a 25 km long descent awaits before the road kicks up once again.

Officially, Puerto del Escudo is set to be 11.5 km long with an average gradient of 6.4 %. However, if you take away the first 4 km with gradients of just 1-3 %, the final 7.5 km are uphill with nearly 9 %. It has several parts of double-digit gradients. We may see some of the GC riders struggle on these steep slopes. However, with almost 40 km of flat terrain to follow, those who were dropped on the climb have plenty of time to regain contact with the pack.

The intermediate sprint comes with 28.7 km left in the town of Reinosa. From here, there are just 10 km until the final struggle of the day begins. The 18 km towards the top of Alto Campoo have an average gradient of 5.5 %.  It’s starts out very gentle with a couple of kilometers of just 2-3 %. Then, the gradients gradually rise. The road evens out a bit in Brañavieja with 5 km to go. Afterwards, it kicks up with 7 % until the riders pass under the ski lift on the last 2 km. From here, it’s uphill with about 9 % for the remaining part of the stage with a couple of steep sections of double-digit gradients. If you haven’t dropped you rivals already, this is the place to do it. Below you can watch the last 5 km on Google Maps.

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Starting on these three important mountain stages, Fabio Aru has one goal - and one goal only: to gain time on Tom Dumoulin. Aru knows he needs a solid gap before the long time trial to keep his overall lead. Therefore, he has to take advantage of any given opportunity. The 10 bonus seconds on the line could prove crucial at the end so if there is a chance of winning the stage Aru will definitely go for it. He’s the best climber in the race right now. However, as you can see, the final climb is very steady. It should suit Dumoulin just fine without constant changes of rhythm. The last 2 km, though, may prove to be too much for the strong Dutchman. It’s much steeper and I expect Aru to put in a big attack here - if he hasn’t done it already. He could easily end up taking 30 seconds on these final kilometers. If Astana can convince Mikel Landa, whose hometown is less than 20 km away from the start in Vitoria-Gasteiz, to work for Aru, I can’t see anyone beating the young Italian on Alto Campoo.

Without Peter Sagan in the race, Tinkoff-Saxo’s sole focus is now to put Rafal Majka on the final podium in Madrid. The Polish climber looks very strong. If anyone is to follow Aru uphill today, which is doubtful, Majka seems to be the best pick. Katusha may want to help out chasing down a break too. Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez did well on his stage in Andorra. He knows he will lose a lot of time against the clock, so if he wants to make the overall podium, he has to attack whenever he sees an opportunity. Despite multiple stage finishes in his favor, Purito is still without a win in this Vuelta. I’m sure he will be eager to change that fact as soon as possible. It won’t be easy today, though.

Movistar had a bad day in Andorra with both Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde losing ground. Quintana has been sick with fever and suffering from diarrhea. He nearly pulled out the other day and again on stage 13, Quintana found himself dropped from the peloton when the pace was high. It would be a big loss for the race if the Colombian was to quit but personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened this weekend. Valverde seems to be doing better after his crash. The final climb should suit him fine but this may be the time where a very hard Tour de France starts to make its mark on the riders. I doubt Valverde will go down completely, but I can’t see him following the top favorites all the way.

In case a strong break makes it all the way, look to good climbers out of the GC like Darwin Atapuma, Rodolfo Torres, Fabio Duarte, Joe Dombrowski, Vasil Kiryienka and Kristian Durasek.

C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

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

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