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06/09 - Stage 15 - Comillas to Sotres. Cabrales - 175.8 km

Today, the Vuelta enters Asturias with the second of the three mountain stages in a row. From the start in Comillas, the first 70 km take place alongside the coast. There aren’t any big climbs but it doesn’t mean it’s flat. The road constantly kicks up in this area. The first categorized climb of the days comes soon after the feed zone in Prestín.

Alto del Torno is set to be 10 km long with an average gradient of just 3.2 %. However, this is due to a couple of descents towards the top. In fact, the last two uphill sections are more like 6-7 %. The riders who did the Vuelta last year will know this climb and the following descent. They did it on stage 15, just from the opposite side. Back then, the stage finished on Lagos de Covadonga. This time, the final struggle of the day is a new climb in Vuelta history. Before the riders get to this point, they will have to overcome Alto de Ortigueiro (6 km / 4.6 %), which has its top just 16 km from the bottom of Alto de Sotres.

This category 1 climb is 12.7 km long and has an average gradient of 7.9 %. The first 4 km are very steep with gradients around 8-11 %. Afterwards, 6 km of 6 % await the riders. Here, you will be able to catch your breath a little and get ready for the final very steep kilometers. Before reaching the town of Sotres, the gradients start to rise significantly. These last 2.5 km kick up with about 12 % with parts of 20 % towards the finishing line. Most likely, this is where we will see the attacks amongst the GC riders. Given the ‘easy’ middle part of the ascent, it’s very risky to attack early on this climb. You could easily be railed back in on that middle section, leaving you without energy to follow any late attacks. Below you can watch the last steep 2.5 km on Google Maps:

The break made it all the way on stage 14 and history could very well repeat itself today. Monday’s stage is a horrifying one and many will be hoping to save as much energy as possible. Furthermore, even though there are many climbs on the menu today, they are neither super steep nor very long. This means a strong breakaway will be able to gain a solid gap on the peloton before starting on the final climb.

If so, once again, we should look to strong riders out of the GC like Vasil Kiryienka, Sergio Henao, Giovanni Visconti, Joe Dombrowski, Darwin Atapuma, Jerome Coppel and the Team Colombia trio of Fabio Duarte, Alex Cano and Rodolfo Torres who all seem to be getting stronger every day. Dani Navarro will be very eager to perform well in his home region today. However, the Spanish climber has been suffering with lower back pain. Hopefully for him, though, he will be able to play a leading role on familiar roads.

In case the GC riders end up fighting for the win, Fabio Aru is the prime pick. He made a mistake of attacking too early on Alto Campoo and nearly paid a big price for it. I still see the young Italian as the best climber in the race right now though. Nairo Quintana seems to have shaken off his sickness. He managed to follow Aru and afterwards drop him with a few seconds. Still, Quintana is far from this level in the Tour. He’s three minutes down on Aru in the GC, meaning he has to attack early if he wants to get back in the fight for the overall win. However, as mentioned, it doesn’t make sense to attack too early on the final climb today. Therefore, Quintana will most likely wait until the last 3 km and here, I simply don’t think he can drop Aru, who’s in peak condition.

The middle part of the climb is good for Tom Dumoulin but I think the Dutchman will suffer on the final steep 3 km. However, unless he goes down completely, I don’t think he will lose more than 40 seconds at most. Rafal Majka, Esteban Chaves and Joaquim ’Purito’ Rodriguez are fighting for the overall podium and right now, they all seem to be at a very similar level. Chaves has proven he’s not done after a great start to the race and Purito is still going strong after a hard Tour de France. The same can be said for Majka. It will be very interesting to see what happens on the steep slopes towards the top of Alto de Sotres Sunday afternoon.

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

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