C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

10/09 - Stage 18 - Roa to Riaza - 204 km

This is the third longest stage of the race. Despite the recent rest day, everybody will be tired at this point. From the start in Roa, the first 75 km won’t trouble the riders much. However, since the last 130 km barely have one meter of flat, it will be very difficult for any team to control this stage. Therefore, a strong break will have a good chance of making it all the way today. This also means that the start will be very fast with multiple attacks, hoping to make it into the final breakaway.

Despite several ascents on the last part of the stage, there are only three categorized climbs today. Alto Santibáñez de Ayllón (7.8 km / avg. 4 %) and Alto del Campanario (6.5 km / avg. 3.9 %) are both located before the 100 km marker. From here, it’s constantly up and down for the next 80 km before the riders take on the last categorized climb of the day. Puerto de la Quesera is set to be 10 km with an average gradient of 5.2 %. However, if you take away the first 3 km of just 2-3 %, the remaining part has a steady average gradient of 6-7 %. Compared to the other climbs we have seen in this Vuelta, this ascent doesn’t really look like a category 1 climb. Those who are good at keeping a solid pace will have a big advantage. Furthermore, a cross-headwind will make it difficult to attack from the peloton.

From the top of Puerto de la Quesera it takes about 1 km before the actual descent begins with 12 km to go. It starts out steep and technical on a narrow road. The first part of this downhill section is far from easy with many tricky turns. With about 4.5 km left to go, a small ascent of 500 meters with 6 % interrupts the descent. Afterwards, the final 4 km are basically straight-out and slightly downhill all the way towards the finishing line in Riaza.

C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

With only three seconds between Tom Dumoulin and Fabio Aru in the general classification, it will be very interesting to see what happens on the last climb and the following tricky descent. I expect Astana to set as fast a pace as possible on the ascent and then have Aru attack near the top. They simply have to try something. It will be extremely difficult to pull off such a trick though. The climb suits Dumoulin very well and with a cross-headwind, it will be hard to go solo. Astana will most likely try something but I think Dumoulin will manage to come back and keep the jersey. It’s also important to remember that Dumoulin actually is quite fast on the line. Still, I don’t think Giant-Alpecin will try to control a break today. They can’t afford to have Aru gain any bonus seconds if he manages to go solo at the end. Likewise, Astana is probably also worried that Dumoulin will take bonus seconds in a sprint, if Aru can’t drop him. Therefore, I think both teams would gladly see a breakaway fight for the win.

If so, we should look to strong in-shape riders out of the GC like Steve Cummings, Nelson Oliveira, José Gonçalves, Ruben Plaza, Niki Tersptra, Giovanni Visconti, Jerome Coppel, Moreno Moser, José Joaquin Rojas, Riccardo Zoidl and Miguel Angel Rubiano. Team Sky also has to put a rider or two in the break. After the time trial, they are only 1 minute ahead of Movistar in the team classification. I’m sure Nicolas Roche, Geraint Thomas, Salvatore Puccio and Vasil Kiryienka will be eager to show the team colors up front.

In case a reduced peloton ends up sprinting for the win, Alejandro Valverde has to be the prime pick. After some difficult days in the mountains, Valverde came out flying in the time trial after the rest day. He’s very fast on the line and also an excellent descender. Dani Moreno also packs a good sprint from a select group. After Purito lost the red jersey on stage 17, Katusha may get some success today if - and that’s a big if - it comes down to a sprint.

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

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