C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

12/09 - Stage 20 - San Lorenzo de El Escorial to Cercedilla - 175.8 km

It’s time to find the overall winner of this year’s Vuelta a España. With four category 1 climbs and over 3500 meters of climbing, it’s still wide open who is going to win this race. From the start in San Lorenzo de Escorial to the finishing line in Cercedilla, there are actually just under 20 km. Therefore, when the riders reach Cercedilla, they continue north to take on 150 very mountainous kilometers before returning.

As mentioned, there are four long ascents today but in fact it’s only two climbs the peloton crowns from different sides. The first one, Puerto de Navacerrada is 9.4 km long and has an average gradients of 6.6 % and parts of double-digits gradient on the last part. From the top, about 7 km of false flat follow before the descent begins. 25 km later, it’s now time for Puerto de la Moncuera (11.5 km / avg. 5.4 %). Afterwards, the riders take on a little loop and the uncategorized Alto Cerro San Pedro before they come back and start on Puerto de la Moncuera once again, this time from the side they descended just earlier. Officially, this ascent is 10.4 km long but it’s actually more like 17 km with an average gradient of 6.5 %.

The intermediate sprint is located in Rascafria right after the descent. In case an early breakaway is caught at this point already, important bonus seconds (3-2-1) will be up for grabs. Therefore, we may see Fabio Aru try an attack on Puerto de la Moncuera, hoping to get a gap on the descent and take the three seconds. It will be extremely difficult though.

With just under 30 km to go, the last climb of the day officially starts. It’s the same descent from Puerto de Navacerrada the riders did earlier on the stage. Ascending from this side however, the climb is now called Puerto de Cotos. It’s 11 km long and has an average gradient of 5.3 %. The low gradients are mainly due to the first 4 km, which include a couple of flat parts. The last 7 km kick up with about 6.5 % and max near the top with 8.5 %. This is most likely the last place to attack in this year’s Vuelta.

Unfortunately for a lone attacker, the 7 km of false flat won’t make it easy to keep a small gap before the descent, which starts with just 11 km left to go. From here, it’s basically downhill all the way towards Cercedilla before a right-hand turn takes the riders onto the last 200 meters up to finishing line. This last short part of the stage is uphill with nearly 10 %. In case, this ends in a sprint within a small group, it’s very important to pack a good uphill sprint!

C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

The main focus today is, naturally, the fight between Tom Dumoulin and Fabio Aru. With only 6 seconds between them, Astana has to try something in order to take back the red jersey. I don’t think they will try on the first two climbs already. With over 50 km from the top of Puerto de la Moncuera until the riders start on the climb again, it makes no sense to attack this early. You will only end up wasting too much energy. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Astana tried to set up an attack from Aru on the last steep part of the penultimate climb. 

After stage 18, Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez said that Astana’s tactic of setting a high pace doesn’t hurt Dumoulin. He’s right. Dumoulin came to the race as a time trial specialist. A steady pace, even if it’s high, won’t make him crack. The only way for Aru and the other climbers to drop the Dutchman is to keep on attacking. When I talked with Dumoulin after stage 2 of the race, the day he finished second after Esteban Chaves, he said that it was the Colombian’s constant changes of rhythm that finally proved too much for him. An interesting fact from stage 2 is that Aru lost 36 seconds to Dumoulin that day. Many say that Aru may have lost the Vuelta the day Mikel Landa won in Andorra and took the 10 bonus seconds in front of him. No. If Aru doesn’t win this Vuelta, it’s because he lost it already on stage 2.

Landa won’t continue with Astana next year, but he’s determined to give one last big help to his teammate today. I think the Basque climber may be the key. Landa was training in this area before the Vuelta. He knows these climbs. He has the same deadly strike as Aru has uphill. If Landa attacks on the steep part of the last climb with Aru in his wheel, Dumoulin may be able to follow. But can the Giant-Alpecin rider also follow an immediate counterattack from Aru after Landa’s acceleration? That remains to be seen. The way I see it, this may be the only way for Astana to drop Dumoulin. However, if Dumoulin is as strong as he has shown to be the last three days, I doubt anybody will be able to drop him. In fact, it may come down to the last 200 meters uphill towards the finishing line, which could easily create a gap of a few seconds.

It’s hard to predict the winner of this stage. A break may have a chance to make it all the way again as many teams are still without a stage win. If you don’t have a good sprinter on the team, this is your last chance. Caja Rural, Cofidis, Team Colombia, Etixx, FDJ, IAM, Lotto-Soudal, Cannondale-Garmin and Europcar are all desperate to get something out of this Vuelta. They will be very eager to put at least one rider into an early breakaway.

If it comes down to a sprint between the top GC riders, Alejandro Valverde and Purito Rodriguez are the prime picks. Valverde has a rare killer instinct whenever he sees the finishing line and few can match Purito on a short uphill finish line this. It’s also worth noting that the two Spanish veterans are very close in the points classification. Only 2 points seperate them. Both riders still hope to wear the green jersey on the podium in Madrid tomorrow.

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

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