C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

24/08 - Stage 3 - Mijas to Málaga - 158.4 km

Despite this being another day of more than 2000 meters of climbing, anything but a bunch sprint in Málaga will be a big surprise. From the start in Mijas, the riders head north into the country. After just 8 km on the bike, they start on Alto de Mijas. This is only a category 3 climb but the 6 km towards the top still have an average gradient of over 7 %.

The smaller teams - and those without any riders for the general classification - will be eager to get a rider into the morning breakaway today. The KOM jersey is up for grabs and whoever crowns the top of Puerto del León first will most likely wear the jersey for the next couple of days. This category 1 climb starts soon after the riders reach Málaga for the first time. It’s 16 km long and has an average gradient of 5.2 %. The steepest part comes after 10 km where the gradients peak at 15 %. The sprinters will have a hard time on these slopes but with over 80 km left to go from the top, there is plenty of time to regain contact with the peloton before the final sprint.

Torre del Mar hosts the intermediate sprint after 121 km. From here, the following 25 km take place alongside the coast. With about 12 km to go, the road starts to kick up a little. However, since this takes place on a wide highway, it shouldn’t have too much of an impact on the outcome. After passing under the 4 km-to-go-banner, the riders will have to tackle three sharp 90° corners. Instead of just continuing straight-out on the road, the organizers have the riders crossing the water twice in order to pass by Málaga CF’s football stadium La Rosaleda.

Before entering the final kilometers, the peloton take on a 180° right-hand bend where the road is ever so slightly uphill. After turning right, the last part of the stage is basically straight-out all the way towards the finishing line.

C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

Giant-Alpecin came very close to a surprise win on stage 2 when Tom Dumoulin made a stylish comeback to racing after his crash in the Tour. Today however, it won’t be a surprise if the team ends on top of the podium. John Degenkolb has already won nine stages in the Vuelta. Last year, he came to the race after the Tour and crossed the line first four times. It doesn’t seem to hamper his chances coming straight from a hard Tour de France. With guys like Tom Dumoulin, Luka Mezgec and Koen de Kort to lead him out, he can’t ask for a much better set-up. Positioning will be very important on the final kilometers. Giant-Alpecin is usually very good at timing their effort perfectly. They had a few problems in the Tour, but without any other top sprinter teams in this Vuelta, I expect them to take control as they use to.

On paper, Nacer Bouhanni is probably faster than Degenkolb in a clean sprint. However, the Frenchman crashed on stage 2 and hurt his knee. Even though he says he feels fine, this may hold him back a little, preventing him from performing at top level. If Bouhanni feels good, though, he will be difficult to beat. He has Dominique Rollin, Geoffrey Soupe and Julien Simon as his final leadout riders. Last year, Bouhanni won the first bunch sprint of the Vuelta in front of Degenkolb. This could very well be the case again today.

On a level just below the two sprinters, we’ll find fast and very talented riders like Caleb Ewan, Kristian Sbaragli, Danny van Poppel, Jempy Drucker, Tom van Asbroeck and Carlos Barbero. Not to forget Peter Sagan. In top condition, the Slovakian would be one of the main favorites for this stage.  However, for him, the world championship is the most important goal for the remaining part of the season. Right now, he’s not at the same level as he was at in the Tour. Furthermore, Sagan was also involved in the big crash on stage 2. I doubt he will take any unnecessary risk on the final kilometers today.

I’ll update this preview with a couple of comments from the start of the stage on Sunday. Be sure to come back to get the latest updates. Also, for additional news and thoughts on the race, follow me on Twitter at @mrconde.

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

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