C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

25/08 - Stage 4 - Estepona to Vejer de la Frontera - 209.6 km

Unless the wind is strong, this should be a fairly straightforward stage. There aren’t any categorized climbs but it doesn’t mean it’s completely flat. As the riders will experience, the road kicks up several times during these 209.6 km in Andalucía. With about 60 km to go, the terrain gets interesting around Cádiz where the riders will be very exposed to the wind. Not long after, it’s time for the intermediate sprint in Chiclana de la Frontera, offering 3-2-1 bonus seconds. On stage 2, we saw some of the GC riders go for the few seconds left. We might see this happening again today.

Given the profile of the stage, this could easily have been a stage for the sprinters. However, since this is the Vuelta a España, it’s really no surprise to see a steep climb at the very end of the stage, guaranteeing another nail-biting final.

With just over 4 km to go, the riders will take on 1.3 km with an average gradient of over 10 %. This is followed by a part of false flat and another steep kick before a short descent takes the peloton onto the final kilometer. After a couple of corners, the road starts to kick up with double-digit gradients once again. The last 300 meters have parts of both 12 and 14 %. The finishing line comes right after a right-hand turn, meaning that if this stage ends in an uphill sprint, it’s very important to be the first rider into this corner.

Katusha took a lot of responsibility on stage 2 trying to set up their strong duo of Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez and Dani Moreno. However, both hesitated too long and never managed to fight for the win. Purito knew he had missed out on an excellent opportunity to get a stage win. I’m certain he will be very eager to take revenge today. It would have been better for the Spaniard had the final climb been a bit longer so the group of riders would be smaller with less teams to chase. However, if Katusha sets a furious pace on the steep part with 4 km to go, I doubt there will be many riders left in the front group. Then, it’s up to Purito and Moreno to do what they do best.

Alejandro Valverde is another very strong candidate for the win today. In prime condition, few in the world can beat the Spanish veteran on this kind of finish. If it ends in a sprint, it would be extremely foolish to underestimate Valverde in Vejer de la Frontera. Movistar too missed out on stage 2, even though they tried to animate the finish with Nairo Quintana. I doubt it will prevent them from trying again though. If Quintana attacks on the first steep part, Katusha will be forced to chase hard. This means Valverde can concentrate on keeping Purito’s wheel and then try to beat him in the sprint as he has done so often in the past.

According to the bookmakers, Peter Sagan is the prime pick after his sprint win in Málaga. Personally, I doubt the Slovakian champion can match the likes of Valverde and Purito today. After stage 3, Sagan admitted that he’s mainly in the Vuelta ‘to train and gain race kilometers ahead of the World Championship’. He’s clearly in good shape but it would make perfect sense for Sagan to take it easy today in order to save energy for stage 5, which should suit him much better.

For other good candidates look to Dan Martin, Sergio Henao, Nicolas Roche, Gianluca Brambilla, Louis Meintjes and Tom Dumoulin who did extremely well on stage 2. If the Dutchman attacks on the final 3 km - before the last steep part - he may be able to keep his chasers at bay. If it doesn’t happen, the leading rider, Esteban Chaves, should stay in red at the end of the day. The Colombian climber with the huge smile is in outstanding shape at the moment. Without any incidents, it will be a big surprise to see him lose his overall lead.

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

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