C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

28/08 - Stage 7 - Jódar to La Alpujarra - 191.1 km

Another long day with high temperatures awaits the riders today. Despite several uphill finishes already, this is the first real mountain top finish of the Vuelta. It will be very interesting to see which teams will take control of the race. It won’t be a surprise to see a bit of a standstill between the teams of the overall favorites. This year’s edition is very hard and it’s important not to use up your teammates too early in the race. Therefore, we may see a strong break make it all the way, while the GC riders are focusing more on each other than on the stage win.

After crowning the top of Puerto de los Blancares (9 km / avg. 3.3 %), it doesn’t take long before the peloton enters Granada. From here, the riders continue south towards the intermediate sprint, which is located just before reaching the town of Lanjarón. The following 10 km are downhill before the road starts to kick up in Órgive with just over 20 km left to go. Officially, the final ascent of the day starts after 172.4 km on the bike. However, as the riders will see, it has been uphill for a couple of kilometers already.

Alto de Capileira is set to be 18.7 km long and has an average gradient of just 5 %. However, if you take away the 4.5 km of the flat terrain in the middle of the climb, the actual uphill gradient is much higher. This flat section ends after a short descent with about 9 km to go. Right after crossing the bridge in the 180° right-hand bend, it’s uphill all the way towards the finishing line. The first three kilometers include six hairpin corners through Pampaneira with gradients of 6-9 %. The following 4 km have a very steady gradient of around 6 % with only a few steep parts in Bubión. The riders reach the steepest part of the climb just after exiting the small town of Capileira where they will have to overcome several parts of double-digit gradients. The final 600 meters of the stage kick up with about 7.5 %. You can see a detailed profile of the final climb by mousing over the stage profile at the top. Below, you can check out the last 9 km on Google Maps:

C-Cycling.com Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

As mentioned, this could very well be the first day a morning break made it all the way. If so, we should look to strong riders already out of the GC like Natnael Berhane, Nelson Oliveira, Rubén Plaza, Pello Bilbao and Jelle Vanendert. Any rider closer than 5 minutes to Esteban Chaves’ red jersey, probably won’t be allowed to get a gap big enough to fight for the stage win. The Colombian seems to be in the shape of his life right now, and much will have to go wrong if he’s to lose his overall lead today. So far, he has been the best climber in the race. Alto de Capileira is a long climb but unless he has an off-day, I expect Chaves to be very close to the top GC riders if not beating them once again.

Movistar tried to set up Alejandro Valverde for the stage win in Cazorla. However, neither he nor his teammate Nairo Quintana proved capable of dropping their rivals. Today, they’ll have another chance. Valverde knows this area very well. While others go to Teide, Sestriere, Livigno or Etna for altitude training, the Spanish veteran prefers to go to Sierra Nevada. Valverde knows every inch of this climb. However, knowledge isn’t everything. After a very hard Tour de France, it will be no surprise if he - and many others - are still too tired to make a gap today. If he’s there at the final, though, it would be foolish to bet against him. Few in the professional peloton have the same killer instinct as Valverde has when he sees the finishing line.

If the top GC riders end up riding for the stage win, I think the Italians will come out on top. Both Fabio Aru and Domenico Pozzovivo have arrived to this race in excellent condition. They had a very different ending to the Giro but since then, all they have done has been with a specific focus on performing well in the Vuelta. Even without Nibali and Tiralongo, Astana still have a strong team with the likes of Cataldo, Sanchez and Landa. Ag2r can’t offer the same kind of support for Pozzovivo, but the pint-sized Italian is used to being on his own. He’s not afraid of attacking and this climb should suit him very well.

Team Sky has multiple options with the likes of Chris Froome, Sergio Henao, Mikel Nieve and Nicolas Roche. If the other GC riders focus too much on Froome, one of his teammates, especially in-shape Roche, may be able to sneak away. On their way down after the finish of stage 2, BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen told Froome: “They are riding against us”. It will be interesting to see if there is any truth to this claim of a Spanish alliance. On stage 6, Valverde and Katusha’s Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez seemed more interested in keeping each other’s wheel than going for the stage win. Personally, I can’t see the two Spaniards teaming up against Froome and Van Garderen. They are much more focused on their own duel.

For strong outsiders to attack out of a select group of favorites on the final climb, look to Louis Meintjes, Gianluca Brambilla, Rafal Majka and Rodolfo Torres.

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

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