C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

29/08 - Stage 8 - Puebla de Don Fadrique to Murcia - 182.5 km

After several hard stages, the riders can now enjoy a day with more descending than climbing. However, the only categorized climb today will have a huge impact on the final outcome.

With 40 km left to go -soon after the intermediate sprint in Murcia - the peloton reaches the bottom of Alto de la Cresta del Gallo. The following 4.2 km towards the top have an average gradient of 7.5 %. The first kilometer is not very hard, but the remaining part includes numerous parts of double-digit gradients - some places as high as almost 20 %. The road is narrow, meaning the peloton will be stretched out significantly, making it very hard to get back to the front if you get in trouble.

The descent from Alto de la Cresta del Gallo is steep, fast and technical. Luckily, the asphalt is new. A rider with good downhill skills may be able to open up a gap. As the riders comes down from the climb, it only takes about 10 km before they start on it again. This second and last time on the steep slopes serves as an excellent opportunity to attack if you’re not fast in a sprint. However, you need to be good onyour own as well since there are still 12.5 km to go when the descent is over.

When the riders turn right to take on the last 7 km, the following 3 km are straight-out. The road then starts to kick up a little over the railroad. With about 2.5 km to go, the peloton turns left. From here, the riders continue alongside the canal before the road bends left onto the last kilometer. Afterwards, a right-hand turn leads the peloton onto the final 900 meters, which are basically straight-out. After crossing the canal, it’s slightly downhill which will make for a fast finish on Gran Vía. After five years of absence, Murcia is back on menu for the Vuelta a España. Last time the race was here, Thor Hushovd won in a bunch sprint. This year, the sprinters will have a hard time making it to the finish in the front group. Below you can see a video summary of last year’s Escalada a la Cresta del Gallo [go to 3:44 min] to get a better impression of the steep climb. To see a video of the tricky descent, click here.

This stage is made for Alejandro Valverde to shine on his home roads in Murcia. Naturally, the Movistar co-captain is very eager to do well today. It won’t be easy for him, though. Everybody knows Valverde wants to win this stage. Therefore, all the other teams will most likely look to Movistar to control the stage. Yesterday - as expected - it took a long time before the teams of the GC riders started to help out GreenEdge. This ended up costing Astana the stage win. However, if Movistar manages to control the morning breakaway and not let any strong riders get away on the last climb, Valverde will be very hard to beat in a sprint. Alto de la Cresta del Gallo is very steep and I doubt that the likes of Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb can make it over the top in the first group. Movistar - and others - simply can’t allow this. They have to set a high pace to eliminate the sprinters. If this ends in a sprint within a group of 25 riders or so, it’s hard to see who should be able to match Valverde’s speed and killer instinct, especially with the extra motivation of racing in front of his home crowd. In the unlikely scenario that a few of the fast guys make it over the climb, Valverde’s teammate - and fellow Murciano - José Joaquin Rojas will be able to lead out his good friend like he did on the hilly last stage of Volta a Catalunya earlier this year. Movistar may also decide to give Rojas a chance to go for the win, if Valverde doesn’t feel good.

Another local rider who must have this stage marked in his road book is Luis León Sanchez. The Astana rider is said to be in excellent shape at the moment. He showed this with a long and strong pull on the last climb yesterday. Sanchez shouldn’t have any problems staying in a group of 25 - or less - riders on Alto de la Cresta del Gallo. He’s very fast on the line but he’s also a great time trialist and a very skilled descender. It’s almost to be expected that Sanchez will try an attack today. It may be on the technical descent, which he knows very well, or it may be on the final kilometers if there is a standstill in the front group. In his current shape - on home soil - it would be very foolish to underestimate Sanchez today.

For other strong riders who are fast on the line within a reduced group, look to Samuel Sanchez, Dani Moreno, Dan Martin, Tom Dumoulin and Caja Rural’s José Gonçalves who has shown great condition during the last month. In case a break makes it all the way again, riders like Nelson Oliveira, Ruben Plaza, Peter Velits, Tosh Van der Sande, Angel Madrazo, Jerôme Coppel and Natnael Berhane seem like good candidates.

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

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