C-Cycling - Vuelta a España 2015 Preview and Favorites

30/08 - Stage 9 - Torrevieja to Alto de Puig Llorenca - 168.3 km

This is yet another typical Vuelta a España stage. It doesn’t look like much but the finish is nothing but spectacular. It takes place on Costa Blanca with the route always staying near the coast passing through well-known holiday destinations such as Alicante, Benidorm and Calpe before reaching the last - and most important - part of the stage. Big teams like Etixx, BMC, Katusha and Astana often go to Calpe in the winter for training camps. Many riders will know these roads very well.

After a relatively flat day in the saddle, the terrain changes drastically with about 45 km to go when the peloton turns right in a roundabout to take on Alto de Puig de la Llorença for the first time. The following 3.3 km kick up with an average gradient of 8.9 % and parts of nearly 20 %. The road is good and wide but it doesn’t make it much easier. Coming down from the climb, the riders start on a 35 km loop where the intermediate sprint is located in Bahía de Jávea with just 14.5 km left to go.

The loop includes a few uphill sections but it’s nothing compared to what awaits the riders at the end of the stage. Soon after passing the 4 km-to-go-banner, it’s time to climb Alto de Puig de la Llorença for the second and last time of the day. Coming from the opposite side, the riders now turn left in the roundabout as they begin the ascent. The steep gradients are the same as earlier but the climb is longer. Earlier, the top came 300 meters after passing under la flamme rouge. Now, the riders turn left in a 180° bend and continue 700 meters further up with several parts of double-digit gradients. According to the road book, it peaks at agonizing 26 %!

Here is something for the commentators. Looking at the profile, you may have noticed the long list of names for the finish of the stage. At the official Vuelta presentation in January, the organizers had this stage to finish in Cumbre del Sol (in Benitatxell). However, soon after the presentation, one of the local residents started a petition to change the name of the finish to a more fitting one. He argued that since the stage finished on the mountain Alto de Puig de la Llorença “one of the most beautiful climbs in Marina Alta”, it should clearly show so as well. More than 600 people signed the petition and therefore, the organizers have now included both Benitatxell, Cumbre del Sol and Alto de Puig de la Llorença as the official finish.

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

Once again, this is a very good stage for Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez. Both riders thrive on these kinds of climbs and have won numerous stages likes this in the past. However, neither one seems to be at 100 % at the moment. There have been several opportunities for the two Spanish veterans but only Valverde has managed to take a stage win so far. Until now, Purito has seemed more focused on following Valverde’s wheel than trying to win a stage. Still, Purito did actually try an attack on stage 2 - just too late to play for the win. Alto de Puig de la Llorença suits him perfectly. Unless he - like many others - are too tired after the Tour, Purito should be the man to beat today.

Much depends on Esteban Chaves, though. So far, the strong Colombian with the huge smile has been the best rider on the climbs in this Vuelta. Nobody has been able to follow Chaves on the steep gradients. If he’s on a good day again today, he might as well try to gain even more time on his rivals and take his third stage win. However, it’s also important to remember that this Vuelta is still very long. Chaves is yet to prove he can keep his high level over three weeks. Therefore, it may be a good idea to save a little energy and just concentrate on following the wheels of his biggest rivals.

Amongst the riders high up in the GC, Nicolas Roche has been very active so far. With Froome losing time the other day, Roche should get carte blanche to chase his own success today. The same goes for his teammate Sergio Henao who made a couple of attacks on stage 8. Astana’s Fabio Aru proved to be the best of the top favorites on stage 7. Had he not told his teammates to wait to work in the peloton, he most likely would have won the stage. Today’s climb may be too explosive for the Italian but last year, he showed that he could cope with these kinds of climbs as well.

Louis Meintjes seems to be in great shape after his unfortunate Tour de France exit. If the top GC riders hesitate a bit on the final climb, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Meintjes try to get away. The same goes for Tom Dumoulin in the second place overall. He has been surprisingly good on the steep gradients in this Vuelta. The Dutchman is far from a pure climber but it hasn’t stopped him so far. Naturally, Chaves won’t let him get away but if Dumoulin sees the Colombian is suffering, I doubt he’ll be slow to take advantage of the situation. Domenico Pozzovivo and Rafal Majka definitely also have a good chance of a strong result on this climb. It’s all about timing. With the expected headwind, you can’t attack too early.

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

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