12/04 - Stage 6 - Markina-Xemein to Markina-Xemein - 25.9 km
It’s time to settle the score and find the overall winner of Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2014. There hasn’t been a single easy stage in this year’s race, and this one is no exception.
Compared to the hard and technical time trials we have seen in recent years in Vuelta al Pais Vasco, this one is much more suited for the real specialists. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the riders have to overcome two climbs on the 25.9 km course around Markina-Xemein.
The first part of the stage is very fast. Big engines like Tony Martin will be able to gain time on their rivals right from the beginning. After 4.6 km the road starts to kick up. The following 3.5 km have an average gradient of 6 %. There are no steep parts towards the top and the riders will be able to keep a steady pace all the way. The descent is fast and once again, riders with big engines will be able to gain a lot of time on the climbers. However, they also need to put as much time as possible in the bank before the final climb.
Alto de Santa Eufemia starts very sudden and requires a quick change of rhythm. The 4 km towards the top have an average gradient of nearly 7 %. This is where the climbers can make a difference. Especially the last part before the top is steep. The following descent is extremely fast and you won’t be able to win back much time here.
The weather forecast shows rain for all the riders. As mentioned, this isn’t a very technical time trial but those targeting the Ardennes Classics, may think twice before risking anything on the wet descents.
Naturally, the big favorite for this stage is the triple world champion, Tony Martin. He took a beautiful solo win at the beginning of the race and he has proven to be in great shape. Oddly enough, Tony Martin hasn’t won a time trial so far this season. He’s now very eager to change this fact. The fast start of the stage and the relatively easy climb favor the strong German. He might struggle on the final climb but I think he will be able to gain enough time in the first part to win this stage. The final descent is very fast and even though you won’t be able to gain much back here, few can push the pedals as hard as Tony Martin on the fast parts.
Alberto Contador knows that it looks pretty good for him right now. He has 41 seconds down to Michal Kwiatkowski who - on paper - is the best time trialist amongst the GC riders. Contador seems to be back on his former level and this shows in the time trials as well. In Volta ao Algarve he finished 4th in a flat, technical time trial, just seven seconds behind Tony Martin. A time trial, which Michal Kwiatkowski won 20 seconds in front of Contador. The first part of today’s course may not suit Contador perfectly, but the final climb does. The Tinkoff-Saxo captain is good at maintaining a high pace uphill and in this shape, he’s definitely a strong contender to win the stage.
So is Michal Kwiatkowski. To me, he made a mistake in sprinting for secondary places in the first stages. He lacked energy to stay with the front group on stage 4 and now he has to pull off an amazing time trial if he wants to win Vuelta al Pais Vasco overall. As mentioned, Kwiatkowski is probably the best time trialists amongst the riders fighting for the overall podium. It will be more than difficult to take the overall win, but I’m almost certain that Kwiatkowski will secure a spot on the final podium with a strong performance today.
Many are mentioning Alejandro Valverde as one of the favorites for this time trial. Personally, I can’t see him win this one. Valverde did win the short opening prologue in Ruta del Sol last month, but this is something different. It’s not a technical time trial and the ‘easy’ first part of the route definitely doesn’t favor the Movistar leader. The final climb suits Valverde well but despite being in great shape, I simply can’t see him beat neither Tony Martin nor Alberto Contador or Michal Kwiatkowski today. Valverde is only 29 seconds in front of Kwiatkowski. It will be very interesting to see if he can keep the Pole behind him in the general classification.
Jean-Christophe Peraud was my outsider pick for the overall podium. So far, he has proven to be just as strong as expected. Before this final time trial, Peraud is 5th overall, just 36 seconds behind Alberto Contador. The Frenchman is very good against the clock and this time trial suits him perfectly. Together with Michal Kwiatkowski, Jean-Christophe Peraud will give Alejandro Valverde a good fight for the overall podium.
One of my personal favorites for this year’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Tejay van Garderen didn’t have a good start to the race. On the steep climb on stage 1, Van Garderen lost ground. He did great on the big mountain stage on Thursday, but he’s still 58 seconds behind Contador. However, I see Tejay van Garderen as one of the strongest time trialists in the race and I think he will do very well today. The profile suits the young American and with nothing to lose, I think he will put in a strong performance.
For other very strong outsiders look to Gaint-Shimano’s Tom Dumoulin and Belkin’s Stef Clement. Both are in great shape right now and do very well against the clock.