02/09 - Stage 10 - Real Monasterio de Santa María de Veruela to Borja - 36.7 km

Today, we will get to see the first big time differences between the contenders for general classification. A bad day against the clock could easily ruin your chances of overall success.

The route
This stage has a lot of similarities to the long individual time trial of last year’s Vuelta a España. The two profiles are very much alike. It takes place in the same area, although not on the same roads. The “Alto del Moncayo” climb is featured in both stages, however, it’s important to point out that it’s not the same climb.

Starting out in Real Monasterio de Santa María de Veruela, the riders head south. According to the profile, the ascent towards the top of Alto del Moncayo starts after 9 km. However, in reality, the road starts to kick up after just 2 km on the bike. The following 6 km have an average gradient of around 4 %. Due to a couple of short descents, the actual uphill gradients are higher. This first part of the stage is much harder than the profile lets you to believe. After another descent, the riders officially start on Alto del Moncayo. These 2.2 km have an average gradient of 7 %. It evens out for a short while near the top, before it kicks up again with nearly 15 % over the top.

There is a steep and tricky downhill part as the riders reach Talamantes, about 1.5 km after the top of Alto del Moncayo. The road twists and bends. Despite an easy looking profile, there may not be more than 10 km where the time trial specialists will be able to open up their big engines.  

Another struggle today will be the wind. The area in which this time trial takes place in is complete open and exposed to wind. There is no place to hide. The weather forecast predicts that the wind will pick up in the afternoon. This may favor the early starters, as the top GC riders will be battling a much stronger headwind on the second part of the course. Still, the late starters will also have a stronger tailwind on the hilly part.

Vuelta a España 2014 Preview

The favorites
On paper, the number one favorite for (any) long time trial is Tony Martin. The German has won the ITT World Championship the last three years in a row. Omega Pharma Quickstep always put a lot of effort into perfecting their time trials. This season, almost all their riders have been extraordinary against the clock. Tony Martin had no problems destroying the rest of the field in the time trial in the Tour de France a bit more than a month ago. His big target for the second part of the season are the World Championships in Ponferrada later this month. Today is an important test to see where he stands. Still, it’s important to remember that, at the moment, Tony Martin is not as strong as he was in the Tour. To me, he doesn’t look as good as he usually does on the climbs. Therefore, he might struggle in the hilly part of this course. The relatively early start time favors him but, personally, I’m not quite sure he will end up winning this stage.

Chris Froome has already beaten Tony Martin once this season. He did so in the final time trial of Tour de Romandie in May. In tip-top condition, Chris Froome would be the top favorite for this stage. However, as we have seen so far, he’s still lacking a little power. Luckily for him, so is Tony Martin. After losing time to his rivals last Sunday, the Team Sky captain must be extremely eager to make up for it with a strong performance today. The course definitely suits him. If Chris Froome doesn’t win this stage, I don’t think he will be off by many seconds.

Except for Chris Froome, Alberto Contador seems to be the best pick for a top result. Before this Vuelta a España started, I hadn’t imagined I would name Contador amongst the candidates today. I didn’t think his injury would allow him to reach such a high level this early in the race. So far, he has been absolutely amazing and on the rest day, Contador did, for the first time, finally say that he aims to win this Vuelta overall. The mask of uncertainty is off. This season, Contador has been great against the clock. After his show on Valdelinares, it would be foolish not to count him in as one of the favorites today. The same goes for Rigoberto Uran. As already mentioned, the OPQS riders have been very strong in the time trials this year. Uran won against the clock in the Giro and this course suits him very well too. Before the Vuelta, the Colombian had been working hard on his time trial bike. He knows he probably can’t follow the best climbers uphill. Therefore, Uran needs to gain as much time on them as possible today.

The outsiders
On a course like this, we are almost guaranteed to see a few surprises. Last year, Domenico Pozzovivo was the big revelation when he finished 3rd after Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin.

Usually, Fabian Cancellara would be one of the top favorites for this kind of stage. However, the Swiss has really been suffering in the extreme heat early in the race. Furthermore, he doesn’t seem to focus on the time trials as much as he did in the past. He knows he most likely won’t be able to beat Tony Martin anymore and therefore, Cancellara now aims to become World Champion in the road race instead. It’s true that he won the very similar time trial in last year’s Vuelta. However, since then, Cancellara has only won a single time trial (the Swiss national championship). I think Trek will have a better chance of success with the likes of Kristoff Vandewalle, Bob Jungels and Jesse Sergent. The hilly part may be too hard for Vandewalle but, especially, Bob Jungels should be able to perform very well today.

The demanding first part of the route, is also why I don’t feel the need to mention Movistar’s Adriano Malori as one of the top favorites. Had this been a flat time trial, the Italian would have definitely been one of my prime picks. Malori will most likely go as fast as possible anyway, trying to make good reference times for Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana. I expect both to do a great time trial.

Personally, I’m very much looking forward to seeing how young riders like Rohan Dennis (BMC) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) will perform. Rohan Dennis has already proven to be one of the best time trialist in the world when he’s in top condition. However, since his mid-season move to BMC, the young Australian hasn’t been showing much of himself. It’s hard to say how he feels going into this time trial. He could either make top3 or finish in the last half of the bunch.

Alexey Lutsenko seems to be in the shape of his life right now. He won the time trial in Tour of Denmark last month. This Vuelta a España is his first grand tour. On the first day with severe crosswind, Lutsenko put in a great performance to bring his team leader Fabio Aru back to the first group. On stage 9, the young Kazakh made it into the winning breakaway. He couldn’t follow Winner Anacona when the Colombian attacked early on the last climb. However, keeping his own pace, Lutsenko managed to catch everyone but Anacona before the line. If he has recovered on Monday’s rest day, he might make another great result today.

For other strong outsiders able to make a good performance today, look to Vasil Kiryienka, Tobias Ludvigsson, Gorka Izagirre and Belkin’s Stef Clement. His time will be of huge importance for Robert Gesink and especially Wilco Kelderman who is very strong against the clock.

To spice up the previews, once again, I’ve asked Eurosport’s on-site Vuelta reporter, Laura Meseguer, to pick a stage winner for each stage of the race. Laura is interviewing the riders before and after the stages and she knows what’s going on inside the peloton.

Today, Laura picks Team Sky'Chris Froome to win.

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