04/09 - Stage 12 - Logroño - 166.4 km

The last two stages have turned the general classification upside down. Today, the GC riders should be able to get a quiet day in the peloton. This is a stage for the pure sprinters.

The route
This criterium stage in Logroño consists of eight laps of 20.8 km making a total of 166.4 km in the saddle. It’s not very difficult and without any categorized climbs, we can expect the sprinters’ teams to make sure this ends in a bunch sprint. Anything else would be a huge surprise.

The two intermediate sprints are located on the finishing line after two and six laps. The run-in is not very technical. There are only three corners to overcome within the last 2.5 km. The last one, a right-hand turn, comes just before the riders pass the 1-km-to-go-banner. From here, it’s straight-out all the way towards the finishing line. The biggest struggle today seems to be the weather. As of Wednesday evening, the weather forecast shows a 50 % chance of rain. Hopefully we won’t get to see a finish like in Bari in the Giro earlier this year.

In 2012, the Vuelta organizers used the very same route for stage 5. Back then, John Degenkolb won the sprint in front of Daniele Bennati and Gianni Meersman. A young Nacer Bouhanni finished 4th. If you want to re-watch the final kilometers from two years ago, click here.

Vuelta a España 2014 Preview

The favorites
Since this is probably the last chance for the pure sprinters, their teams will be very eager to control this race. I simply can’t see a breakaway taking the peloton by surprise today.

As mentioned numerous times in the previous stage previews, Nacer Bouhanni is the fastest man in this field. On a flat finish like this, nobody can match the Frenchman. Two years ago he finished 4th but this time, he’s much stronger. He has already won two stages in this race, the previous two stages for pure sprinters. I think he will complete his hattrick today. FDJ doesn’t have a strong leadout train but in Geoffrey Soupe, Bouhanni has a great final help in the sprints. Soupe just has to deliver his fast teammate on the right wheel on the last kilometer. Then, it’s up to Bouhanni himself to finish it off.

Giant-Shimano definitely has the best leadout team in the race. With Nikias Arndt, Ramon Sinkeldam and Koen de Kort in front of him, John Degenkolb has no excuse. In 2012, Koen de Kort performed a great leadout when Degenkolb won the sprint in Logroño. I’m sure the duo is eager to repeat that performance this afternoon. Degenkolb may not be able to match Bouhanni’s speed, but due to his great leadout, the big German usually has the best starting position in the sprints. If Bouhanni gets boxed in, he won’t be able to come back and win. Like Nacer Bouhanni, John Degenkolb has also won two stages in this Vuelta. He, too, has a chance of making a hattrick today.

On stage 8, Michael Matthews proved that he hasn’t lost any speed despite focusing on improving his climbing skills. Without Bouhanni’s shift to the left on the final meters, Matthews might have been able to pass the Frenchman who launched a long sprint in the headwind. The undulating finish on stage 13, definitely suits the young Australian better than today’s does. However, it won’t be easy to control the stage on Friday and a break could easily make it all the way. Therefore, today’s stage might be Bling’s last chance to win a stage this week. Also, don’t underestimate the fight for the green jersey. It’s going to be a close fight this year between the sprinters and the GC riders. If he wants to have a shot at winning the jersey, Matthews has to be consistent in the bunch sprints.

The outsiders
The top outsider today is Andrea Guardini. This stage suits the Italian perfectly. On his best days, few in the world can match Guardini on the final meters. So far, he hasn’t been able to get it right in this year’s Vuelta a España. On stage 8, he constantly stayed near the front of the peloton. However he lost focus and didn’t make it into the first group in the crosswind. Guardini was furious with himself afterwards because of another missed opportunity. Today may very well be the last chance Andrea Guardini has to win a stage in this race. I’m sure he will be very eager to get in the mix. If anybody is to take the favorites by surprise today, it’s this Guardini.

Another Italian who might, finally, show his huge potential today is Matteo Pelucchi. Despite struggling with sickness in the first week, Pelucchi managed to stay in the race. Like Guardini, this will probably be the IAM sprinter’s last chance to shine in this Vuelta. Earlier this year, in Tirreno-Adriatico, Matteo Pelucchi surprised many when he outsprinted Greipel, Cavendish and Sagan on stage 2. It’s hard to say how his body will respond after 12 stages in is his first ever grand tour. However, if he feels good, I think he could make a great result today.

For other interesting jokers todays look to Francesco Lasca, Kristian Sbaragli and Robert Wagner who’s now Belkin’s designated sprinter after Moreno Hofland quit the race.

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 FDJ'Nacer Bouhanni to win.

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