06/09 - Stage 14 - Santander to La Camperona. Valle de Sabero - 200.8 km

This is the first of three hard days in the mountains. The final climb is extremely steep. We could easily see changes in the top of the general classification.

The route
Today, the Vuelta enters its deciding phase. This may not look like the most difficult stage of the race but bare in mind that the riders have nearly 4000 meters of difference in hight to overcome. After 70 km on the bike, the riders take on Collada de la Hoz. This is where Alberto Contador launched his big attack on Purito in 2012, taking the stage win and the red jersey. Today, I’m certain, Purito will be eager to take revenge. More on this later.

After the feed zone, the road starts to kick up once again. The following 30 km are uphill towards the top of Puerto de San Glorio. You can see a detailed profile of the climb by mousing over the area on the stage profile. It’s a very steady ascent and we can expect the peloton to keep a relatively high pace. From the top of Puerto de San Glorio, there are still 70 km to go.

The last intermediate sprint is located in Riaño just before crossing the water. The following 33 km are flat. When the riders reach Sabero, it’s time for the last struggle of the day. A brutal one!

The finish
In the road book, the ascent up La Camperona is set to be 8.3 km long with a bearable average gradient of 7.5 %. However, this is very misguiding. The first 4 km of the climb are easy with gradients around 2-4 %. In Olleros de Sabero, the road starts to kick up with 7-8 % for 2 km. This is followed by a very short flat section before the actual climb begins. From Sortillo de Sabero, the following 2.3 km are uphill with a horrifying average gradient of over 15 % making it the steepest climb in the history of the Vuelta. There are numerous parts of over 20 % with the maximum gradient being almost 30 %. The riders won’t get a single second to recover. Furthermore, the weather forecast shows a good chance of rain. This means it will be very difficult to control the bike on the steep gradients.

The favorites
With a steep finish like today, there is really only one true favorite. If Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez could design his own climb, this would most likely be it. Nobody in the professional peloton has the same kick as Purito on the steep gradients. He has won numerous races after a late attack on double digits gradients and I’m certain this is a stage he has marked in his road book. So far, Purito and Katusha have missed out on four occasions during this Vuelta a España (stage 6, 7, 11 and 13). Since his ill-timed attack in La Zubia, it seems like Purito is afraid of opening up too early. He’s been hesitating and this has lost him valuable bonus seconds. He has already proclaimed that he wants to attack at the weekend. If he’s serious about winning this race, he has to go for the win today. We can expect Katusha to work hard in front of the peloton. As mentioned, this is the area where Purito lost the Vuelta a España in 2012. He won’t be able to win the race today but a stage win would definitely increase his overall chances.

Alejandro Valverde too needs to keep the stage win within reach today. He’s only 20 seconds behind Alberto Contador in the general classification. With 10 bonus seconds on the line, he will be very eager to stick to El Pistolero. Valverde doesn’t need to waste any energy on attacking. His primary objective is to follow Contador and beat him on the line. Tinkoff-Saxo will be happy to see a breakaway take the bonus seconds out of the equation today. Therefore, it’s up to Movistar and Katusha to control the stage.

However, just because his team doesn’t want to work, naturally, Alberto Contador will still try to go for the stage win if he sees a chance to do so. When at this best, few in the world can follow him on the climbs. He may not be at his 100 % yet, but he has shown to be extremely strong despite fracturing his tibia during the Tour de France. This year, in Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Alejandro Valverde attacked on the final steep climb on stage 1. Contador followed easily and when the gradients got steeper, he counter-attacked and dropped Valverde. Alberto Contador knows he can drop these guys and I’m sure he won’t hesitate to do so, if there is an opportunity.

The outsiders
Personally, I don’t think Katusha will let this one slip away. Their lack of control is starting to get embarrassing and now it’s time to set their mark on the race. They can’t afford to let a breakaway get the bonus seconds again today.

On such a steep finish, it’s hard to talk about outsiders within the GC riders. Fabio Aru and Dan Martin both seem to be in great shape at the moment. Aru has already won a beautiful stage. Martin hasn’t had as much luck so far, but he’s constantly near the front putting in attacks. He mistimed his attack on stage 13 and now he’s eager to make up for it. In case the GC riders end up looking at each other again, we might see either Aru or Martin sail away. In case Chris Froome doesn’t need any help, Mikel Nieve might give it a go. The Basque climber had a bad day on stage 11 but if he’s given carte blanche, he will be a dangerous rider on the steep gradients. He won’t be the first rider the GC riders will chase down.

In the unlikely event that a morning breakaway makes it all the way, look to riders like David Arroyo, Louis Meintjes, Romain Sicard and Julian Arredondo whom this finish seems perfect for if he has found his legs again. 

On paper, Esteban Chaves and Sergio Pardilla should have a good chance as well today. The two riders sit 17th and 18th in the general classification before the start of the stage, nearly 9 minutes behind Alberto Contador. They know it will be difficult for a breakaway to make it but it may be their only chance of taking the favorites by surprise. Personally, I would like to see Chaves give it a go in the final. These kinds of steep gradients suit him perfectly.

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