08/09 - Stage 16 - San Martín del Rey Aurelio to La Farrapona - 160.5 km

This is the Queen Stage of Vuelta a España 2014. Today, the riders have to overcome no less than five tough climbs with a steep finish on La Farrapona.
The route
From the official start in San Martín del Rey Aurelio, the riders are sent on a tortuous route to make sure they get to take on as many climbs in the area as possible. Or so it seems. For the TV-viewers it will make for a great stage to watch. For the riders, it will be the most difficult stage of the race. It’s a short stage of only 160.5 km, meaning that the pace will be very high at all time.

The first climb, Alto de la Colladona (7.4 km / avg. 6.7 %), comes after just 10 km on the bike. Many are hoping that a breakaway will make it once again so we can expect numerous attacks on this steep category 1 climb. We might even see some of the GC teams set a fast pace in order to tire out their rivals right from the beginning of the day.

From the top of Alto de la Colladona, it’s pretty much downhill the following 40 km. From here on, there are no more easy parts today. The next 70 km include these three hard climbs. Remember, you can see a detailed profile of the ascents by mousing over on the stage profile at the top.

• Alto del Cordal (7.6 km / avg. 5.5 %)
• Alto de la Cobertoria (10 km / avg. 8.8 %)
• Puerto de San Lorenzo (10.1 km / avg. 8.5 %)

The final climb of the day, La Farrapona, officially starts with 16.5 km to go. However, when the riders reach this point, they have actually already been climbing for at least 5 km. There are no doubts, though, that the worst part is yet to come.

The finish
The 16.5 km towards the top of La Farrapona have an average gradient of 6.2 %. The first 5 km are relatively easy. After a short flat section, the road starts to kick up with 8-10 % for 2 km. This is followed by a quick descent, a short uphill section and another flat part before the final 5.5 km are uphill towards the finishing line. This final part of the climb is very steep with an average gradient of nearly 10 %. In the hair-pin corners, starting with 2.5 km to go, the gradients even hit 15 %. We can expect a great fight between the GC riders.

Vuelta a España 2014 Preview

The favorites
It’s starting to sound like a broken record, but once again, on stage 15, Katusha missed out big time. Had they just used one rider to pull in the peloton, the breakaway would never have made it and Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez could have gone for the stage win. Instead, he ended up 3rd, just taking a few seconds on Alberto Contador. It’s the second day in a row that Purito manages to distance Contador at the end but barely gets anything out of it. Today, Katusha needs to control the race. The final climb is very steep and since Purito, clearly, is able to follow Contador – and even drop him - he simply has to go for the stage win. I’ve said this many times before in this Vuelta but he can’t afford to miss out again. Not if he wants to win this bike race overall.

Movistar and Katusha definitely have the strongest teams in the mountains. If they start to pull on the first climb l already, it will be like dropping a grenade in the peloton. Alejandro Valverde had no problems following Contador’s attack on Lagos de Covadonga. He looked much better than in 2012. Now, Valverde is just 31 seconds behind Contador in the general classification. With a strong kick on the final 300 meters and 10 bonus seconds on the line, he will be able to minimize this gap significantly if he wins this stage. Usually, Valverde is not great in the cold weather. However, he didn’t seem to mind the weather on stage 15. In the last two mountain stages, the GC riders have always held back a little, knowing there would be another tough stage the next day. This time, the next day is a rest day. Therefore, they can go flat out on the final climb.

Chris Froome didn’t manage to close the gap to the front trio on stage 15. He came close many times but lacked a little at the end. Today’s climb suits him fine. He can keep his own pace and, if the other GC riders start looking at each other again, put in a powerful high cadence attack like on La Camperona. Froome is 1:20 min behind Contador. If he wants to win this Vuelta, he has to start taking back time today. Fabio Aru probably won’t be able to win overall. His target is the podium and even that will be difficult. However, he has proven that he’s not far behind the other GC riders in regards of strength on the climbs. He’s 2:22 min down in the GC but only one minute off the podium. If he sees an opportunity to attack, I’m sure he won’t hesitate for a second.

For Alberto Contador the main objective is not to lose any more time. He knows he can’t beat Valverde and Purito on the line. Therefore, Tinkoff-Saxo would be happy to see a breakaway sweep all the bonus seconds once again. They have been successful with this strategy numerous times in the race already but I doubt they can continue to make a fool of Movistar and Katusha. If the top GC contenders end up fighting for the win, naturally, Contador should try to attack. It’s his way of riding and, usually, he’s pretty good in the rain. At least much better than his rivals. If he has a good day on the bike, I’m sure he will put in some strong attacks in the hair-pin corners on the last 3 km.

The outsiders
Both Samuel Sanchez and Dani Navarro missed out on home soil on stage 15. Today, they have another chance of taking a stage win in Asturias. However, if the GC riders are going for the win, I doubt neither Navarro nor Sanchez can follow them. If they want to win, they have to attack early on the La Farrapona.

As mentioned, it would be a(nother) huge mistake by Movistar and Katusha to let the morning breakaway make it all the way again. In case it happens anyway, look to strong climbers out of the GC like: Laurens Ten Dam, Mikel Landa and Sergio Pardilla. Not to forget youngsters like Adam Yates, Louis Meintjes and Romain Sicard who seems to be very strong at the moment. Luis León Sanchez is chasing the KOM jersey. He’s just 2 points behind Alejandro Valverde. Today, there are many points up for grabs. We can expect Sanchez to fight hard in order to make it into the morning breakaway.

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