10/09 - Stage 17 - Ortigueira to A Coruña - 190.7 km

This year’s Vuelta a España is going into its final week. On paper, this may look like an easy stage. Don’t be fooled. This finish in La Coruña is anything but easy.

The route
Looking at the stage profile, you will see there aren’t any categorized climbs on the menu today. However, you will be in for a big surprise if you think the roads in Galicia are flat. The 190.7 km from Ortigueira to La Coruña are constantly up and down. The ascents are not very long but they can be extremely steep.

Another factor today is the weather. Being in Galicia, there is always a good chance of rain. Today is no exception. The riders can expect a wet day in the saddle. Most of this stage takes place alongside the coastline. The wind could easily be a factor as well. If you thought this would be a quiet day in the peloton, think again.

After three hard days in the mountains, the GC rides will be happy to see a breakaway make it today. This will take a lot of nervousness out of a very tricky finish. Still, this is also the last chance for the sprinters to set their mark on the race. Their teams will be eager to control the race. However, an undulating finish could easily produce many attacks on the final kilometers.

The finish
As mentioned, the riders are facing numerous hills all day long. With a bit more than 15 km to go. 3 km of 5 % with parts of nearly 10 % will definitely make it difficult for the sprinters’ teams to control the race, despite the big roads. With around 7 km to go, the riders turn left onto Estrada Os Fortes. Here, the road kicks up for the following 850 meters with an average gradient of 5 %.

After a short descent, the peloton turns right in a roundabout onto Poboado O Portiño. The next 2 km take place on city paves, which will take a lot of energy out of the riders. To make this even harder, the riders have to overcome a small ascent (see photo below) of 300 meters with an average gradient of 6.5 % before getting onto a normal road surface again. A short but steep downhill section takes the peloton onto the last 2 km towards the finishing line. If the pack is still together at this point, we can expect a fast finish next to the sea in A Coruña.

Vuelta a España 2014 Preview

The favorites
Personally, I think a strong breakaway will have a good chance of making it all the way. It all depends on Giant-Shimano and GreenEdge. If they work together from the beginning of the stage, they might be able to keep control of the race and set up their two top sprinters.

John Degenkolb has already won three stages in this year’s Vuelta a España. He’s leading the points classification but it’s not given that he’s going to win the green jersey. Alejandro Valverde is just 10 points behind him. With two uphill finishes left, Degenkolb needs to gain points today if he wants to wear the green jersey on Sunday. This will be an extra motivation for Giant-Shimano to keep the breakaway in a tight leash. Nacer Bouhanni is no longer in the race. If this stage comes down to a sprint, John Degenkolb has to be the number one favorite for the stage win.

The biggest threat to Degenkolb is Michael Matthews. He proved on stage 3 that these kinds of climbs are no problem for him. Even in the flat finish on stage 8, Matthews showed that he has the speed to fight with the best sprinters in the race. Had Bouhanni not shifted to the left, Matthews might have been able to beat him on the line. GreenEdge tried to set him up in Obregón on stage 13 but the steep finish proved to be too hard. This is the first chance Michael Matthews has to take revenge and pay back his team for their impressive work.

The outsiders
To me, the best joker pick today is Philippe Gilbert. He’s always doing well in the Vuelta ahead of the World Championships. Today’s undulating finish suits him very well. If a strong break gets away, I would imagine Gilbert to be a part of it. However, if not, I’m sure BMC will join the chase in the peloton. The two climbs on the final 7 km are a perfect place for Gilbert to attack. In a sprint against Degenkolb and Matthews, it will be difficult for him to win. However, if he gets away alone or in a small group, few will be able to outsprint him. If Philippe Gilbert is to win a stage in this year’s Vuelta a España, today is the day.

Another very strong outsider today is Alexey Lutsenko. The young Astana rider has been very good in the race so far. He’s good on the hills, fast on the line and not afraid of attacking. Team manager Giuseppe Martinelli calls him “the new Vinokourov”. In regard of his abilities on the bike, this is a very fitting description. If Lutsenko is in a select group fighting for win today, I wouldn’t bet against him.

For other good breakaway candidates with fast finish look to Filippo Pozzato, Sébastien Hinault, Yannick Martinez and Pim Ligthart. Trek has no less than four riders suitable for this stage. Fabian Cancellara, Bob Jungels, Fabio Felline and Jasper Stuyven all have the right characteristics to do well today.

In case this ends in a sprint look to riders like Paul Martens, Vicente Reynes, Gerald Ciolek and Tom Boonen who all are capable of coping with these kinds of climbs.

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 GreenEdge's Michael Matthews to win.

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