12/09 - Stage 19 - Salvaterra do Miño to Cangas do Morrazo - 180.5 km

Calm before the storm. The GC riders will be happy to get a quiet day in the saddle today. A breakaway has a good chance of making it all the way today.

The route
From the start in Salvaterra do Miño, the first 70 km are pretty much flat. Half of the peloton wants to be a part of the morning breakaway, which should set for a very fast start. It could easily take an hour before the final break gets clear. The first intermediate sprint is located in A Guarda after 59 km. In case a breakaway hasn’t been established by then, we will most likely see John Degenkolb sprint for the points to keep his green jersey. The big German might very well also try to be a part of the breakaway in order to win these sprints.

After 75 km on the bike, the riders take on the first of two categorized climbs today. Alto do Monte da Groba is 12 km long and has an average gradient of 4.2 %. It starts out steeply, then evens out a bit before it kicks up again for the last few kilometers towards the top. After the descent, the riders reach the feed zone in Baiona. From here, they will continue alongside the coastline for the majority of the remaining part of the stage.

The only time the riders deviate is when they start the ascent of the final climb of the day. The last 25 km will make a huge impact on who’s going to win this stage.

The finish
According to the road book, Alto Monte Faro starts with 20 km to go. It’s set to be 4.7 km long with an average gradient of 7 %. However, in reality the ascent is actually more like 6.5 km. The first 2 km are steep with double digits gradients in the hairpin corners (see photo below) before it evens out a bit. Upon reaching San Lourenzo, the riders turn right. From here, the following kilometers towards the top kick up with 10 %. The roads are narrow and it will be very important to be near the front of the peloton.

Update: Due to bad road conditions, the Vuelta organizers have decided to take out the last 2 km of Alto Monte Faro. This was by far the steepest part of the climb. Good news for the sprinters. Instead of turning right in San Lourenzo, the riders continue straight-out to take on the descent right away.

From the top, there are 15.5 km to go. The first part of the descent is tricky, while the last part takes place on big roads. With a bit more than 5 km to go, the road starts to kick up with about 4-5 %. This is followed by a short descent, another uphill section and then downhill again. There is a tricky roundabout just before the riders enter the final kilometer, which is flat with the finishing line next to the marina in Cangas do Morrazo.

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The Favorites
As mentioned in the beginning, there is a very good chance that the morning breakaway succeeds today. The GC riders had a hard day on stage 18. They will be happy to get a quiet day in the saddle before tomorrow’s big fight in the mountains.

Most likely, the last climb is too tough for John Degenkolb to make it over it. From the top, most the remaining part of the stage is downhill, which makes it difficult for dropped riders to come back. One of the fast guys who should be able to make it over Alto Monte Faro is Michael Matthews. He climbs very well at the moment and he has proven numerous times that he’s still extremely fast on the line. With only 7 riders left, it won’t be easy for GreenEdge to control the race and keep the morning breakaway on a tight leash. However, if they manage to do so, and it comes down to a sprint, Michael Matthews will definitely be the man to beat. He just got his “Bling Bike” delivered the other day when he finished 2nd in A Coruña. Today he may take his first win on his new bike.

In case this ends in a sprint, Philippe Gilbert is a good candidate, too. He should be able to stay near the front on the climb and in a reduced group, he’s very fast on the line. The former world champion can also win from a breakaway. On stage 18, Gilbert tried to join the morning break. I think he will try again today. It will be difficult to control this stage so the best way of getting a good chance is by making it into a strong breakaway. BMC also has Samuel Sanchez to play. If the GC riders decide to go hard on the final part of the climb, we might see a select group of just 10 riders on the top of Alto Monte Faro. In a sprint, Alejandro Valverde is the favorite. However, Sanchez looks very strong right now. If he’s in the front group on the descent - and Gilbert is not there - I think Samuel Sanchez will try to attack on the final kilometers.

The outsiders
If a break makes it all the way, my personal outsider is Romain Sicard. The young Frenchman is in excellent shape at the moment. He’s good on the climbs and strong on the descents. If Sicard is a part of the morning breakaway, I would expect him to attack on Alto Monte Faro and try to solo away to give Europcar their first grand tour stage win this season.

Alessandro De Marchi has already won a stage in this year’s Vuelta a España. He’s always near the front in the mountains and never afraid to attack from a far. On stage 16, Contador and Froome caught him just a few kilometers from the finishing line. Thursday, De Marchi tried to set up his team mate Damiano Caruso on the final climb. The Cannondale duo didn’t get much out of it but De Marchi proved that he’s still in great shape. I’m sure he will try to be a part of the morning breakaway today. The same goes for Ryder Hesjedal and especially Luis León Sanchez.

If Katusha wants to win a stage in this race, they should put a rider in the breakaway today. It’s getting old to write about their missed opportunities but I simply don’t get their tactics. They keep on attacking with Losada, Caruso and Moreno instead of just setting a high pace and letting Purito attack hard once before the top. Anyway. Today, it would make sense to get a rider like Alexandr Kolobnev up front. On the steep finish on stage 14, Kolobnev proved to be doing very well on the climbs. With a different gearing, he might have been able to win the stage. Today he has another chance. In a sprint within a reduced group, Kolobnev is actually quite fast. When the Spaniard guard is failing, it would be fitting if Alexandr Kolobnev was the one giving his Russian team a much needed stage win in this race.

For other strong candidates to win from a breakaway, look to Damiano Cunego, Alexey Lutsenko, Adam Hansen and Fabio Felline.

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