14/09 - Stage 21 - Santiago de Compostela - 9.7 km

It’s time for the final stage of this year’s Vuelta a España. The well-known parade stage in Madrid has been swapped for a short time trial in Santiago de Compostela. A fitting place to end the riders’ pilgrimage around Spain.

The route
Shortly after the start, there is a 1 km long downhill section. After turning right in a roundabout, the following 1.5 km are uphill. From here, the next 2.5 km are constantly up and down. The road twists and bends many times on these first 5 km, making it difficult to keep a good rhythm.

There is a 1.2 km flat and straight-out part on Avenida de Asturias. Here, you can finally open up your engine. After a short uphill section of around 350 meters on Avenida do Cruceiro de Coruña, it’s pretty much downhill for the next 2.3 km setting for a fast final part of the stage. The riders then continue onto Rúa de San Francisco to finish on Plaza del Obradoiro in front of the famous Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. A truly spectacular finish to a fantastic race.

The favorites
Without Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin to take the roles as the top favorites, we have a very even playing field for this time trial. Unless one of the good time trialists has a super day, I think it will be a very close race.

On paper, Adriano Malori should be the man to beat. He has had a great season with numerous strong performances against the clock. Most notable are his time trial wins in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Italian championships. When he’s at his 100 %, Malori is amongst the best ITT riders in the world. He’s one of the few riders who have beaten Tony Martin more than once this year. The Italian was also one of the main reasons why Movistar won the opening time trial in this race. However, Malori has been working hard during the Vuelta to support Alejandro Valverde. It’s doubtful how fresh he will be right now. He might lack a little compared to those riders who have been able to save energy in the mountains. If he’s ready, however, Malori is my prime pick to win this stage.

Rohan Dennis got a lot of attention when he made a rare midseason move to BMC just before the Vuelta. The young Australian is great against the clock, which he has proven many times this season already. He finished second in the prologue of Tour de Romandie, beating Tony Martin, and has numerous top3 results from the short time trials this year. Dennis seems to be coming out of this Vuelta in great shape. Today’s course suits him perfectly and I’m confident he will be fighting for the win.

Even though Trek doesn’t have Fabian Cancellara or Bob Jungels in the race anymore, the American team still has two very strong candidates in Kristoff Vandewalle and Jesse Sergent. Both are specialists against the clock and seem to be in very condition right now. Vandewalle came to the Vuelta after having won the time trials in both Tour of Austria and Tour de Pologne. Sergent hasn’t won a time trial this season. However, since March, he has finished in top10 in all the eight individual time trials he has done. He’s always very close. Today might be the day the Kiwi finally takes a well-deserved win on his time trial bike.

The outsiders
I know that I have mentioned Alexey Lutsenko and Michael Matthews a lot in my previews during this year’s Vuelta a España. I’ll give them both one more shot.

Alexey Lutsenko is a brilliant bike rider. He’s good uphill, fast on the line and strong in the time trials. On stage 19, the young Kazakh put in a powerful attack in the final but got railed back in with 5 km to go. Today he has a chance to take revenge. In a short time trial like this, Lutsenko has all the right qualities. He proved this in Tour of Denmark last month when he won ITT and finished 4th overall. At this point in a grand tour, it’s all about who has something left in the tank. Obviously, Lutsenko is still going strong. It won’t be easy for him to win this one, but I wouldn’t put it behind him to make top5 on a good day.

The same goes for Michael Matthews. After winning stage 3 of the Vuelta, Matthews hasn’t had much luck in the sprints with two 2nd places and a latest a 5th place on stage 19. The young Australian is not just fast on the line though. He’s also very strong in these kinds of time trials. After he crashed and withdrew from the Giro d’Italia, Matthews came back in style by winning the 8.8 km ITT in Tour de Slovénie. In the time trial in Tour de Pologne, he finished 10th. After the Vuelta, Michael Matthews will put all his focus onto winning the world championships later this month. Finishing off this race with a strong performance will undoubtedly boost his moral On a good day, Bling could definitely make top3 on this course.

For other strong outsiders look to Stef Clement, Manuel Quinziato, Johan Le Bon, Daniele Bennati and Tobias Ludvigsson. For a couple of super jokers, I’ll point to Chad Haga and Gert Joeaar.

Regarding the general classification, I seriously doubt we will see any changes within top10. The only rider with a real chance of moving up a place is Damiano Caruso. He’s 10th overall, and should be able to beat Dani Navarro (9th) with more than six seconds in this time trial. For the remaining riders in top10, only crashes or other incidents can prevent them from keeping their spot.

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