27/08 - Stage 5 - Priego de Córdoba to Ronda - 180 km

Today is another day for the sprinters. Not even a late climb should be able to prevent a bunch sprint in Ronda.

The route
On paper, this is one of the easiest stages in this year’s Vuelta a España. However, it’s another day of high temperatures and many may be struggling despite the affordable profile. After the start in Priego de Córdoba, the riders head west to Cabra where they change direction to go south towards the intermediate sprint in Encinas Reales. From Antequera, the peloton sets sails for the last intermediate sprint of the day, located in Campillos. 30 kilometers later, the riders start on the only categorized climb today.

Puerto del Saltillo begins with just 27.7 km to go. Despite its length of 12.5 km, this climb won’t trouble many riders. The gradients stay between 2.5 % and 4 % for the first 10 km of the ascent. Only 2 km before the top, the road starts to kick up with an average gradient of 6.5 %. However, it’s important to remember that this climb takes place on the big A-367 road. It’s very open and a light headwind means it will be close to impossible to attack and distance the peloton. From the top, there are only 15 km to go. Taking on the descent from Puerto del Saltillo, the riders continue on A-367. There are barely any turns and despite the headwind, the peloton will be able to set a furious pace, eliminating any attacks that may occur.

The finish
The run-in towards Ronda is straightforward. There is a short uphill section with about 3 km to go. However, the peloton will be going so fast at this point that they probably won’t even notice it. As the riders approach the 1km-to-go-banner, the road is slightly downhill, making for a very fast finish. Still, a technical roundabout and right turn under the railroad will stretch out the peloton significantly. This is followed by a short uphill section of around 5 % before the last 600 meters are straight-out towards the finishing line.

The favorites
Despite the late climb, I doubt top sprinters will have problems staying with the peloton. Therefore, the number one favorite has to be Nacer Bouhanni. The Frenchman easily won stage 2 and performed surprisingly well on the hilly stage 3. FDJ is 100 % committed to help Bouhanni win stages in this Vuelta and in Geoffrey Soupe, Bouhanni has a brilliant leadout rider. The technical part on the last kilometer suits him just fine as he’s able to move around in the peloton as he pleases. If it comes down to a clean sprint, I can’t see anybody in this field able to match the speed of Nacer Bouhanni.

John Degenkolb finally managed to cross the line first on stage 4. He looked extremely strong on the climbs and left no one on his wheel when he first opened up his sprint at the end. With this big confidence boost, Giant-Shimano and John Degenkolb are now ready to make it two in a row. The Dutch team doesn’t bring their usual exceptional leadout train to the Vuelta, but in Nikias Arndt and especially Koen de Kort, Giant-Shimano still have the best leadout in the race. If they can time it right this time, John Degenkolb is probably the only rider able to get close to Bouhanni in the sprint.

After winning stage 3 and finishing third on stage 4, naturally, Michael Matthews is a strong candidate as well. In Córdoba, Matthews got boxed in just as Degenkolb started his sprint, leaving him with no chance of repeating yesterday’s stage win. Despite keeping the overall lead, I think this late incident really annoys the young Australian. I’m sure he’s eager to make up for today and extend his lead in the general classification with a few bonus seconds.

The outsiders
As already mentioned in my previous Vuelta previews, I’m very eager to see Moreno Hofland compete against the top sprinters in this field. The young Ducthman had to make up a lot of positions in the sharp corners on stage 2, meaning he ran out of legs in the sprint, finishing 9th. On stage 4, Hofland took it easy in order to save energy for this stage. On paper, the finish today suits him perfectly. If Belkin manages to put him in a good position for the sprint, I wouldn’t be surprised if he made podium in Ronda.

Tom Boonen didn’t have the legs to fight for another win in Córdoba. The last climb proved to be too hard for the strong Belgian. Boonen is aiming big at the World Championships this year. He’s using the Vuelta to fine-tune his shape and he’s now willing to take part in the bunch sprints again. Like Moreno Hofland, he ended up in a bad position for the sprint on stage 2 but still managed to come back and finish 8th (just in front of Hofland). On paper, this finish should suit Tom Boonen well. He’s not fast enough to beat the likes of Bouhanni and Degenkolb, but even top3 or top5 would be a significant confidence boost ahead of the World Championships next month.

For other fast outsiders, look to: Vicente Reynes, Lloyd Mondory, Jens Debusschere and young Jasper Stuyven who took many by surprise when he finished 4th on stage 2.

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 FDJ'Nacer Bouhanni to win.

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