Salamanca to Bermillo de Sayago – 177 km

The route

The first stage after a rest day is always a bit of an unknown for the riders. Luckily, there are no big mountains on the menu today. Instead, the sprinters will finally have a chance to shine again. However, despite the flat profile, the riders still have over 1000 meters of climbing to do. In other words, a typical sprint stage in Vuelta a España.

From the start in Salamanca, the peloton takes on a 50 km loop south-east of the city before they head west. After this initial loop, the following 80 km take place in what could be a treacherous crosswind. The teams of the GC riders will have to be alert at all times to potential splits in the peloton or try to create them.

After the intermediate sprint in Trabanca, a quick and technical descent follows. It’s extremely important to be well-positioned here as the road starts to kick up as soon as the downhill section ends. Alto de Fermoselle is set to be 4.9 km long with an average gradient of 5.3 %. However, in reality, the riders continue to climb for almost 10 km after the top of the climb through the town of Fermoselle.

Some of the riders in the peloton will already know what to expect. In 2016, stage 2 of Vuelta a Castilla y Leon finished on this climb. Back then, Alejandro Valverde attacked at the bottom of the ascent and soloed away to win with nearly a minute. If the sprinters are caught at the back of the peloton as they start on the climb, they may have a hard time making it back to the front in time. Especially since the last 20 km are flat and will be done in no time thanks to a strong tailwind. The terrain is completely open on this final part of the course. If the wind direction changes a little bit, into a crosswind, it could be complete mayhem.

Highly atypical for the Vuelta, the final 15 km barely include a single turn. It’s straight-out on a big road all the way into Bermillo de Sayago. This means there will be plenty of time for the sprint teams to move up within the peloton. Onto the last kilometer, the road bends gently to the right before the final 700 meters are straight-out towards the finishing line. While some sprinters may have been dropped on the hilly section around Fermoselle, those who are still in the pack at the end couldn’t ask for a better finish for a pure sprinter.

To get a better idea of how chaotic and stressful these sprint finishes are, I recommend you reading Team Dimension Data’s sprinter Ryan Gibbons breaking down bunch sprinting right here. It’s a very interesting piece on what goes through the mind of a sprinter during the final hectic part of the stage in a grand tour.

Below, you’ll find a Google Street View map of Alto de Fermoselle. This starts at the bottom of the climb after the riders cross the narrow bridge.

The favorite

After missing out on stage 6 – and later finding the finishes of stage 7 and 8 too hard – Elia Viviani will now be very keen on crossing the line first today. He’s by far the fastest sprinter in the race and unless he starts out from a position too far down again, it’s hard to see anybody beating him. His final leadout rider, Michael Mørkøv, will also be extremely focused on getting it right this time after miscalculating the roundabout and the finish on stage 6. I expect Quickstep to take the lead on the final kilometers and set up Viviani perfectly as they did on stage 3. Comparing speed, nobody in this peloton can match the Italian champion.

The outsiders

If something happens again and Viviani doesn’t get to sprint as he wants to, there is a long line of riders eager to step up and take a big win. Nacer Bouhanni, Giacomo Nizzolo, Danny Van Poppel and Peter Sagan are all in a position challenge for victory. Bouhanni already did so on stage 6, while Van Poppel finished second that day. In fact, Van Poppel, Nizzolo and Sagan have all finished second so far in this Vuelta. Taking Viviani out of the equation and the level is very equal.

Riders like Max Walscheid, Simone Consonni, Ryan Gibbons, Ivan Cortina, Jon Aberasturi and Matteo Trentin should also be up there, fighting for Top5 if not more.

Use your knowledge and win cash prizes!

After having read this preview, I’m sure you have a good idea about which kind of riders will do well today. You may even have your own outsiders in mind. Wouldn’t it be great to use that knowledge to make the stage even more interesting and win cash prizes? I’ve teamed up with the fantasy manager site Zweeler for this year’s Vuelta a España. During the race, they have individual stage competitions with a daily prize pool of 200 Euros for today’s stage!

All you have to do is to pick the riders you think will perform the best on the stage. It’s very simple to participate. Just click here and sign up. The more people who sign up and create teams via this specific link, the more previews will be made during the Vuelta!

For daily live streams of all the stages in Vuelta a España 2018 go to steephill.tv.