Candás. Carreño to La Camperona – 174.8 km
This looks like another day for a breakaway. In modern cycling, the GC riders seem less interested in stage win and more focused on the overall ranking. Everybody in the peloton knows this and therefore, we can expect another fast start with countless attacks.
The first climb of the day starts as the riders leaves Gijón. Alto de la Madera is 7 km long and has an average gradient of 3.5 %. It’s one of the easiest ascents today but that doesn’t change the fact that many will feel their legs burning as the attacks occur. Most likely, the breakaway will be established here but it could also take much longer as we saw on stage 11.
After an un-categorized climb and subsequent descent, the road starts to kick up again at kilometer 45. From here on, it’s basically uphill for the following 60 km. The last 13 are the hardest ones, on the slopes of Puerto de Tarna. This category 1 climb has an average gradient of just over 5 % but multiple parts of 7-8 %. The top comes with 70 km left to go.
The majority of the final part of the stage isn’t very challenging. There are more downhill sections than uphill sections and most likely, a tailwind will accompany the riders on the last stretch towards the final climb of the day.
Alto de La Camperona is officially set to be 8.3 km long with an average gradient of 7.5 %. It may already sound as much but it gets even harder. The first two kilometers kick up with just 2-3 %. Then, a section of 7.5 % follows before it evens out again as the riders reach the town of Sotillos de Sabero. Here, they turn right, onto a very narrow road, with about 3 km to go. This is when the real ascent begins. These final 3 km are extremely steep and include parts of over 20 %. It’s important not to attack too early and risk running out of legs before the finishing line, which seems to never appear as you make your way towards the top.
Below is a go-pro video of La Camperona. It starts as the riders turn right to take on the final three kilometers.
The last two times the Vuelta finished on La Camperona, the morning breakaway made it all the way. In 2014, Ryder Hesjedal won when he caught Oliver Zaugg on the final meters and in 2016, Sergei Lagutin turned out to be strongest from a big break of non-climbers.
Cofidis and Jesus Herrada will be eager not to let go of the red leader’s jersey. They won’t let anybody close in the GC get away. If they do, they will have to work hard to keep the break in check. Probably much harder than they are capable of. Therefore, for the best breakaway candidates, we should look to good climbers – with a powerful punch on steep gradients – who are already out of the GC. Riders like Michael Woods, Omar Fraile, Sergio Henao and Rafal Majka. All four play no role in the general classification but have all shown good shape lately. If one of them makes the winning breakaway, he will be very difficult to beat.
Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema is also a good candidate for today. The Dutchman is clearly going well at the moment and this time, he shouldn’t worry about being beaten in a sprint. Today, it’s all about who can get away on the steep gradients. You either have the legs or you don’t.
For other good breakaway candidates, look to Michal Kwiatkowski, Merhawi Kudus, Floris De Tier, Pierre Rolland, Ben King and Sergio Pardilla who impressed hugely in 2016 when he followed Chris Froome and Alberto Contador on the steep slopes.
If the overall favorites end up fighting for the victory, Miguel Ángel López, is my prime pick. The Colombian looks extremely focused and he’s best on the steep gradients. It’s still very close amongst the top contenders so any gained time today will be crucial for later on in the race. The climb should also suit Simon Yates perfectly. Due to his impressive kick, he might be able to get a small gap on his rivals if he’s on a good day. The same goes for Alejandro Valverde, who is only one second behind Yates in the GC.
In 2016, Nairo Quintana sailed away from his rivals and gained 25 seconds on the final kilometers. I doubt he’s at the same level right now but at least he knows what to expect and how to tackle the steep gradients. My personal outsider amongst the GC riders is George Bennett. With just 57 kg to carry, this is his forte. He seems to be stronger than ever at the moment and he needs to gain time before the time trial next week.
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