Mijas to Alhaurín de la Torre – 178.2 km

The route

After the opening time trial and a day for the puncheurs and GC riders, the sprinters should get a chance to shine today. The stage starts out flat and it finishes flat. However, in between, the riders still have over 2500 meters of climbing to do. This is definitely not an easy day in the saddle.

After the start in Mijas, the peloton continues alongside the coastline passing through Marbella where they started yesterday. In San Pedro de Alcántara, the route takes the riders inland as they start on the first category 1 climb of the race. The 20 km towards the top of Puerto del Madroño have an average gradient of just under 5 % and very few steeper parts. With 10 KOM points to the first rider over the top, this is an important rendezvous for the wild card teams hoping to get one of their riders in the KOM jersey early in the race. Luis Ángel Maté will also be eager to get in the break again to keep his lead.

From the top of Puerto del Madroño, it’s constantly up and down for the following 110 km as the riders head towards the coast again. Here, the course goes through well-known holiday destinations such as Benalmádena and Torremolinos. The terrain is flat but the many roundabouts will stretch out the peloton time and time again in this final part of the stage.

Very atypical for the Vuelta, the last four kilometers are mostly straight-out towards the finishing line. However, even though there aren’t any real corners to deal with, the numerous roundabouts will make the fight for positions extremely important early on. The final roundabout comes with just about 500 meters left to go. With the peloton being stretched out on a long line, there won’t be any space to move up on either sides last minute. Anyone who’s not amongst the first five riders at this point most likely won’t have a chance to win.

The favorite

Despite the significant amount of climbing, this should come down to a bunch sprint amongst the fastest riders in the race. In top of the current hierarchy we find Elia Viviani. Ever since his move to Quickstep, Viviani has been in a different league. He is – by far – the best sprinter of the season and at the Italian championships, he even followed the best climbers on the final steep ascent to take the win. With Fabio Sabatini and Michael Mørkøv to lead him out, Viviani will be extremely difficult to beat today. The Quickstep riders are second to none in timing their final leadout efforts. They never panic and they almost always manage to find a way to the front. If Viviani enters that last roundabout with both Sabatini and Mørkøv in front of him, I don’t believe anybody in this field is able to beat him.

The outsiders

In case something happens to Viviani – or if Quickstep experience one of their rare misses – riders like Giacomo Nizzolo, Nacer Bouhanni and Danny Van Poppel will be eager to seize the moment. Nizzolo still hasn’t signed a contract for next year. This is his chance to show that he’s still to be considered as a grand tour sprinter. The same could be said for Bouhanni. Cofidis doesn’t fully believe in him but they still have paper on each other for another season. If Bouhanni wants to prove his worth to his team, he needs to pull off a big win soon. Today is good chance to take a step in the right direction.

Another very strong contender for today is Matteo Trentin. The finish of stage 2 proved too hard for the Italian but that doesn’t mean he’s not in shape. Quite the contrary. After winning the European Championships a few weeks ago, Trentin got a huge – and much needed – confidence boost. Despite going for the GC with Simon Yates, Mitchelton-Scott still brings a very capable leadout team to this Vuelta. In Alexander Edmondson and Luka Mezgec, Trentin will have excellent support on the final kilometers. He would have preferred a slightly uphill finish but if everything goes well, a top result is definitely not out of reach today.

For additional sprinters with a good chance to make Top10 and possibly even more, look to Ivan Cortina, Marc Sarreau, Tosh van der Sande, Max Walscheid, Simone Consonni, Nelson Soto, Jon Aberasturi and Ryan Gibbons who is doing his second grand tour of the season. Gibbons impressed hugely in his debut grand tour last year when he made Top10 no less than six times in the Giro before leaving the race on the last rest day. This season has been a difficult one for the South African sprinter but he proved in the time trial on Saturday that he’s in excellent shape at the moment. He won’t have much help from his team but if he manages to get on the right wheel in the final kilometer, he might be the surprise today.

Regarding Peter Sagan, his shape doesn’t seem to be good enough to fight for the win just yet. He will probably give it a go but judging from his last performances, he still needs a few more race days to be in contention. That being said, if anybody can bounce back and win out of the blue, it’s probably him.

Should the sprinters end up struggling too much on Puerto del Madroño and the following undulating kilometers, it’s not unlikely that a strong break could make it all the way. It won’t be easy but if Viviani has a bad day – or if Quickstep doesn’t get any help from the other sprinter teams – it may pay off to get into the early breakaway.

Use your knowledge and win cash prizes!

As you may know, I’ve teamed up with the fantasy manager site Zweeler for this year’s Vuelta a España. In addition to their big overall competition, they also have 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 today’s stage. After having read this preview, I’m sure you have a good idea about who to pick. 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? 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.