Granada to Roquetas de Mar – 188.7 km
At the start of stage 4, many riders were talking about saving as much energy as possible during the stage in order to be ready to attack today, which seemed like the first really good day for a break in this year’s Vuelta. Little did they know that the breakaway, against all odds, ended up being allowed to sail away and fight for the win. Today, we could very well get to see the same scenario. It’s not an uphill finish but with over 2500 meters of climbing on the menu, it’s another hard day in the saddle. The riders who can’t climb with the GC guys or take on the sprinters, will be very eager to get up the road. We can expect a fast and furious opening part of the stage.
Right from the official start in Granada, the road begins to kick up. This uphill part is followed by a downhill section, then another ascent and so on. There is barely any flat meters for the first 180 km of the stage. The terrain is constantly up and down, which will make it very difficult for the teams of the sprinters to control the stage. The organizers have categorized just two of today’s climbs but there could easily have been a few more. These roads allows for very few moments to catch your breath. Luckily for the riders, the temperatures will drop a bit today. It’s not a lot but it may be enough in order not to overcook for those riders having a hard time dealing with the heat.
The final struggle of the day comes 37.5 km to go when Alto el Marchal begins. Officially, the climb is set to be 10 km long but in fact, the riders have already been climbing for a while before it “starts”. With gradients around 4-5 % for the majority of the climb, this is not a very difficult ascent. From the top, the riders take on a fast descent with a couple of hairpin sections where those are good downhill might be able to create a gap and get out of sight.
The descent is about 20 km long and since only the last 8 km of the stage are flat, a selective group or a lone rider will be very difficult to catch with even a small gap on top of the climb. The run-in on the final kilometers is pretty straightforward. The biggest challenge is the left-hand turn with 400 meters left to go. From here on, the riders will be able to see the finishing banners in Roquetas de Mar.
If the morning break indeed ends up fighting for the stage win, it’s hard to talk about any real favorites. There are at least 50 riders who believe they have a chance to win today. Despite having done four stages in the heat, the riders still have relatively fresh legs. I’m sure it will take a while before the right group gets away for good. Then, it’s all about who managed to win the lottery and find themselves up front.
Naturally, some riders are better at this game than others are. Riders like Thomas de Gendt, Alexis Gougeard and Alessandro De Marchi are all specialists in getting into the right breakaways on days like these. The Spanish wild card teams will also be obligated to show off the colors. After missing the breakaway on stage 4, Caja Rural – Seguros RGA will be particularly eager to make it this time. If so, look to riders like Jonathan Lastra, Alex Aranburu and Lluis Mas.
Other good breakaway candidates include: Tiesj Benoot, Omar Fraile, Lukas Pöstelberger, Steve Cummings, Jetse Bol and Fabio Felline who still hasn’t signed a contract for next year. Being good on the climbs and very fast on the line, Felline will be difficult to beat if he makes the winning break.
In case the peloton manages to keep the breakaway on a tight leash and catch the last riders on the final climb, we could end up seeing a bunch sprint today after all. However, it seems highly unlike as few teams will be willing to cooperate with Quickstep knowing the speed of Elia Viviani. The Italian champion has been the best sprinter in the world this season and he has one of the best leadout trains in the world as well to support him. Giacomo Nizzolo came close the other day but I doubt Trek-Segafredo wants to help Quickstep chase in the peloton. It would make much more sense for them to put a rider like Felline in the break instead. The same goes for BORA-hansgrohe. Even those Peter Sagan proved to be ready to fight for the podium spots the other day, they can’t expect him to beat Viviani in this final. For them, it’s better to save the energy, protect their GC riders and then let a rider like Pöstelberger go in the break. Unless of course Sagan himself tries to join the break.
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