Vuelta Stage 18 Preview

Vuelta Stage 18 Preview image A stage with a sting in the tail, two climbs in quick succession should make for a lively finish.

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Stage 17 Wrap: sprinters get all the glory. John Degenkolb won the stage but was quick to thank Warren Barguil after he did a big turn on the front in the final kilometres to bring in the breakaway which was threatening to stay away, no wonder since Rohan Dennis and Bob Jungels are powerful riders but they were tired from a long break whose lead never got much beyond three minutes. Barguil’s pull didn’t bring the move back but sometimes closing the gap a bit is enough as it means others can see the move is within range, it turns a nomansland into a terrain where 20 riders suddenly think they have a chance. We got the inevitable sprint finish and the inevitable win by John Degenkolb, his fourth stage in the race. The stage didn’t have a categorised climb but it did have a vertical gain of 3,000m. With the World Championship having 4,000m it’s easy to extrapolate for John Degenkolb. Right now it seems possible but the concentration of climbs could still be too much, there are two defined ramps that will have him suffering. The uncertainty is all the better, it’ll make the race more open.

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The Route: another day along the Galician coast but with one hill on the stage. Look at the profile and you might think there are two hills but this is the same climb tackled twice. I think we’ll see this finishing loop used more and more in stage races as it allows more action for the crowds and also waiting VIPs; it’s hardly novel, the Tour of Flanders has perfected it but we should see more.

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The Finish: the distance and length vary according to different sources with each taking the start point in a different place. Averaging them out it’s 7km at 7% but with steeper parts where the road maxes at 15% and to make it harder the steep section is also narrow. As the chart shows the road levels out for the finish, it goes from 5% to 3% before the final 160m with a downhill 2%. The ensuing descent is fast and with wide roads, hard to organise a chase but still suitable for large bunch.

The Scenario: break or GC fight? We can have both. For the GC contenders this climb isn’t likely to turn the race upside down but it’s still a place for caution. Consequently teams will set a tough pace to place their riders in the best place and contain attacks and in turn this diminishes the chance of any escapees.

The Contenders: if the GC riders go for it then Alejandro Valverde’s got the fastest sprint assuming he can stay with his rivals. I think he can as he’s better on the shorter climbs and by extension if he’s worse on the longer climbs he’ll want to get something from today, whether a stage win or a time bonus. Dan Martin is another to watch, he too can finish fast. I’ve put Philippe Gilbert below but this climb is probably too long for a straight attack, he’ll have to improvise something elsewhere but should be worth watching.

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*** Alejandro Valverde

** Dan Martin, Philippe Gilbert, Alberto Contador, Chris Froome

* Niemec, Poels, Rodriguez, Meintjes, De Marchi, Dupont

imageTV: As usual the finish is expected for 5.40pm Euro time. Tune in for the final hour to watch the approach to the climb and the bunch should start this around 4.55pm. It’s live on Eurosport, Universal Sports and more. If not cyclingfans and steephill.tv both have links to pirate feeds with the latter also listing where you can view the race properly too.

Daily Díaz: If the landscape is familiar, it is because last year the Vuelta started in this region, called Rías Baixas, in Galicia. A couple of things to recall from last year’s previews, so. First, what is a ría? Millions of years ago it was a river valley, now covered by saline water (remember fjords used to be glacial valleys). Second, the language: Galicia has its own, very similar to Portuguese, and you can find some cities are spelled both in Spanish (La Coruña) and Galician (A Coruña). A controversial issue, when someone speaks Galician in national TV they are not always translated or subtitled, as you can understand most of what they say even if you do not speak the language (which does not happen with other Spanish languages, as Catalan or specially Basque).

Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel 

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Robert Gesink sits 7th overall but won’t start today. He is returning home for personal reasons.