Vuelta a España 2017: Preview
Aug 18 2017 08:07 pm CET

Vuelta a España 2017: Preview
Vuelta a España 2017: Preview


CyclingPub's Marcelo Hernández takes a look at the upcoming Vuelta a España, the final Grand Tour of the year.

The Vuelta a España, the last of the three Grand Tours of the season, is about to start and this year it comes with a very interesting start list which includes, for another year, Tour de France winner Chris Froome and several of the other main contenders of the Tour seeking a rematch on Spanish roads. As is tradition, the Vuelta will feature many mountains as well as a team time trial and a 42 km long individual time trial that will make the GC fight more uncertain than ever.

The Vuelta is experiencing a period of important growth in organization and relevance during the last decade. A proof of this is that for the third time in its history La Vuelta will start outside Spain, in the French city of Nimes with a team time trial of 13.2 km. It is expected that the red leader’s jersey will lie on the shoulders of a rider of one of the stronger TTT formations, but that could quickly change when the race arrives to the first mountain stage on the third day, lining up with the Giro and Tour routes which also included mountain stages in the first week.

Medium mountain challenges are plentiful in the first week, like the summit finish of Stage 5 in Alcossebre which is a fine example of the kind of hard finale of which the Vuelta has delivered many in recent years: after a more or less flat stage the peloton will face a short but steep climb of 3.4 km long with an average gradient of 4.2%. Although there will be a couple of chances for the sprinters to shine, especially on stages 2 and 6, it is likely that stage chasers with climbing aptitudes will be the main protagonists in this segment of the Vuelta. Nevertheless, the GC riders and their teams won’t have many chances of relaxing since any mechanical trouble or slip-up could cause time losses on such hilly terrain.

After the first nine stages the race will take its first break during rest day number one in Alicante. From then the route will go crescendo in hardness with stages 10 and 11 featuring hard terrain including climbs of the 1st and 2nd category. During all these days those riders with GC aspirations that are feeling well could start trying their rivals’ strengths. One day especially suitable for that is the 12th stage with summit finish on Calar Alto, a climb that is a sort of preview of the harder mountains that are still to come before the second rest day.

Stages 14 and 15 are where the team leaders will have their first big battles. These two days the peloton will face hard summit finishes: Sierra de la Pandera on the 14th stage and the unmerciful Alto de Hoya de la Moya, which merges with the previous climb of Alto del Purche forming one long and difficult climb, the next day. After two weeks of intense racing through ups and downs, those GC riders with better shape and with more solid teams will find an advantage on such difficult routes while those with lesser team support will have to find ways to survive.

After these two extremely demanding stages, the second rest day will provide the riders the chance to recover a little bit before the decisive individual time trial of Logroño. A flat but technical route of 42 km, this time trial will be the turning point of the race where those team leaders with better time trial aptitudes will arise over those that are pure climbers. The interesting thing about this stage is that it takes place relatively early with two high mountain stages still left to be completed, putting the total responsibility of launching attacks on those GC candidates that lost time on the time trial. Being already forced to overcome their time disadvantages, those riders surely are going to leave all their energy on the climb of Alto de los Machucos, the finish of stage 17, but especially on the mythical Angliru on stage 20.

The Angliru is considered one of the hardest climbs of Europe and will be the perfect closing for this race, after twenty days of very few flat kilometers and all kinds of mountain difficulties. At this point of the race several teams will probably still be looking for a stage victory so they could fight their own battle ahead of the favorites group. The best climbers among the GC contenders will have their last chance to empty their tanks and meet their GC aspirations, however after three weeks of racing the hard sectors of the Angliru, some of them with a gradient of more than 20%, could sink more than one rider.

The super favorite rider for the overall victory of this Vuelta is of course Chris Froome. The British rider arrives to Spain with a strong squad that includes Mikel Nieve, Wout Poels, David López and Diego Rosa; seeking to finally win this race that has been elusive to him so far.

The biggest rivals for Froome will be Vincenzo Nibali, who has been preparing himself for the Vuelta after his very good Giro; Romain Bardet, who is seeking a rematch for the Tour and could get an advantage on the steep Spanish climbs, and Fabio Aru. The Italian of Astana was one of the strongest riders of the Tour before his meltdown of the last week, but he has shown what is he capable of and having learned from his Tour experience, he may well be a dangerous rival.

Besides these riders, the Vuelta will feature several outsiders that will fight for a spot in the top ten or top five and maybe, if the circumstances allow them, try to cause a surprise and go for the podium. These include the Yates brothers and Esteban Chaves, who form a powerful trident for Orica-Scott, a team that has often shown to have good strategies under the sleeve. Rafal Majka of Bora-hansgrohe or Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha-Alpecin should be considered as well. The Polish rider always delivers good performances in three-week races and is a very competent climber, while the Russian is a rider to keep an eye on when he is inspired and focused, but it also could be that he is not in the same shape of the 2016 Giro. only time will tell what to expect from him.

Adding a historical element to the Vuelta 2017, it will be the last professional race for one of the most successful Spanish riders of all time, Alberto Contador. In consideration of such an occasion, the leader of Trek-Segafredo will ride wearing bib number 1 and he will surely honor that distinction by delivering a courageous performance, as we are used to from him, and will become one of the most interesting and combative riders of the Vuelta. It is unlikely that Contador can surprise us in the GC battle, but we have learned to expect the unexpected from him so maybe it is better not to make conjectures and enjoy the last competition of this unique and historical rider.

This is what we are up to for the next three weeks; a festival of pure cycling and excitement in the three weeks to fight for Red.

By Marcelo Hernández
Image: La Vuelta logo.




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