CyclingPub Preview: La Vuelta Final Week
Nov 02 2020 11:26 pm CET

CyclingPub Preview: La Vuelta Final Week
CyclingPub Preview: La Vuelta Final Week
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The world is witnessing one of the most disputed editions of the Vuelta a España in recent memory, a very close duel among five riders that are aiming for the three spots at the final podium in Madrid. Most of the hardest stages have been done already but two main challenges appear on the horizon: one tricky time trial and the penultimate stage with a summit finish in La Covatilla.

By Marcelo Hernández

We have to go back to the 2015 edition for a smaller gap between the first two riders of the GC at the second rest day (Fabio Aru had an advantage of only 1” over Joaquím Rodríguez) but while the third place at that point five years ago (Rafal Majka) remained at 1:24, in this edition the gap between the first and the fourth place is of only 35”. Even after the two really hard stages of the last weekend across the region of Asturias, that featured the summit finishes of La Farrapona on Saturday and the famous Angliru on Sunday, time differences remain quite short due to two mainly factors.

First, none of the GC riders is significantly superior in the climbs. Richard Carapaz -currently in red, Primoz Roglic -who wore the red jersey for the whole first week and regained for the weekend, Hugh Carthy -winner at the top of the Angliru and currently in podium position, Dan Martin who won a stage in the first week and Enric Mas who is showing himself stronger with each day, are the five riders who will likely be placed at the top of the GC at the end of the race and are very equal to each other in strength. While Mas suffered a little during the first week, he made an impressive comeback at the Angliru; the same goes for Carthy who is also the rider of that group with fewer credentials in Grand Tours but was the strongest in the most difficult climb of this Vuelta, and is now placed ahead of Dan Martin. Even now that the race has had plenty of mountain and hilly terrain, none of these riders have managed to gain more than half a minute to each other.

Second, the domination of Jumbo Visma. The Dutch squad is by far the strongest team of the Vuelta (as they were the strongest at the Tour de France) and its supremacy discourages larger attacks that could lead to bigger time gaps. Roglic has been, in fact, one of the leaders that casts more doubts when the high mountain arrives but thanks to the superb work of his team -a special mention to Sep Kuss- the Slovenian has managed to lose only 10 seconds to Carapaz at the Angliru.

About the teams landscape there is only one possible exception to Jumbo Visma’s hegemony and is Movistar team, that has been extremely ambitious since the start of this Vuelta and animated several stages. Nevertheless, the Spanish team wasn’t very effective this last weekend after they chose to send Marc Soler to take the stage at the Farrapona and had to pay the price the next day with the rider losing significant amounts of time. Movistar also made the effort to put the pace in the peloton in the Angliru stage and tried to discard Roglic’s domestiques but at near the end of the day one acceleration of Chris Froome dropped most of the team, and Jumbo Visma remained with 5 riders with the Slovenian. However, it is interesting to see a second team with the courage to take the initiative in the peloton but maybe they should try more disruptive strategies since they won’t achieve that much just putting the pace in the peloton.

With this state of things, what to expect in the final six stages? First of all, Roglic will likely regain the red jersey after Tuesday’s time trial since none of the other GC contenders: Carapaz, Carthy or Martin represents a challenge to him in the fight against the clock. Mas is a solid time trialist but not as much as Roglic and also he is losing 1’50” to Carapaz right now and it is improbable that he could gain all that time to the Ecuadorian. However, is interesting that he could significantly shorten the distance to Martin and Carthy, placing himself really close to podium positions.
It will be interesting to see the performance ofCarapaz in this time trial. The Ecuadorian has never been an outstanding time trialist but it is known that Ineos Grenadiers have invested efforts and their significant technological resources to help him to improve in this field. If we skip the final ITT of the Tour de France, since Ineos management of that race was a roller coaster and the mountain classification was something that Carapaz managed to find for himself against the odds, this is the first time that we will witness the Ecuadorian defending a big objective in a time trial with the proper anticipation. It will be near impossible for him to keep the red on Tuesday, but he can limit his loses.

It is worth to remember that Tuesday’s time trial is a tricky one because although it is mainly flat, it ends of the hellish short climb of Mirador de Ézaro. This 1.8 km long hill has an average slope of around 14% but several ramps above 20%. This feature is one that can help Carthy and Martin (and Carapaz by the way) to somewhat limit their loses, although it won’t compensate for more than 30 km of flat course. Surely more than one rider will suffer in Ézaro and will lose valuable time if they can keep an adequate pace on those hard slopes, so the best climbers among the leaders still have that hope, although they themselves could be victims of this climb if they don’t regulate their effort in the flat section.

After the time trial there are three medium mountain stages with seemingly no representative climbs, but is the Vuelta a España we are talking about and even short 3rd category climbs that can be traps with ramps above 10% suitable for ambushes. The GC by this point, except a major surprise in the time trial, will feature Roglic with an adequate advantage against a group of Carapaz and Carthy quite close to each other, probably Dan Martin a little bit behind and Mas breathing in his neck. If that’s the case the chances of the Spaniard of getting in the podium could be significant, mobilizing once again the Movistar team in those stages. But once again: they will have to shake up the race if they want to launch Mas to take down a 30” or 40” gap with Martin (or Carthy). The series of three stages are kind of suitable for old fashion large attacks such as the one that Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana and Gianluca Brambilla launched at Formigal stage in 2016 (and they did it against a superior team like Sky, such as there is a superior Jumbo this year), and such a movement could also greatly benefit Carapaz as he will probably have a bigger time gap to close against Roglic if he wants to wear red in Madrid.

Is it possible an alliance between Movistar and Ineos Grenadiers in one of those days to try to disrupt the race like in 2016? Both Mas and Carapaz shouldn’t wait until the one and final high mountain stage left: the summit finish at La Covatilla, to try to gain time because that stage will be heavily policed by Jumbo (and EF for that matter, if Carthy is on podium position by that time) and it will be difficult to make big time gains.

Six days of thrilling racing await the fans all over the world. This Vuelta a España well could be the most disputed grand tour of the year, and of recent seasons, so be prepared for quality cycling and a lot of excitement.
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