The Vuelta is well under way, and we’ve already had the most technical of time trials, and a blistering crosswind at the end of stage 2 is an ominous sign of things to come. Which stages could upset the balance in 2017?
Stage 7 – Llíria to Cuenca, 207km: Friday, 25th August
The profile of this stage looks deceptively tame, but don’t be fooled – this will be a torturous and gradual climb. The longest stage of the race, this stage could be the stage of a thousand cuts. If Team Sky aren’t bossing the peloton by the end of this stage, they’ll be worried.
With three Cat 3 climbs, the GC riders will be competing with sprint teams eager to win points at the sprint when the peloton reaches the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Cuenca. A breakaway is possible, but this stage could be an early indicator of the tone the race will take.
Stage 9: Orihuela to Cumbre del Sol, 174km: Sunday, 27th August
Aside from a Cat 2 bump three quarters of the way into this stage, this race looks like a race for points and glory for the sprinters. But what a bump – it’s a 10% climb for just shy of 4km, and Froome will remember this is where Dumoulin took the red jersey from him in 2015.
The route is unsheltered and there’s plenty of potential for crosswinds from the Mediterranean to blow the peloton into echelons along the Levante coast. If this happens, the team that sticks together will have fun tearing apart less disciplined rivals.
Stage 11 – Lorca to Observatorio Astronómico de Calar Alto, 187.5km: Wednesday, 30th August
No doubt there’ll be a valiant attempt at a breakaway, and a part of me thinks a big team will make a move here. If Barguil feels fresh enough, there are plenty of points to offer incentives for him to keep a breakaway in check.
This will either go in favour of the peloton, but if a team attacks in unison up the first climb, they could not only lay claim to the King of the Mountains – they could lay claim to the red jersey too.
Stage 17 – Villadiego to Los Machucos, 180.5km: Wednesday, 6th September
This stage has Nibali written all over it. A Cat 2 climb is followed by an extensive technical descent. If Nibali has a clear run at it, he’s bound to attack – this kind of stage is what he thrives on. Problem is there’s a sprint at the bottom so he’ll have to shake the points contenders long before then.
Another problem for Nibali is Froome isn’t afraid of making unexpected power grabs and isn’t averse to attacking on descents. This stage requires nerves of steel and patience – measuring out your watts on a 31% gradient will pay dividends when you reach a nice relaxing gradient of 12.5% at the top…
Stage 20 – Corvera de Asturias to Alto de l’Angliru, 117.5km: Saturday, 9th September
Look at the stage profile and the last 3 mountains spell out a giant W, which may as well stand for What-the-hell?! Two Cat 1 climbs followed by one beyond categorization climb, with cliff edge descents in between. Just my luck that the most ridiculously exciting stage of any Grand Tour is happening on my wedding day.
The final climb of La Vuelta is 1km straight up. Unless you have a solid 10-minute lead, bonking here means you risk losing the red jersey. It’s as simple as that. Maybe my wife will let me watch the highlights in the evening…