The last Grand Tour of the year. This time, starting in the Netherlands. Let’s take a look at the interesting GC stages.
Team time trial. I enjoy these, a lot, and it is a shame we see so few of them. The gaps here are often larger than you would expect, simply because of the dynamics and having “weak links”. A good team can set up a good early result for their GC leader.
First mountain top finish. 12.2 km at 6.6% at the end, I highly doubt we will see big gaps but we could see a few riders having problems already. It will depend on how quickly they ascend Collada de Brenes before the final climb.
Another mountaintop finish, this time more difficult. The road book reports 9 km at 10.1%. This is a proper test, with a few inclines going almost up to 20%.
Another steep finish, this time on Les Preares. It may be only 3.9 km but it is at 12.9%, max 24%. A wall. It is the day before a rest day, which means the riders will empty the tank.
One of the most important stages. We will see big gaps here in the GC on this day.
Peñas Blancas – a very long climb. 19 km at 6.7%. I am not sure if we will see big gaps since it is not very steep but on a bad day, you could lose the race.
The one that could decide it all. Sierra Nevada, 22.3 km at 6.9% and it starts of with a 5 km wall.
A day with high altitudes and almost 4000 climbing meters. Normally, I would not think a lot about the stage, but the altitude meters will make it difficult for some and it will be the very last change to change anything in the GC. I expect everyone to go all out – and quite early.
Roglic – he is starting after all. He has the chance to win La Vuelta for the fourth time in a row, and the course suits him quite well. He will be one of the riders very happy with the amount of time trial kilometers and his versatility when it comes to short, steep climbs or longer efforts is immense too. He has a strong team around him, to support him, so the only concern is his own well-being after fractured vertebrae since the Tour de France. Since he is starting, and there is no big test in the first week, I think he will do well.
Carapaz – spearhead for INEOS who also have a fantastic team, probably the strongest of all despite having half their team doing their first Grand Tour. I like him for this route in particular since the last week looks more like classic stages and not long ascends – he really thrives whenever the race starts early on. He has a very consistent high level when doing Grand Tours. I expect him to finish on the podium. The is also the possibility they will let the road decide, which brings Sivakov and Tao G into the picture too.
Evenepoel – his second Grand Tour. I will not use his first Giro d’Italia to make assumptions. He came back from a long injury that year and it would not be fair. We have seen youngsters perform well at Grand Tours very early in their career and I think Evenepoel will do the same. The time trial kilometers are perfect for him, and a very strong team to support him in Spain. The last week is good for aggressive racing. He will likely struggle on longer ascends – that seems to be his main weakness. A strong candidate for the Red Jersey.
Bora – Hansgrohe – they bring two contenders. Hindley won the Giro d’Italia in phenomenal style. He will be a bit worried about a long flat TT – it will make it difficult to win. On the other hand, he will be one of the best climbers here. Kelderman is their second option, rumours are he is doing well. He is often talked poorly about, but don’t forget he has top-5 to his name in all three Grand Tours. The last week of racing could be a very important time to have more than one card to play.
O’Connor – sadly crashed out of the Tour de France which leaves the question of form. I think he has proved this year that the podium for a Grand Tour is within his grasp quite soon. He is not the worst against the clock but he is not the best either – he will hope to limit the damage. The first tests early in the second week will tell us more about how well he will be doing. I would be surprised to see him not finishing in the top-10.
Lopez – climbs very well, and the Sierra Nevada looks like a day he will gain time on everybody. His time trial is not awfully poor either but he will still lose around two minutes more or less. It will be on stage 12 and stage 15 he must go on the attack as we have two very long climbs in the second week with the finish at the top. It is one of the strongest teams I have seen from Astana this season which is a very positive sign. He has not finished his last four Grand Tours, something I hope change at this race. .
Almeida – a good route for him and a strong team to back him up. It is a route that suits him well, with very few long ascends that tend to put him into difficulty. I find it difficult to see him winning, but he will likely finish very close, or on, the podium in Madrid.
⭐⭐ Carapaz, Evenepoel
⭐ Almeida, Lopez, Hindley
Who will win?
I think it will be four in a row for Roglic. Despite the route is not designed perfectly for him, he manages the explosive climbs, the long efforts and the time trials.