|Collective profiles of stages 14, 15 and 16 through the Pyrenees|
|The Pyrenean stages visit three countries|
Stages 14, 15 and 16 take the Vuelta a España into the majestic Pyrenees. The peloton will spend time in Andorra and France, cross eleven categorized climbs—five of which are category 1 or above—and only the strong will survive. Each of the next three stages ends with a category-1 summit finish. Not one is a walk in the park, but stage 15 stands out as the big killer. I don’t know what other folks think, but in my opinion, stage 15 (which traverses four cat-1 climbs, and ends with the Peyresourde-Peyragudes double) is the queen stage of this Vuelta.
I am not going to be around for a few days, so I am writing this before stage 13. This post is a brief, single preview now for all three Pyrenean stages...
|Stage 14 profile|
Stage 14 crosses into Andorra on Saturday. The riders will climb over one of this race’s highest points when they roll over the 2410-meter high summit of the Port de Envalira about halfway through the stage. The Envalira climb is 27k long with gradients changing constantly, and a pretty steep final couple of kms. A long section in the middle is not very steep, but it’s a climb that makes it hard to get into a rhythm. Mountain jersey and stage hunters will hope to escape the peloton over this mountain.
Two cat-2’s and some fast descents later, they finish with the steep Collada de la Gallina climb. The Gallina rises 580 meters up in 7.2 kilometers of road. That is an average of 8%, and a max around 15%. It is steep, and long enough to do some damage after the climbing that preceded it.
With so much more climbing ahead, the GC favorites will hope to postpone the battle until the very end of the stage. But the steep finish will favor the pure climbers. Pozzovivo looks strong now; but so do Purito, Nibali, Roche, Valverde, Basso and Horner. Last year Alejandro Valverde edged out Joaquim Rodriguez and Alberto Contador on the same finish.
|Stage 15 profile|
Stage 15 on Sunday is 225 kilometers long, crosses into France, and imposes over 80,000 meters of climbing on the riders. Four very long category-1 climbs will force the contenders to gauge their efforts accurately and dig deep to stay in contention. I am hoping for a big contest here.
|The first of stage 15's four cat-1 climbs|
It is also a pretty good stage for a breakaway to succeed. The right combination of escapees could be given a long leash on a stage this difficult. The finish levels out for a good kilometer or so, so a pure climber like Pozzovivo or Purito would want a solid lead over a fast finisher like Valverde or Nibali once they summit the final climb.
|The second and third climbs|
Stage 15 is followed by the second rest day, so expect the GC guys to duke it out on the slopes of the Peyresourde/Peyragudes. This is another summit finish where Valverde triumphed last year. He beat Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome up the Peyragudes in last year’s Tour de France, where Wiggins, of course, was the overall winner.
This is also a stage where Thibaut Pinot’s now well-known fear of descending could cause the young FDJ climber some problems. He could get dropped on the Port de Balés descent that comes before the final climb. This is a stage where descending skills will count, but if he can be there with the favorites on the final climb, he has as good a shot as anyone.
|The final climb of stage 15|
Stage 16 follows the second and final rest day. A category-3 and a category-2 climb dot the otherwise gently sloping-up race route. It finishes atop the cat-1 Aramón Formigal at 1800 meters of elevation, after just 147 kilometers of racing.
Except for the descents of the first climbs, the entire stage goes up. The final climb is officially 15.8k long with a pretty wimpy 4% average. But it has a totally inconsistent grade as the profile shows. It maxes out close to 10% right smack in the middle, but has some flats, too. I see it as five distinct sections of about 3k each:
The first 3k-section is an actual hill, though not particularly steep at 4-6%;
the second section is basically flat until km6;
the third section is where the climb might have officially started if they didn’t want the flats to factor into the average gradient. It rises from about 1250m of elevation to about 1500m, and includes the steepest section at 9.5%. these 3 to 3.5k probably average around 7% or so;
the fourth section levels off again, averaging 2-3%;
the final section looks like about 3.5k in the 7-8% range, easing to 5% at the end.
|The stage 16 summit finish profile|
Most of the final 30+ kilometers of the stage is uphill, and, coming off a rest day, it looks like another good stage to try a breakaway. Also, at a short 147k, this will be a fast stage, and should be fun. I would not expect the GC contenders, unless any are desperate, to make any serious moves until the last 3k of this one though. They will probably mark each other and try to save some energy for the final three mountain stages, 18, 19, and 20.
But this stage is followed by a sprint stage—the last one before the final leg into Madrid—which the GC riders will use as a veritable rest day before the last three mountain stages that culminate at the top of the vertiginous Angliru, “the beast of Asturias”.
Take your pick among the best climbers in these three stages. I’d go with one of the small climbers for 14, say Pozzovivo or Rodriguez—but don’t disregard Valverde.
For 15 I am thinking Nibali, Uran or Valverde; maybe Horner can show some more stuff.
Stage 16’s finish might depend on the time splits going into the stage. Now, five days before the stage, I like Nicolas Roche or maybe either Dan Moreno or Leopold Konig can put on another show. If a break succeeds, I’ll take Tomas Marczynski, but of course I reserve the right to change my mind…
I will do my best to post during the next few days, but it may be difficult. So, if I don’t, enjoy the Pyrenees!
UPDATE, Friday night:
I was happy to see my dark horse pick today, Warren Barguil, pull off his first big pro win, in his first Grand Tour—especially since I picked him!
Unfortunately my first pick, Boasson Hagen, was nowhere around to contest the steep finish in Castelldefels.
For stage 14 on Saturday I am going to pick Chris Horner.