Saturday, 7 September 2013

Vuelta a Espana 2013 : Stage 15 Preview

STAGE 15 keeps us in the Pyrenees as we head out of Andorra, back into Spain before entering France for the day's finish.

It follows an absolutely brutal day today which saw no less than 16 men abandon the race and Vincenzo Nibali increase his advantage to 50 seconds over Chris Horner.

One of the pre-stage favourites Ivan Basso cited hypothermia as his reason for withdrawing and you would be very hard faced to disbelieve him.

And the bad news for those remaining is the weather doesn't look like getting any better.

Tomorrow's finish should cause outbreaks of deja-vu for most cycling fans, especially British ones.

Stage 17 of the 2012 edition of the Tour de France saw Sir Bradley Wiggins cement his position on top of the standings and almost guaranteed him the title, a fact he was well aware of as he crossed the line with a knowing grin.

It is possible just as famous as being the stage that Chris Froome tried to drag his team leader across to the one man who had escaped the Sky duo. For a lot of the climb it seemed as if Froome could catch the escapee and take the day's honours.

However he played the part of loyal domestique and stayed with his team leader, gifting the win to the lone rider.

The winner of that stage is in this years Tour of Spain and will definitely fancy his chances of a repeat. But we'll get to him in a minute.

First up let's get the numbers and details out of the way. At 224.9km (139.7miles) long this is the longest stage in this year's Vuelta.

It takes the field from Andorra to Peyragudes. Four first category climbs, including the summit finish, stand in the way.

The first is the Puerto del Canto. This is the longest climb of the day at 24.4km but has the lowest average gradient at 4.2% and it's maximum is 'just' 10%, again the lowest of the four climbs.

That said it will still be a tough introduction to the days stage, starting as it does just 7km after the start. It won't affect the overall contenders who will want to keep their powder dry until later but it will probably see a sizeable breakaway disappear over the horizon.

The next climb is the Puerto de la Bonaigua, a 20km long slog with an average gradient of 5.5% and a maximum of 12.5%, appearing around halfway up.

From it's summit there are still 124km to race so don't expect too much action up here from the GC boys.

However once we hit the town of Mauleon Bauresse with 51km to go that could all change.

It is from this point the route mirrors that of the 2012 Tour and it also signifies the start of the Port de Bales.

The Bales climbs for 19.2km and has an average gradient of 6.2%. It actually starts off fairly serenely and the first 8km only average around 3%. From that point though it rarely drops below 8%, with it's maximum of 10.5% coming with around 3km to go to the summit.

The last climb is more or less just the Col de Peyresourde with a small descent followed by the last slog up to Peyragudes.

It is a total of 16.7km in length but only has an average gradient of 4.7%. However this is due entirely to the 2km of descending.

The Col de Peyresourde is 10km long and has an average gradient of around 7.5%. It's maximum gradient is 13.3% and is sure to be a test.

The last ramp up to Peyragudes is only around 3km long but it's average is 6.7% and has a maximum ramp of 11.7%.

The descent in the middle will play into the hands of Nibali. He is excellent when the road points down over and depending on how the stage is going could well use this, or the kilometre before it, as his springboard to get away.

The likes of Nico Roche and Joaquin Rodriguez should be able to keep him in view here so it will be up to the lighter climbers, the Chris Horner's and Domenico Pozzovivo's of this world, to attack on the steeper uphill sections.

And as I mentioned yesterday Euskatel will do something with any of their big hitters to the fore.

Four outsiders look towards the Colombian trio of Carlos Alberto Betancur of AG2R and Sergio Henao or Rigoberto Uran of Team Sky. All haven't been in the best of form recently but may see this as a chance to steal the glory.

However my favourite is the man who escaped the clutches of Wiggins and Froome in 2012.

Alejandro Valverde.

He will be able to match both the climbers and Nibali on both the ascents and descents. That victory in 2012 gave him so much self belief and was the catalyst for an upturn in fortunes and I believe it will act as a spur here again.

Movistar will also be keen to record a victory as they have yet to taste success so far in this Vuelta. And with the likes of Eros Capecchi, Benat Intauxsti and Sylvester Szmyd in their ranks, expect them to try and set something up.

If the weather doesn't beat them all.

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