12 September 2013

Vuelta a España Stage 18: Burgos to Peña Cabarga

Yesterday was a 'flat' stage so there shouldn't have been any drama, right? No!

At 30km to go the race went over a narrow bridge and got strung out just as the race was heading into the cross winds. So the 150 or so riders that are left in this Vuelta were split into four echelons. The top four had all made the front group, but then we got to Domenico Pozzivivo (ALM) who had missed out and his five second lead over Nicolas Roche (TST) was in danger as he and a number of his team mates were in the front group. Also missing was 7th place Thibaut Pinot.

In that front group were also three of the four remaining Belkin riders and near the end it was one of there number Bauke Mollema who launched an attack. The sprinters who were left in the pack Edvald Boasson Hagen (SKY), Tyler Farrar (GRS) and Maximilano Richeze (LAM) were holding off until a little nearer the line. But they waited to long and Mollema took the stage. Boason Hagen still looking for that illusive win in the third Grand Tour came second once again, ahead of Richeze and Farrar. But for Nicolas Roche it was the fact that the group of Pozzivivo and Pinot that came in 1'31" later that sees he somewhat more secure as a top five finisher.

Today's stage travels 186.5km mostly towards the Bay of Biscay and Santander. However, just before they reach the city outskirts there is a whip back inland to face the Peña Cabarga.

5.9km long, climbing 545m to a height of 565m and the average gradient is 9.2%. But it is the final km that is a real sting in the tail. It climbs to a maximum of 20% but is largely over 15% for most of that final km.

It is the sort of finish that Joaquim Rodriguez (KAT) loves to attack. It also seems to be one that Chris Horner (RSL) can make ground on Nibali. But what if Nicolas Roche goes earlier, can he hang on. There will be a lot of questions asked today and we will just have to wait to see the answers. One question is can Nibali hang on to the red jersey never mind his time advantage.

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