Vuelta a España: Stage 18 review

Stag18: Aguilar de Campoo to Valladolid, 204.5km

After more than a week in hibernation, a flat stage allowed the sprinters to dust off the cobwebs. It was a routine race but by no means an easy one – an average speed of 48kph was enough to shatter the peloton in the latter stages – at the end of which the experience of Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) edged out the youth of Ben Swift (Sky).

The day’s break was initiated at kilometre zero and eventually settled down to a group of five riders including Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM). A lead of five minutes was never going to be enough, and they were easily swept up with more than 15km still to go, with Keizer the last to be caught.

With several teams continuing to keep the pace high, the peloton split in the closing kilometres. First a group of about 40 found themselves detached off the back, with further fractures soon appearing. In a chaotic finish, with John Degenkolb‘s Argos-Shimano out of position and no one else controlling the front, it was left to Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale) to open up the sprint. Swift came around him, and although he pulled out 1½ lengths on Bennati, the veteran Italian’s late charge proved to be the better-timed as the British rider faded, and a well-executed bike-throw at the line saw him snatch a photo-finish victory. Orica-GreenEDGE’s Allan Davis was third.

VeloVoices rider of the day

He has never been the fastest pure sprinter in the mould of a Cavendish or a Greipel, but 31-year old Daniele Bennati is plenty quick enough and has the experience and judgement that can be worth that all-important metre on the road. Ben Swift should really have won this stage, but to me it looked like he reacted too hastily to Mondory’s jump, whereas Bennati remained calm and picked his moment to launch his sprint. It was a close-run thing but it was enough – a good lesson to learn for the young Sky sprinter if he wants to make a step up the pecking order in the likely event of Cav’s departure.

Having already recorded a second and a third already during this Vuelta, this was a richly deserved win for a rider who has always ridden well in the Grand Tours – today was his sixth win at the Vuelta, to add to three at the 2008 Giro and a pair at the 2007 Tour – and also has a consistent record in the spring Classics. He has even won the green jersey in Spain (in 2007), and in a climber-dominated race this year he has consolidated his sixth position in the points classification – the all-conquering Degenkolb (in fourth) being the only sprinter above him.

Of course, rumours that Bennati’s victory today was spurred on by Panache’s inclusion of him (and his cat) in his 10 things I love about cycling feature yesterday are purely unfounded. Or are they?

Observations

It was no surprise to see riders from Cofidis (Luis Angel Mate) and Andalucia (Gustavo Veloso) in today’s break, desperately tying to make an impact for their sponsors. Cofidis have had a miserable Vuelta, with David Moncoutie barely making an impression on the King of the Mountains competition which he has won in the past four editions, and barely a sniff of a stage victory. Their highest-placed rider on GC is Mickael Buffaz – a lowly 47th, more than 83 minutes off the pace. Andalucia have done okay – they have been prominent in breaks throughout, but they would have been stung badly by fellow wild-card Caja Rural’s Antonio Piedra‘s storming solo victory on the fabled Covadonga.

The only real surprise was that there weren’t more underperforming teams ensuring they put someone in the day’s break. For instance, has anyone noticed Lotto-Belisol much in this race? Maybe they have actually just packed up and quietly gone home …

Tactical analysis

No change today, and precious little else of note. The top of the GC was unchanged, and victory in the points competition was already out of reach of the sprinters. Intriguingly, Katusha’s Gatis Smukulis was put in the breakaway group, offering the prospect of a bold attack by Joaquim Rodriguez. It was hard to see where and how the former race leader could make a move stick, though, and a combination of the high pace throughout and him possibly not feeling great meant the threat ultimately never crystallised.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of as many stages as possible on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Vuelta a España official website

Grands Prix Cyclistes de Québec & Montréal preview

It is a big weekend in the UCI WorldTour, with a couple of excellent races taking place in Canada. The only WorldTour events in North America are two of the season’s highlights, even if they do symbolise that the nights are drawing in as quickly as the cycling season, and that autumn is just days away. The first of the two races takes place tomorrow (Friday) in Québec, before the riders hit Montréal on Sunday for the second of the ‘Laurentian Classics’.

Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec – Friday 7th September

The opening race takes place in Québec over an exciting course, described as technically ‘demanding’ and ‘exceptional’ in its beauty by the UCI. It is a race perfectly suited to the puncheurs, and one which has produced gripping racing since the inauguration of the Grands Prix Cyclistes series in 2010.

Both of the Grands Prix take in laps of a course around each city, and the Québec race features 16 laps of 12.6km. Towards the end of the circuit are four short, sharp climbs from which the eventual winner will emerge. The beautiful backdrop to the finish is provided by the historic neighbourhood of Old Québec, with the race’s scenery just as stunning as any Grand Tour road stage.

The Côte de la Montagne is only 375m long but the ramp is 10%, before a 420m, 9% climb and a 190m, 7% one in the space of 2km towards the back end of the circuit. The final ramp up to the finish will be stinging the legs of any brave escapee, with a comparatively long 1km drag at 4%.

In last year’s race the newly crowned king of Belgium Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) bounced off the back of his Ardennes Triple to take the Québec title in typically dominating fashion. The national champion recorded his 17th win of the season after attacking twice out of a select group of escapees, with only Robert Gesink (Rabobank) coming close to even matching Gilbert. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) finished third, eight seconds behind the Dutchman, and nine behind the winner.

Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal – Sunday 9th September

A slightly more friendly parcours welcomes the riders in Montréal, with only one real tough climb of note. The Côte Camilien-Houde comes early into the circuit, but don’t think it’s easy! It is almost 2km at an average gradient of 8%, and is longer than any ramp on the Québec profile.

The other climbs are the Côte de la Polytechnique (780m long and 6% average gradient) and Avenue du Parc (560m long and 4% average gradient), with the latter being the final ascent up to the finish on one of the city’s major north-south streets.

Sunday’s race is marginally longer than Friday’s, as the riders make 17 laps of the 12.1km course, bringing the total race distance up to 205.7km.

Last year it was Rui Costa of Movistar who emerged as a surprise victor, sprinting out of a late escape formed with Stefan Denifl (Leopard-Trek) and Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) to take the win. It was a thrilling finish as the gutsy three-man breakaway were charged down by the marauding peloton on the finishing straight, with the Portuguese winner denying Philippe Gilbert the opportunity to become the first man to complete the Laurentian double by just two seconds.

Who to watch

With the races being so geographically close together most teams are using the same squads for both races. So with the races both featuring puncheur-friendly parcours which form an ideal warm-up for the forthcoming World Championships, here are the names to keep an eye on throughout the weekend.

Any discussion of the favourites on courses such as these must start with Liquigas’ Peter Sagan, who should be well rested after his Tour de France green jersey-winning exploits. Luis Leon Sanchez will also look to continue his excellent season in a pair of races which should suit him well. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is equally as aggressive on such terrain, and Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen also excels on such hilly finishes – albeit preferring a small sprint finish to a lone attack.

Other contenders to consider include Greg Van Avermaet, who heads a strong BMC team. Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) will be looking for a victory on home soil. Winner of the inaugural 2010 Québec race Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) will almost certainly make a bid for freedom at the finish, while his compatriot Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ), who came so close to winning the Montréal race last year, will be a contender once again.

Finally, for those who fancy more of an outside bet, look out for Rui Costa (Movistar), Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Sharp), Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE), Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM).

The Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec takes place on Friday 7th September, withthe Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal following on Sunday 9th. Live coverage of both races will be broadcast on Eurosport. For other coverage check cyclingfans.com.

Links: GP Cycliste de Quebec official websiteGP Cycliste de Montreal official website

Vuelta a España: Stage 18 preview

Stag18: Aguilar de Campoo to Valladolid, 204.5km

The sprinters have paid their dues over the past few stages, and now is their time to go for glory. This flat stage uses a lot of the same roads as those in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and as it’s mainly downhill, this stage should just zip by. Whether it ends as a bunch sprint or not is totally up to the wind. If she’s a blowin’ on the high plains, then we could see some splits. If it does end in a bunch sprint, I wouldn’t bet against Argonaut John Degenkolb. He’ll want to continue where he left off early last week and notch up win number five.

The finish could be pretty frenetic. It’s been a while since the sprinters have had the chance to wind up for a bunch gallop, the final 5km is pretty much all downhill, and other than a couple of roundabouts and a left-hand turn with about 600 metres to go this looks to be a reasonably straightforward run-in. Watch them fly!

A poignant note: the last time the race ended in Valladolid was in 2008 and the winner was Wouter Weylandt. WW108. Never forgotten.

Link: Vuelta a Espana official website