The 30km of flat roads at the start will see the inevitable, incessant attacks as the breakaway fights to establish itself. Two categorised climbs at 40km and 120km bookend a very up and down, leg-breaking parcours, and with the temperature still set at ‘searingly hot’, this will be another tough day out there.
The summit finish yesterday may well see the GC contenders content to stay in the bunch. But given the way the guys have been riding, I still expect the break to be caught and a reduced bunch battle it out for the finish line. The final kilometre into the finish is uphill (max 4%) and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) add a third fabulous stage winner’s hat to his collection.
Saturday 30 August: Stage 8, Baeza to Albacete, rolling, 207km
Sprinters rejoice! There are no categorised climbs on this stage! I repeat, there are no categorised climbs!
The 207km route takes the riders across the flat plains in this part of Spain. But it’s not going to be all plain sailing for the peloton (see what I did there? [Nice! – Ed.]). These opens roads offer little protection from the winds so prevalent in this area so if the riders are lucky, it will be a tail wind but if it swings to the side we could see echelon action. All the teams will be on the alert, and all will be trying to be at the front, with Tinkoff-Saxo very much to the fore.
I predict a nervous peloton, a fast pace, and maybe – just maybe – a FDJ.fr win. “Allez Bouhanni”
Sunday 31 August: Stage 9 – Carboneras de Guadazaon to Aramon Valdelinares, mountains, 185km
With a distance of 185km and all the climbs coming in the last 60km, this is without doubt the hardest day in the saddle so far. Throw in the fact that wind could yet again be a major factor and this will be a tough stage.
The first categorised climb comes at 124km, but the fun doesn’t really start until the last 15km. The very short descent from Cat 2 Alto de San Rafael is quickly followed by the climb to the Cat 1 summit finish at Aramon Valdelinares.
Eight kilometres long with 530m of vertical gain, the last climb is a tricky ascent. Don’t let the average gradient of 6.6% fool you – the gradients fluctuate from 8.5% to 2.5% at the finish, making it difficult for those climbers that prefer to tap out a steady rhythm.
With plenty of climbing to come after the rest day, this stage won’t show us the winner of the Vuelta, but it’s definitely one to see which GC riders have a real shot at the podium.