Stage 3: Mijas - Málaga, 158.4 km
The stage starts with a third category climb, the Alto de Mijas, only eight kilometres in, and its 400 metre rise in 6 kilometres will provide an ideal launching-pad for a strong breakaway. The climb does not have much of a descent, it's rather gradual and long, and there's only 25 kilometres of flat between its end and the biggest climb of the day - the sixteen kilometre category one Puerto del Leon.
While the biggest climb of the Vuelta so far, it is probably not hard enough to exhaust the sprinters enough, with 80 kilometres to go, to halt the trains bringing a sprint together. While a good part of it is at 7%, and reaching even 15, it alternates with kilometres of a gentler 4%, and while its length will hurt, I don't think anyone will be motivated to push on to put the sprinters out of contention. One possible outcome is Tinkoff-Saxo setting an even tempo for their less flat ground-inclined sprinter Peter Sagan, who seems to be here with a purpose, as opposed to last year, when he barely contested a sprint, as his ride in the team time trial suggests. Towards the end of the stage, there's another bump, but any sprinters still around shouldn't have any trouble with it.
Last 5 kilometres:
Very little should happen in the red jersey competition. Leader Chaves will certainly be able to make it over the climbs, and neither Roche nor Dumoulin are likely to pick up enough bonus seconds to take his place.
Chaves may lose this jersey, if the stage winner takes any points at the intermediate sprint.
Chaves leads this competition as well, though Walter Pedraza will wear it. It will almost certainly change hands to a member of the breakaway, as there are ten points available on the category 1 climb.
Nicolas Roche is wearing this one for Chaves...he'll probably lose it to Dumoulin. Chaves will stay in ownership of it.
Well, with the difficult climb and flat finish, you have to mention Peter Sagan. He looks on form, despite "bruises" from the crash yesterday, and will probably be the freshest after the climb. His team will be able to set a pace on the climb, hoping to drop the other sprinters. Should this work, it could be Sagan's first win in two months.
But Sagan tends to come second, and for that, he needs someone to beat him. A candidate for this is Nacer Bouhanni. Bouhanni was caught up in the crash, and despite a good chase, lost 20 minutes, and though he abandoned the Tour de France before getting a chance to sprint, the Cofidis rider took two early stages of the Vuelta last year, and on his day is probably faster than anyone else in this field. His climbing in the Dauphiné was good as well, so he could take the stage on Monday.
My third and final pick amongst the sprinters in John Degenkolb. The German sprinter has been very successful in the Vuelta, winning nine stage and a points jersey in his last two rides. He also lost lots of time today, but can climb almost as well as Sagan, and maybe challenge him on the flat.
Other people you could mention are Kris Boeckmans, Tom Van Asbroeck and Caleb Ewan, and all of them could manage a top five or ten, but I see the stage being between Bouhanni, Sagan and Degenkolb unless a break can stop them.