Stage 8: Puebla de Don Fadrique - Murcia, 182.5 km
The Vuelta forgets it's a Saturday.
The first stage with a flat finish since stage 3, this stage finishes 1150 metres below where it starts - a rarity for the Vuelta, and finishes with a couple of laps of a circuit containing the Alto de la Cresta del Gallo.
Last 5 kilometres:
Barely a bump. This one isn't for Esteban Chaves.
This stage finishes in Murcia, home of one Alejandro Valverde. The main surprise about this stage for me is that they haven't finished on the climb.
Chaves did a fantastic job to take/hold on to the red jersey on Friday, and should have no trouble keeping it. While the climb isn't merely a speed bump, he won't be dropped after climbing as well as he has all week.
Sagan will retake the jersey here, after Chaves snatched it from him with his good rides on Thursday and Friday.
Fraile is being chased down in this competition, but he should keep it at least till Sunday. Only a few points are available at the short climbs.
Chaves will keep it, Dumoulin will continue to wear it.
Peter Sagan is the obvious (and obviously boring) choice. He won the flattest stage of the Vuelta, and came oh so close on a hill, proving that the he is in good form. With some other sprinters tired or injured, it's a prime opportunity for the Slovakian champion to show them a clean pair of heels in the sprint. He shouldn't be troubled by the hills, and has a strong team behind him.
Nacer Bouhanni is arguably the fastest sprinter in this race, but crashes have left him in difficulty. The Cofidis rider has been unlucky this year, crashes sending him home from the Tour de France and French championships, and now hindering him in the Vuelta. However, he does have fast legs should they work properly, and the Cofidis man may get another GT stage win here.
John Degenkolb has had a disappointing first few stages of the Vuelta compared to last year, losing out to Caleb Ewan and Peter Sagan early in the race. However, the Giant sprinter has outsprinted them before, and may again, the hills perhaps working in his favour.
Yes, Caleb Ewan won on a steep uphill rise, but he did have an impressive turn of pace, so we can't rule him out.