Stage 19: Medina del Campo - Ávila, 185km
It's the most innocuous of the four post-ITT stages. Or is it? Fabio Aru of Astana came out swinging away at overall leader Tom Dumoulin of Giant-Alpecin (really, caffeine shampoo...), and can be expected to look under every rock for those missing three seconds. Aru the climber wouldn't be expected to find them on a gently rolling stage such as this. But they may be there anyway.
Today the Vuelta makes a beeline for Ávila, just over the hills to the west of Madrid:
Ávila is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the more striking scenes in Europe, a medieval town more or less entirely encased in 12th century walls. Sounds like a cool place to visit for history buffs, not unlike the rest of Spain, only more so. It's been a stop for the Vuelta on occasion before, and features a bit of a climb into the town proper. Perfil:
Hm, finishing climb you say?
OK then. I can't find a ton of information about past stages, but in 2009 it was worth a second or two in time gaps for the GC folks, though of course in 2009 a second or two wasn't something anyone cared about as much as they do now.
This should get interesting in the final hour. If today is any indication, Astana will go to the front of the Heads of State peloton and hammer out as nasty a tempo as they can, particularly up the cat-2 Alto La Palamera, which is 8.7km averaging only 4.5%. Not enough to launch attacks, but enough to tire out some legs. If they succeed in weakening Dumoulin -- a big if -- then maybe Aru can sneak away in the final 2km as the race climbs into town.
Here's the most recent finish in Ávila:
Are they using the same approach? Not sure. It seems rather perfect so maybe. It also isn't very steep, but it's long enough such that if anyone of our top two is stronger than the others, there's a chance for a gap.
To my surprise, Alejandro Valverde did not manage to put away Purito Rodriguez in the points comp today, despite winning the sprint for fourth on the stage. Purito stuck to him like glue and retained a two-point lead. Clearly they are locked in a fight for the jersey, since not much else is going on. Stay tuned!
Done and dusted. Omar Fraile is long gone.
Purito opened up a three point lead over Dumoulin here! Clearly showing his skill at whatever it is this jersey rewards. Can he keep doing... that thing? Who know, but it sure is exciting.
I like Valverde here, with the breakaway maybe not getting as much rope as they did today. Valverde is out for stages and sprints, and this one sets up nicely for him. It'd definitely change the points comp too.