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Vuelta Stage 15: To the Roof!

Alcalá la Real to Sierra Nevada. Alto Hoya de la Mora Monachil (129km)

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Saturday’s stage saw the toughest climb of the race so far, but Sunday will be tougher. A second consecutive stage finishing with an especial climb to a summit finish, the riders will have climbed more than 3 vertical kms, with two category one climbs as well as the finish. Saturday was very tough. Sunday will be brutal



What’s it all about?

Most people will tell you that the penultimate stage of the Vuelta is the Queen Stage, and it probably is, if you take them in isolation. They’re finishing on top of the Angrilu, for Heaven’s sake. Thing is, though, I think it’ll be too late in the race to have a meaningful impact on the overall position (something extraordinary could happen, but I would be surprised). Stage 15, though, takes place before the time trial, and with plenty still up for grabs. After a rough stage on Saturday, the riders will empty themselves ahead of a merciful rest day and then a time trial. This could be the most important stage of the race.

As to what they’ll actually cover, if you glance at the profile above you might think there are two climbs. Not so - ASO are considering the Alto del Purche to be separate from the Alto Hoya de la Mora. The descent will be a blink and you miss it affair, though. To all intents and purposes, the riders go from this:

into this:

with barely a minute’s recovery. To all intents and purposes, that’s 30km of climbing. Not all of it is particularly steep, but it won’t need to be, this is attritional climbing. If you want brutal slopes, tune in early (the whole stage is televised) because the appetiser features ramps of 22%, and it goes on for over 16km, too.

After that, expect to see a very small peloton contesting the final climbs, and very few will have the benefit of lieutenants and water carriers. Riders will be desperate to avoid going into the red, and will be dealing with extreme tiredness, heat and altitude (they’ll finish at more than 2,500m). This is the sort of climb where gaps between groups could be huge, and I’d expect to see movement throughout the top 10. Yeah. It’s going to be brutal.

Did you know?

Did you know that The Sierra Nevada contain the highest peaks in Spain? Mulhacen is 3,478m above sea level, and only the Caucuses and Alps are higher in Europe. I sort of assumed that the Pyrenees would be higher, but one thing that writing these previews teaches me is how little I know about Spain. Anyway, this climb takes us part of the way up the Veleta (weather vane), the second-highest peak in the Sierra Nevada, and the highest paved road in Europe. My point is this - these are serious mountains these gentlemen are climbing. Let’s enjoy their suffering.

Pick to win

Miguel Angel Lopez. I think four or five riders will be together into the last couple of kilometres, and I can’t see a break staying clear of them. On the back of stage 14, I think Lopez will be the one who has the best chance of kicking clear.

As a bonus prediction, I think Froome did a good job of keeping his powder dry and I don’t see Nibali dropping him. I see the top two finishing close together, and utter chaos through the rest of the classification.