I have been known to change my mind on certain topics more than might appear seemly — it seems to me like if someone changes their mind their opinion is considered to be less valid. Like, ‘you thought the opposite last year, gotcha!’ One thing, however, on which my mind remains firm is the importance of time-trials in Grand Tours. A thirty-kilometre time-trial is liable to do the same amount of damage to the general classification battle as three or four sexier mountain stages, yet always we look for a ‘balanced’ race, a myth that’s persisted from the times when pure grimpeurs were actually common. Now, of course, if you can climb, you’re in almost all cases a GC rider. Meaning that time-trials, supposedly to balance the race, are actually likely to unbalance a tight race between climbers as their abilities against the clock become more important than their close-matched ascending skills.
This is, of course, taken to the extremes when Chris Froome or especially Tom Dumoulin are riding the GT in question. The top ten of this Vuelta will consider it merciful that neither will roll off the start ramp in Santillana del Mar , but the possibility that the GC will be very much shaken up is a very real one.
Let’s have a look at what they’re dealing with.
The phrase I would use to cover this is “flat, for the Vuelta.” There are a number of metres to ascend, but this is still an untechnical test of power. This is not a circuit through a city, there are about five corners.
Simon Yates’ hold on the red jersey is a tenuous one — it would not take a particularly bad ride for him to lose it, with Alejandro Valverde willing to swoop. Valverde’s time-trialling is one of the main annoyances to me in professional cycling, because you simply cannot predict it. He has won stage races with his skill against the clock, think Itzulia 2017 for example, yet has an ability to show stunning inconsistency. If he has a really good day tomorrow he will be in red. However, he could just as easily find himself slipping back. That’s not to mention the wildcard that is Miguel Angel Lopez. He’s finished highly in competitive time-trials before yet can be just as inconsistent as Valverde. Perhaps the lowest ceiling belongs to Yates himself, yet it would not be a shock should he outperform his rivals. Nairo Quintana is very likely to lose time to all three.
None of the above mentioned riders should win the stage, however. Now, it would fill up space I’d like to be filled to manufacture a paragraph about who will win tomorrow, but there is only one opinion to have on that topic, and that is that Rohan Dennis will take his second stage of the race. He’s a class above everybody else here and unless there are truly exceptional circumstances in question this is the Australian’s to lose. If not him, Jonathan Castroviejo could pick up the pieces. My pick to be in red tomorrow...Valverde.