So it all comes down to this. While Simon Yates put a bit of daylight between himself and the rest of the pack on today’s slog to Naturlandia, the composition of the podium, and even who will stand on its top step, are very much still in the balance. Yates’ ride today was decisive, a champion’s performance. But he delivered a couple of champion’s performances in the Giro as well, and a champion he did not become. It is his one hundred per cent record of losing the leader’s jersey at the end of Grand Tours that is causing the doubt of his victory.
To be fair, it is a course where the race leader spontaneously ceasing to deserve that title is easy to imagine, a couple of laps around Andorra involving a real sharks-teeth profile. Six categorised climbs, none of them easy, and without the inconvenience of flat roads in between. Oh yeah, and its shorter than Alejandro Valverde’s remaining hair.
Over these ninety-three kilometres, the threat of attack will always be there on a stage which should be taken at a blistering pace. Movistar will presumably make another effort to split the race, having tried everything, only to perhaps worsen the situation, on stage nineteen. Valverde should be going out all guns blazing for another Grand Tour success, while Kruijswijk is on course for his first ever podium finish, even though surely he has a sniff of more. Kruijswijk is no stranger to daring mountain attacks, even if that is a strategy of which Valverde is a little less familiar, but this is the Vuelta, not the Tour, and a podium finish can be more easily sacrificed in pursuit of the win. I expect to see each of them giving it a go tomorrow, however successful they end up being. And that is the crux of the issue. Everyone can take as many risks as they would like, they will end up being pointless unless Yates has the legs. Will he, indeed? To me, the signs look good for the Briton. What must be remembered is that in the Giro, his collapse did not come out of nowhere, but had been prefaced by a loss of time the previous day. He certainly did not dominate the final ten kilometres of that stage as he did today’s. He has not perhaps, either, burned quite so many matches as he did earlier on in the Giro and I cannot see past him retaining his red jersey to Madrid. Ooooh, real hipster pick there Conor, where do you come up with them? Well, currently, any other opinion looks, non-entertainingly, at odds with the facts.
As for the stage, I don’t think the break, if there even is one, will stand much of a chance. My pick to win is Steven Kruijswijk, who should move up to second.