The way this Vuelta has been designed, it is a good three weeks to be a breakaway artist. Stage eight was just one part of a series in stages just perfect for nabbing a win or a jersey, with Nikias Arndt and Nicolas Edet the beneficiary today. If “Grand Tour jersey winners” were a category on Pointless, I reckon Edet would be a pretty good answer, before today at least. His victory in the mountains classification six years ago is memorable only in its strangeness. Speaking of the 2013 race, Nicolas Roche taking red happened back then too. Given who eventually won that race, I hope there aren’t too many more parallels to 2013.
Also, a quick note: we’re trying to bring you previews for every stage of the Vuelta but sometimes things get in the way. I for one apologise for not being able to write you anything for the last two evenings, and hope for the issue not to resume.
Anyway, time to look to a stage that will play a big role in the composition of the podium in Madrid. If not the queen stage, it is close to it with five climbs around Andorra all crammed into ninety-four kilometres.
The Ordino should see the fight for the breakaway — if there is a breakaway. Nairo Quintana will remember how he won the 2016 Vuelta on a stage like this with an early attack always more likely to work out in the Vuelta. More likely though is an attack on the Collada de la Gallina, best known as a summit finish as used in 2012 and, oh, 2013 again. There is a bare minimum of flat between the descent and the two second category climbs that make the stepped ascent to Cortals d’Encamp.
The final climb only flattens towards the very summit on a day that will have a pace as high as the stakes. The race won’t be won here: in fact all this stage can really do is set us up for the next huge stage, the time-trial. However, it is certain to narrow the field down even further and reveal the true climbing hierarchy.
Roglic, Valverde, Quintana and Lopez are rightly the four favourites. Not much seems to separate them on the climbs, Lopez strongest one day and losing ground the next, so a fast mountain stage will do much to separate them. Having team mates or lacking them often plays a big role on days such as this so the Quintana-Valverde broken fork may do much. Lopez however is my pick for the day. Mas de la Costa is an altogether different proposition to this and I think he’s the best mountain climber at the minute. Roglic to stay in touching distance.