We’re in the Basque Country for this transitional stage, taking place after the Andorran mountains and the French time-trial. It is one of the flattest stages in the whole race and yet should not be a day for the sprinters. I doubt that there will be much of a drive to chase down a breakaway from the GC teams, who have already done a lot of work with a gruelling nine days to go, or the sprinters who will see the obstacles ahead of them and regret ever turning up for this race. Honestly, Madrid is a light at the end of the tunnel for those guys but it is a faint and distant one. It’s nearly a shame in fact: the results of the two sprint stages we did get seemed to set up an interesting battle between Bennett, Jakobsen and whoever else could raise their game but there has been no ground on which to fight it. I know that pining for sprints, especially out of me, sounds ridiculous but I would have been very interested in the result, if not the vast majority of the action.
Anyway, time to look at the profile.
It doesn’t look that threatening — and it isn’t in fact. However, that category two climb is seven kilometres at seven per cent, and comes as a one-two punch with another seven kilometre climb that means that this stage will not be won by a group sprint. In fact, it’s all going to come down to the breakaway once again so let’s see who is likely. Alex Aranburu and Philippe Gilbert are the bookies’ favourites for this one and it’s easy to see why. Both can impose themselves on a breakaway group when it counts the most. Again, this is a stage where you can throw out potential winners until you’ve called out half the peloton and the betting market reflects that. There is a huge number of riders with odds in the low double figures as nobody stands out too far. I will make one guess at a stage winner and here it is: Tomasz Marczynski. He won two Vuelta stages very similar to this in 2017 and is honestly as good a guess as anyone for one of the most open stages of the race. The weather will be unremarkable and the wind will be mild. No jerseys should change backs and there should be no meaningful GC shakeup,