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31.08.2015 @ 15:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tom Dumoulin delivered one of the biggest surprises in recent grand tour history by winning on a climb that should have been way too steep for him. The Dutchman will now have a few days to savour his achievement and consider his long-term options as tomorrow’s stage should give the GC riders a chance to recover while the attackers or the strong sprinters go for glory on a day they have red-circled since the start of the race.

 

The course

This year the first rest day comes unusually late in the Vuelta a Espana as the riders will have done 10 days of racing before they finally get a chance to recover. This means that there will be another day to survive before their day off and so many will be pleased that stage 10 is both short and relatively easy. It could be a chance for the strong sprinters to go for glory again or for a breakaway to make it to the finish.

 

At just 146.6km, it is one of the shortest stages of the entire race and it is a typical transitional stage that brings the riders further up the coast towards the Pyrenees in the north. The start takes place in the big city of Valencia while the finish is in Castellon further up the coast but unlike yesterday, the riders won’t follow the coastal road. Instead, they will head inlands where the roads are lumpier and this means that they will tackle the category 3 Puerto del Oronet (6km, 4.4%) whose summit is located after just 29km of racing.

 

After the descent, there’s a slightly ascending section and then another descent that leads to completely flat roads. They will lead the riders through the city of Villareal to the finish in Castellon which they will reach after 102km of racing.

 

If the race had ended here, it would have been a great day for the sprinters but as usual the organizers have designed a difficult finishing circuit. It is 44.6km long and contains the category 2 Alto del Desierto de la Palmas (7km, 5.6%). The first part is a flat run along the coast before the riders head inlands to go up the climb whose summit is located 17.1km from the finish. The gradient mostly hovers between 3% and 7% until it briefly reaches double-digit gradients at the 5km mark. Then there is a small descent before the fina kilometre is uphill at around 5%.

 

The descent is less steep and technical than the ascent and leads to the final 8km which are completely flat. The finale is technical. The riders will follow a big road from the 4km to go mark and go straight through several roundabouts before they take two 90-degree right-hand turns with 900m and 600m to go respectively.

 

Castellon last hosted a stage finish in 2004 when Oscar Freire beat Erik Zabel and Stuart O’Grady in a reduced bunch sprint.

 

 

 

 

The weather

The riders got a small chance to recover from the extreme heat in today’s stage but that was a short-lived affair. Tomorrow it will be back into brutal conditions on another sunny day where the temperature will reach a maximum of 32 degrees. There is a 25% chance of an evening shower but it should be dry during the race.

 

There will barely be any wind, with just a very light breeze blowing from a southeasterly direction. This means that the riders will mainly have a cross-tailwind for most of the day until they get to the finishing circuit. Here they will first have a cross-tailwind and a tailwind on the climb while there will be a cross-headwind on the descent. Inside the final 4km, it will be a headwind or a cross-headwind but there will be a cross-tailwind on the finishing straight.

 

The favourites

WOW! What a ride by Tom Dumoulin! On paper, the Dutchman should be way too big to win on such a steep climb but he defied all expectations by beating the biggest specialists on the Spanish wall. We openly admit that we had never seen that one coming. In fact Dumoulin has always suffered on the steepest climbs and usually skips Fleche Wallonne as he deems the Mur de Huy too difficult for him. That was evident in the Tour de France where an in-form Dumoulin lost a lot of time to the best climbers. However, the Dutchman is apparently in the form of his life and it was a combination of strong legs, a calm head and great tactics that allowed him to beat the beat.

 

To console ourselves, we had predicted a possible comeback from Chris Froome. Last year the Brit also rode pretty poorly on the longer climbs while he had his best day son the short, steep ascents. Apparently, he is very good at gauging his efforts on these climbs as he refuses to follow the attacks of the puncheurs and this leaves him with the strength to make a difference in the end. It will be interesting to see if it’s a repeat of last year’s inconsistent riding or if his condition is really growing in time of the most important stages.

 

At the same time, the stage revealed the first chinks in Chaves’ armour. The Colombian took the responsibility as race leader and shut down most of the moves. That may have cost him a bit in the end but his below-par performance is likely to be a sign of a drop in condition. Last year he faded dramatically in the second and the third week and we could be in for a repeat of that pattern.

 

Dumoulin now has the leader’s jersey and he now looms as a potential overall winner of the race. The Dutchman is by far the best time triallist but he still hasn’t proved that he can handle a big day with several climb like the one he faces in Andorra. Furthermore, it remains to be seen whether he can maintain his level for three weeks, especially with three consecutive mountain stages coming up in Asturias.

 

For now, he has the chance to savour the moment as the next two days shouldn’t be too difficult. Tuesday is a rest and tomorrow is not a day for the GC riders. Nonetheless, Dumoulin’s position at the top of the GC may have an impact on the outcome of tomorrow’s stage. Going into the race, there is little doubt that this was a targeted stage for John Degenkolb but now Giant-Alpecin have bigger goals than going for sprint wins. Hence, they are unlikely to do all the work to bring things together for a reduced bunch sprint, especially as they are uncertain whether Degenkolb can survive the final climb. They would be very displeased to spend a lot of energy on the front only to see it all come to nothing as it happened in stage 8.

 

The stage would also have been a good one for Nacer Bouhanni and most notably Peter Sagan but those two riders are now out of the race so they will do nothing to bring the break back. Hence, it looks like this could be the day when a breakaway makes it all the way to the finish.

 

Much will depend on the composition of the break. There is no doubt that MTN-Qhubeka, Lotto Soudal, Caja Rural and FDJ will have been inspired by the results of stage 8 so if they miss the break, they will believe in their chances in a sprint. That could lead them to organize a chase and if that’s the case, Giant-Alpecin are likely to lend them a hand. Hence, it is definitely not impossible that the break will be caught and then we should see a repeat of the yesterday’s stage with a very aggressive finale, lots of attacks and sprinters trying to survive the final climb.

 

In any case, we can expect a big battle in the first part of the stage and it will probably take a long time for the break to be formed. As the stage is very short, we may even get to the halfway point before the break takes off. This also means that the chase has to get organized very quickly as there won’t be much time to chase down what is likely to be a very strong group. Furthermore, the sprint teams can’t go hard on the climb.

 

Compared to yesterday’s stage, the climb is longer but less steep and it only briefly reaches double-digit gradients. Furthermore, the descent is not as technical. However, if the break is caught, we will definitely see new attacks on the climb and this will make the pace fast. Hence, it should be relatively selective and the sprint teams won’t have many domestiques left to control the race. This opens the door for a late attack to make it to the finish too.

 

Hence, there are three different scenarios: success for a long breakaway, a reduced bunch sprint or success for a late move on the climb, the descent or the flat finale. As said, we doubt that Giant-Alpecin will do all the work and with a relatively tough start, there is a solid chance that a strong group will get clear so we put our money on a breakaway.

 

With a climb in the early part, you need to be strong to join the move and as the final climb is hard, you have to be a good climber to win this stage. However, the final part is flat so the winner won’t be a pure climber and a fast sprint is definitely no disadvantage.

 

Jose Goncalves fits the bill perfectly. The Portuguese has had a remarkable first pro season where he has gradually improved. He topped his performances in the Volta a Portugal where he won a stage (and was disqualified in another for irregular sprinting) and did consistently well. That earned him selection for the Vuelta where he has been surprising most.

 

It was never a secret that he is strong on the flats and fast in a sprint, especially when it’s uphill, but few would have expected him to battle with the best in a stage like today’s. This proves that he is in excellent condition and tomorrow’s stage is tailor-made for him. He is strong in the first part and will be difficult to drop on the climb. Finally, he is very fast in a sprint. He lost a lot of time in the first big mountain stage so he is no GC danger. He He got close to the win yesterday when he attacked in the finale. Tomorrow he can make up for that disappointment

 

Another in-form rider is Tosh van der Sande. The Lotto Soudal rider has always been a great allrounder who can both sprint and climb. He comfortably made it into the lead group in yesterday’s stage where he made a mistake in the sprint. He described it as the biggest disappointment of his career and he will be keen to make amends tomorrow. There is no doubt that he is strong enough to join the break and he won’t be easy to drop on the climb. Finally, he is very likely to be the fastest rider in the breakaway if he joins the right group. Furthermore, he will be a candidate if it comes down to a sprint from a reduced group.

 

Pello Bilbao has many of the same skills. He is probably not as fast as van der Sande but he is a better climber. He already came very close to a stage win by finishing second yesterday and he will be keen to go one better tomorrow. Caja Rural will do their utmost to put a rider in the break and Bilbao will be one of their best cards. He took it easy in today’s stage and will be ready to strike in a stage that suits him well. He is fast in a sprint and climbs well and like van der Sande he can win the stage both from a sprint and from a breakaway.

 

Cyril Gautier is known as a breakaway specialist and he has formidable ability to hit the right group. This stage is a very good one for him as he has the right combination of good climbing legs and a fast sprint. For some reason, he seems to always come up short in the finale but the Frenchman is impressively strong and it is time for him to win a grand tour stage. He doesn’t seem to be in his best condition but he is definitely riding strong enough to win this stage.

 

The same goes for Stephen Cummings. The Brit was a bit ill at the start of this race but proved that he is back in good condition by riding strongly in the break in stage 6 where he was the final rider to get caught. He is climbing very well and extremely strong on the flats. He has a decent sprint but his best chance will be to get clear on the climb and then use his TT skills to ride away with the win.

 

Julien Simon got a big breakthrough when he won two stages in the Volta a Catalunya three years ago. Since then he has not won at the WorldTour level but after he found his best legs last year, it is just a matter of time. The Frenchman is clearly riding very well and this stage is tailor-made for him as he can both climb and sprint. He is probably not fast enough to win a reduced sprint though so he will have to tae his chance from a breakaway.

 

If it comes down to a sprint finish, John Degenkolb is obviously the man to beat. The German was dropped on the climb in yesterday’s stage but he should have a better chance in this stage. The climb may be longer but it is less steep and so better suited to a big guy like Degenkolb who has handled this kind of climb in the past. His team will also have to defend Dumoulin’s leader’s jersey and so he may be a bit isolated in the finale and he cannot rely on much lead-out. However, he is definitely the fastest rider in this race.

 

His biggest rival in a sprint could be Kristian Sbaragli. The Italian has been riding very well in this race and been up there in all the sprint finishes. Yesterday he hit out too early and faded to fifth but there is no doubt that he is one of the fastest riders in this field. Furthermore, he is riding so well that he could even take his chance in a breakaway.

 

In the first part of the race, Jose Joaquin Rojas was not allowed to go for the sprints but now it seems that he gets a bit more freedom. He got a chance in his home stage but unfortunately a crash left him weakened for the sprint. His main job is to keep Valverde and Quintana safe but if it comes down to a reduced bunch sprint, he will be allowed to take his chance. If Degenkolb is dropped, he could easily be the fastest

 

Orica-GreenEDGE no longer have the leader’s jersey and this could open the door for Simon Gerrans to finally go for a stage win. The Australian is gradually building his form but he is clearly not at his best yet. However, he is a master in picking his goals and this stage must be one for him. He has won bunch sprints in the past so he can win this stage both by joining a break and by going for the win in a sprint.

 

Sylvain Chavanel, Thomas De Gendt and Ruben Plaza are all known as breakaway specialists and they will be keen to go for glory in this stage. Even though they are not in peak condition, they are all riding at a solid level and strong enough to join a break in this kind of stage. De Gendt and Plaza may be strong enough to drop their companions on the final climb and take solo wins while Chavanel is not as strong on the ascent but with his excellent descending skills and fast sprint, he is an obvious contender.

 

Riccardo Zoidl has been really impressive in this race, with Trek sports director Dirk Demol constantly praising him. The Austrian is eyeing a breakaway win and tomorrow could be a good day for him. He is definitely strong enough to join the right break but he can’t sprint or descend. Hence, he needs to drop his rivals on the climb if he wants to win the stage.

 

Like Gerrans, Daryl Impey was not at his best at the start of this race but he is building condition and has proved to be getting stronger. This stage should suit him pretty well as he can both climb and sprint. It remains to be seen whether he is already strong enough to hang onto the best from a breakaway in this kind of stage but based on his performance in today’s stage, it is definitely not impossible. He could also take his chance in a sprint if Gerrans I dropped in the finale.

 

Niki Terpstra is building condition for the World Championships and his aggressive riding clearly proves that he also wants to win a stage. On paper, the final climb should be too hard for him but based on his good climbing recently, he may be able to create a surprise.

 

Lluis Mas is another Caja Rural option. The Spaniard was ill a few days ago but seems to have recovered. He was once known for his many fruitless attacks but nowadays he is climbing very strongly. Furthermore, he is fast in a sprint so he has the skills to do well here.

 

Finally, we will point to Matteo Montaguti, Rinaldo Nocentini, Miguel Rubiano and Fabio Duarte. They are all good climbers with a relatively fast sprint. None of them are in their best condition but they are definitely getting there. Both Ag2r and Colombia will be chasing breakaways so they will do their best to join the right move.

 

For other sprint candidates, look to Kevin Reza, Daniele Bennati, Alex Howes, Vicente Reynes, Pieter Serry, Gianluca Brambilla, Leonardo Duque, Miguel Rubiano, Luis Leon Sanchez.

 

CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Jose Goncalves (breakaway)

Other winner candidates: Tosh van der Sande (breakaway or sprint), Pello Bilbao (sprint or breakaway)

Outsiders: Cyril Gautier (breakaway), Stephen Cummings (breakaway), Julien Simon (sprint or breakaway), Simon Gerrans (sprint or breakaway), John Degenkolb (sprint), Kristian Sbaragli (sprint), Jose Joaquin Rojas (sprint)

Breakaway jokers: Sylvain Chavanel, Thomas De Gendt, Ruben Plaza, Riccardo Zoidl, Daryl Impey, Niki Terpstra, Lluis Mas, Matteo Montaguti, Rinaldo Nocentini, Miguel Rubiano, Fabio Duarte

Sprint jokers: Kevin Reza, Daniele Bennati, Alex Howes, Vicente Reynes, Pieter Serry, Gianluca Brambilla, Leonardo Duque, Miguel Rubiano, Daryl Impey, Luis Leon Sanchez

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