It’s been a cracking first week to the 2014 season’s third and final Grand Tour, the Vuelta a Espana, and as we head into the middle week of the race the overall contenders are starting to emerge, with Stage 6 providing a thrilling first mountaintop finish.
The middle third of the race sees three more summit finishes and an individual time trial that will help shape the overall standings, and there’s also a couple of stages for the sprinters and one that could favour the break.
One spot of relief for the peloton is that from Stage 8, the route heads away from the deep south of the country where the riders have had to contend with searing temperatures in the opening days of the race.
Here’s our guide to the week ahead, and you can find full details on the race website here.
Saturday 30 August
Baeza – Albacete 207 km
A rare day without a single categorised climb means that this is one that the sprinters will have long targeted, meaning that any breakaway is almost certainly doomed to failure ahead of the finish of what is the longest stage of the race, and only of only two over 200km.
It could be a fast one – on the bare landscape the riders are heading through, the prevailing wind should be from behind, but if it’s coming from a different direction, the sprinters looking for the win and the overall contenders will be near the front to minimise being left behind should echelons form.
Sunday 31 August
Carboneras de Guadazaón – Aramón Valdelinares 185 km
A summit finish lies in wait today, and it’s the second time the race has visited this ski resort in Aragon’s Sierra de Gudar – in 2005, eventual overall winner Roberto Heras beat runner-up Denis Menchov to win here. The Spaniard was subsequently disqualified for testing positive for EPO but reinstated in 2012.
The road starts heading upwards after Teruel, with a final climb that is 8km long and with an average gradient of 6.6 per cent is steady rather than too challenging, but provides an opportunity for some of the GC men who have already lost time to try and claw it back, which could make for explosive racing.
Monday 1 September
Tuesday 2 September
Real Monasterio de Santa María de Veruela – Borja (ITT) 36.7 km
Racing resumes after the first rest day in the province of Zaragoza and an individual time trial that is shorter than those typically featuring in the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia, but which has a Category 3 climb and a technical final part of the parcours.
For the likes of Fabian Cancellara and the man who has succeeded him to the rainbow jersey in the discipline, Tony Martin, it’s an opportunity to test their form ahead of the World Championships later this month; for the GC men, it’s about putting time into rivals, or trying to limit losses, with Chris Froome the pick of the bunch to finish in the top three.
Wednesday 3 September 03, 2014
Pamplona – San Miguel de Aralar 153.4 km
The race returns to Pamplona, where it began in 2012 – as this year, with a team time trial won by Movistar and Jonathan Castroviejo taking the lead – but that’s where any similarities end with perhaps the toughest of the three mountain finishes to date.
The first two thirds of the stage over rolling roads will see the usual break go away, but a Category 2 climb provides the prelude to what promises to be a fight between the overall contenders on the final ascent, which averages 8 per cent but has steep ramps in places that could make ideal launch pads for attacks.
Thursday 4 September
Logroño – Logroño 166.4 km
The sprinter’s will have been presented with a dilemma yesterday – how to balance the calculations between making it safely inside the time limit with trying to preserve their strength for today’s flat stage on a 20.6 kilometre circuit, ridden eight times, that is tailor made for them.
John Degenkolb, one of the in-form riders of this year’s race, won here in 2012, but the fact it’s likely to be a bunch finish doesn’t necessarily mean the GC men can take it easy; here, there is always the risk of strong cross winds, and if that happens, there will be a battle to be near the front at certain points on the coursed where it switches direction.
Friday 5 September
Belorado – Obregón. Parque de Cabárceno 188.7 km
The toughest of today’s three categorised climbs is a Category 2 that is crested nearly 40km from the finish. That’s likely to see the sprinters distanced, and moreover a shorter but sharp uncategorised climb a couple of kilometres out means any who did manage to rejoin the group are unlikely to be there at the finale.
With a big mountain stage looming tomorrow as the race heads into its final week, it’s also a day were the overall contenders will take a back seat, so it’s one on which a breakaway may well prevail – and with opportunities beginning to run out, there could be a lot of teams trying to get riders into it.
Saturday 6 September
Santander – La Camperona. Valle de Sábero 200.8 km
The second of the two stages of the race that are over 200km in length, this is the first of three consecutive summit finishes that are likely to shake up the top of the overall standings and, if not determine the identity of the winner, at least give a strong idea of who will occupy the podium positions a week tomorrow.
It’s going to be a tough finish on the climb of La Camperona, making its first appearance in the race, and which has ramps of up to 24 per cent within the final 3km, which have an average gradient of 14 per cent. Any overall contender who is struggling today could lose a lot of time.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.