Stage 15: Comillas › Sotres – 175.8km
The climbing continues in the Vuelta’s 15th stage. The 175.8km journey from Comillas to Sotres resembles Stage 14 in that it opens with a long stretch without many serious challenges before ramping up to a tough finishing climb.
The first 70 kilometers of Stage 15 consist mostly of small rolling hills. An uncategorized ascent then signals the start of the more difficult terrain. It’s followed by an intriguing Alto del Torno climb, a Cat. 2 of 10.1km at an average gradient of 3.2% that will likely be far more challenging than the metric indicate, thanks to its irregular nature. The road ascends in three successive steep sections broken up by a pair of quick downhills, which will make for a constantly changing pace that isn’t going to be particularly comfortable.
From the top it’s a fast descent into a flat section around 20km before an uncategorized bump, and then a final downhill into the finishing climb, the Alto de Sotres.
A Cat. 1 of 12.7km at 7.9%, it’s one of the most difficult climbs in the race, an irregular ascent with a challenging opening third, an easier midsection, and a vicious final 3km that ascend into the double digits, with a stretch of 13% just before the finish line.
The last 70km of Stage 15 will make for an exhausting finale. The very steep final few kilometers will make this stage a critical day for the GC favorites, especially those who fear the time trial to come. In terms of the battle for stage honors, however, I think the breakaway specialists will have an excellent opportunity today. With the most difficult part of the stage at the very end of the final climb, it wouldn’t be particularly surprising to see the GC favorites hold off on major hostilities until the very end of the day.
The breakaway riders will likely open up a big advantage on the flat kilometers at the start of the stage where the GC teams will be less interested in driving the pace, and the rolling, irregular terrain that follows will make for a day that is difficult to control.
As such, I don’t see any one rider as the top favorite, but I see several potential long-range candidates with a great shot at success, and with the top-flight GC names as obvious favorites if everything comes back together.
Several potential breakaway candidates kept missed (or intentionally stayed away from) the Stage 14 break, which should make for a hotly contested fight to make the break on Stage 15.
Team Colombia has put riders in breakaways throughout this Vuelta a España, as expected, but the team has little to show for it so far. It would help if they could get either one of their two best climbers up the road. Rodolfo Torres got off to a slow start in the Vuelta, but he has looked good climbing with the overall GC favorites in the past few mountain stages. A breakaway stage win should be doable. Getting up the road may be his biggest challenge—Torres doesn’t have nearly as much experience making it into breakaway moves at this level as some of his teammates, who have made careers out of going off the front in Grand Tours. Fabio Duarte is certainly one of those riders, and near the end of a quiet season he’s finally starting to show some ability.
BMC will be in a great position to double up after Alessandro De Marchi’s Stage 14 win if Darwin Atapuma can get into the early move. A stage without much in the way of challenging descents should suit Atapuma, who is better at going up than going down.
Europcar’s Romain Sicard is looking very good right now and he has doggedly chased down breakaway attempts so far in the race and could get up the road again here, but now sitting within 4 minutes of the overall lead, he could find it hard to stick in the move. Cyril Gautier, Pierre Rolland, and Jérôme Cousin may be better options for the team.
Sky has several cards to play in the hunt for stage wins in the mountains: Vasil Kiryienka, Sergio Henao, Ian Boswell, and Nicolas Roche are all viable options, and all four will have a chance if they make the break.
Giovanni Visconti and Andrey Amador give Movistar two terrific candidates for breakaway success, but it’s hard to say how interested Movistar will be in the stagehunting game now that they appear to be back in the GC battle.
If Mikel Landa is in the early move, he’s an obvious candidate for long-range success, though it’s hard to say what’s on his mind now that he’s got one Vuelta stage win in the bag. Rubén Plaza, Bart De Clercq, Kenny Elissonde, Bert-Jan Lindeman, David Arroyo, José Goncalves, and Frank Schleck are others who could have success from afar.
Despite losing some ground to a few of his rivals, Fabio Aru looked strong on Stage 14, probably giving up time more as a function of attacking too early than anything else. He will again be among the favorites out of the group of GC contenders. He’s not afraid to go on the attack to build his advantage, either. Still, Nairo Quintana looks much-improved after a rough patch, and will be a formidable opponent on the steep stuff. I’m still not sure that he’s up to beating Aru on these vicious gradients, but it won’t be much of a surprise to see him leave the Italian behind either.
Joaquím Rodríguez should look like the look of the finale, and the slightly shorter final climb of Stage 15 should suit him better than the climb that closed out Stage 14. Purito has not been as aggressive as expected thus far in the Vuelta, but he has to know he is running out of opportunities to make a difference in this race.
Esteban Chaves continues to show his talents, and he could enjoy a longer leash now that he’s over a minute down on GC. Rafal Majka looked good, if not worldbeating, on Stage 14, and he might get some breathing room to launch an attack on Stage 15 as well.
VeloHuman Stage 15 Favorites
1. Rodolfo Torres | 2. Darwin Atapuma | 3. Sergio Henao
Don’t miss the latest Recon Ride podcast episode, and be sure to follow @VeloHuman on Twitter for more Vuelta a España analysis. The preview of the next stage will be up after the conclusion of Stage 15.