For each stage of La Vuelta, the Rouleur panel of ‘experts’ will give their picks for the following day’s race. Top tipster Cycling Mole, meanwhile, will dismantle our choices and give his own prediction for the likely winner. In a change to last year’s rules, selection’s don’t have to be unique. Who’s going to take risks? Who will play it safe? Most importantly of all, who will come out on top?
Ian: Nairo Quintana – Movistar
Firstly, a big fat tip of the hat to Moley for predicting both the windy chaos and Philippe Gilbert’s win. Man’s got skills. Meanwhile, back in the real world of rank amateurism punditry, let’s just imagine for a moment (bear with me here) that the massed ranks of breakaway hordes don’t make it to the line and there’s a proper tear up in GC. Much as I’d love to see James “fox in the box” Knox do the impossible, I think it’s Nairo’s time to set the cat amongst the pigeons.
Ben: James Knox – Deceuninck Quick Step
There are a couple of Astana riders that are tempting for this one if it wasn’t for the likelihood that they’ll try for a repeat of their 2015 tactic that broke Dumoulin on these climbs. Given that their leader doesn’t look strong enough to win this race on his own I don’t think they’ll allow much freedom to their breakaway specialists, so I’m going to go for James Knox, whose confidence is clearly on the rise along with his finishing positions.
Andy: Sergio Henao – UAE-Team Emirates
The winner will be a classy rider who’s miles down on GC and can hold off the charge of the race favourites on that final mountain and descent. Henao has been aggressive in the race, the former Paris-Nice winner can handle himself over the higher peaks and he may even be looking at the King of the Mountains as a consolation prize.
Nick: Thomas De Gendt – Lotto-Soudal
The $64,000 question is… which rider – who isn’t going like a bag of washing – is going to be least knackered after today’s ri-goddamn-diculous stage? 50kph AVERAGE for 200k??? The answer is probably none of them. TDG finished as far down as any, and though he should be royally pooped after a long season’s racing, he still managed to finish sixth on Monday. He’s a man of miracles and I’m perfectly prepared to toss another few (figurative) quid his way.
Eurosport’s Rob Hatch: Sergio Higuita – EF Education First
Breakaway. Higuita’s time has come. That is all.
Where to start? Yes, I am the person who correctly predicted a stage so crazy that no one in their wildest dreams would even expect to get right. Trailing Ben by 1 stage, I pulled off the big one, predicting Gilbert to win a sprint stage. That is what I do people, I am the CyclingMole. Now that I’m level with Ben, just you wait and see what I’ve got in store for the final stages of the Vuelta.
Stage 18 and we head to the mountains near Madrid, this is the penultimate GC day. We have four cat 1 climbs, but they’re all quite easy compared to climbs we’ve already seen in this race. The last climb crests with nearly 30km still to race, which usually means it’s a great day for the break. GC teams will be reluctant to control and set up a chaotic finish to the stage, where their leader could be exposed by the other squads.
Ben has gone with the man of the moment, James Knox. The wee man from Kendall is a friend of mine (I told you I was a big deal), but he’s not winning this stage. After a day spent exploring the large pocket of Tim Declercq, he now sits eighth on GC, which means he’ll be hanging tough with the big boys. Andy is clearly given up the ghost, and has decided to pick Sergio “Henooooo” Henao. This is a rider who is a shadow of his former self, and he’ll probably have to spend the day fetching bottles for Tadej Pogačar. Ian has paid me a compliment, which is rare surprise for me, but his pick is not landing.
Quintana is now second on GC and Roglič will have a close eye on him. I know he won a flat finish all the way back on stage 2, but there is more chance of me being modest than him winning again. Nick’s on De Gendt, a rider we all love, but he’s near the end of his energy supplies, after riding the Giro, Tour and Vuelta. What about Rob “Last Minute” Hatch? I’ve waited all night and that’s it? Never had Rob as a man of few words, he must be in shock at my incredible prediction. Anyway, Rob has gone for the Higuita Monster, a rider with a very fast sprint. I can’t poke fun at this pick, I just hope he’s demoralised after getting slaughtered today.
Verdict – Has to be another day for the breakaway, but which of the form riders to choose? Given the way he’s been racing in recent days, I’ll take my luck with Tao “You try spelling this first time” Geoghegan Hart. He’s climbing well, and his fast sprint could be very important on the finishing line.
Rob Hatch is commentating on the 2019 Vuelta a España in the English language for Eurosport International
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