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: Zdenek Stybar – Deceuninck-Quick Step
Not so sure this cobbled finish is the big deal the Vuelta organisers are making it out to be. Also not convinced the sprinter’s teams will be able to contain the break. Who is going to chase, apart from Bora? Stybar’s got the chops if he gets the nod from a very strong Deceuninck squad. Czech mate.
Ben: Philippe Gilbert – Deceuninck-Quick Step
Aaaargh! I made my Stage 18 pick before the chaos of the previous day, but I didn’t have time to rewrite it with my chosen replacement which was, of course, Higuita. Easy for me to say, obviously, which is why I’ve said it. This is why I hate even pretend gambling.
Onto stage 19, and with a cobbled climb at the end, this feels like a Deceuninck-Quick Step kind of stage, so I’m going to go with Gilbert to make it a hat-trick. I have also been impressed with Rémi Cavagna in this race, but I imagine that he’ll still have to play second fiddle. Anyway, who cares, I’m totally dispirited now.
Nick: Sam Bennett – Bora-Hangrohe
You could almost hear the sound of a sad trombone as the power drained from Sam Bennett’s legs on Wednesday. As much as he might beat himself up for sprinting too early, to come second on a stage like that was an incredible achievement, at least as impressive as any of his wins in this Vuelta. Nonetheless he’ll still see it as a loss and one he’ll want to expunge at the first opportunity. I think he will.
Andy: Tosh Van der Sande – Lotto-Soudal
I look at that nasty, twisty finale and reckon: what a load of Tosh. He won on a similar hill at the Tour de Wallonie a few months back, blowing everyone off his wheel with a vicious acceleration. It’s a higher calibre of field here and he’s a dark horse, but he wasn’t so far off in Oviedo. Plus everybody’s gonna be watching Gilbert…
Eurosport’s Rob Hatch: Philippe Gilbert – Deceuninck-Quick Step
Weather, uncertainty surrounding the finish & form. Hat-trick time!
[Excuse the brevity. Rob was busy having his wounds tended to]
Roberto “Baggio” Hatch take a bow. The pick of Higuita was inspired and he now moves level with Ben and me. The rest of the Rouleur crew are languishing at the back, nowhere to be seen. With just three stages to go, who is going to take home the prize?
Stage 19 and it looks like a sprinter’s paradise, but this is the Vuelta. The day ends with 700m at 8%, with the last 500m on cobbles, and they look nasty. People who simply look at the finish will have missed some crucial information; we have a long, exposed section of road through the Spanish countryside. Yes, boys and girls, another day where we could see echelons. We have a relative strong wind predicted and a thunderstorm warning too, this day could be lots of fun and a massive worry for Primož Roglič.
Nick has gone with Sam Bennett, who is the favourite with the bookies. The problem for Sam is the final 700m at 8%, this will be too hard for him. Ian’s gone with Štybar, to be honest you could pick nearly anyone from the Quick Step squad, they are that good. Andy has done his homework, Tosh Van Der Sande (a good friend of mine) did recently win a finish with a tough cobbled climb. He’s finished third on two occasions, in this race, I would be very happy to see him win.
Now the minor guys are out the way, what about the big boys? Ben has gone with Philippe Gilbert, and I can see why. The great Belgian won here back in 2010, although the finish didn’t include the cobbles. If it’s too tough for Bennett, then he’d be the next in line to take the win, say the bookies. With time ticking on, our editor has made a big call, Rob “Last Minute” Hatch is too late and is a DNS. Controversial!
Verdict – I could play it safe and go with Gilbert, matching up the pick of Ben, but why would I want to do that? Will the wind blow and leave us with a small front group? We’ll have to wait and see about that, but I’m pinning my faith in Alejandro Valverde, this is a great finish for him.
Rob Hatch is commentating on the 2019 Vuelta a España in the English language for Eurosport International
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