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?
Stage 7: 183.2km, Onda – Mas de la Costa
Ian Cleverly: Óscar Rodríguez – Euskadi Basque Country – Murias
There’s a heck of a lot of mountains still to climb in this race. It’s hard to see the top contenders controlling the break every single day, so I’m plumping for a total wildcard, much like the excellent Madrazo on Tuesday. Oscar to repeat his stage win of last year’s Vuelta while the GC boys mark each other out of contention.
Andy McGrath: Mark Padun – Bahrain-Merida
Yes, he’s a dark horse, but if Angel Madrazo can win a stage, this is hardly scoff-worthy. Hotly-touted Padun looks to be over season-damaging knee problems, can handle himself on the steep stuff and is far enough down on GC to get a bit of freedom. Do your worst, Moley…
Nick Christian: Miguel Ángel López – Astana
Three breakaway days in a row? Can’t see it happening. Especially since the climbing doesn’t start until halfway through the stage. The last slope, though not long, looks vile. Of the three riders I found myself weighing up, I think it’s slightly too steep for Pogačar (pronounced Po-GA-char and this is the hill I will die on) though I’m sure he’ll win a stage at some point, and a bit long for Valverde (though we’re all legally required to pick El Bala before the end of the Vuelta). Which only leaves me with lightweight López.
Ben Ward: Dani Martínez – Team EF
Again going for heart over head (which surely can only say Miguel Angel Lopes) a little bit, but being free of responsibilities for Uran and also any expectation that his depleted team do any work, Martinez will have the most strategic freedom. A redemptive win for his fallen teammates would make for a nice consolation for the breaks, scrapes and bruises in the team bus.
Eurosport’s Rob Hatch: Esteban Chaves – Mitchelton-Scott
The Vuelta organisers get so excited by this kind of finish, they must go out looking for local goat populations. This climb is a pure example of Javier Guillen’s ‘cuestacabrismo’ & the last time we were here, a group of 28 riders were allowed up the road. That was towards the end of the race, although again, the big early time gaps this year mean that a breakaway could take victory for a third day. A pick there is still a lottery, so I’m going for Esteban Chaves to rediscover the form that saw him come in with the best GC guys in 2016.
We’re having more breakaways than a fat kid back in the 80s. Now six stages in, and we’ve only got a single stage winner, but its unpredictability is one of the reasons we all love the Vuelta, so let’s just embrace it. Moving into the 7th stage, it’s the first one that ends with a proper muro. For those not fluent in Spanish, I’ll translate for you. The word muro directly translates as, a short but steep climb that’s best enjoyed on an e-bike. The one at the end of this stage is 4km at 12.3%, something most people wouldn’t even walk up. Will it be another day for the break? Will the peloton decide enough is enough and chase the stage win? Above all else, where does Andy McGrath buy his cardigans?
Looking at the picks, the name of Óscar Rodríguez makes another appearance. The talented Basque climber won a stage on a similarly steep climb in 2018, but that was from the break. This year he’s attempting to ride for GC, and now sits 4:37 behind Teuns. He won’t be attempting to make the break, and simply isn’t strong enough to win from the GC group. Ian’s hoping that the big GC riders will look at each other and Rodríguez will disappear up the hill. I think Ian has a better chance of winning the Euro millions, and he doesn’t even have a ticket.
Andy is gambling on the break, given the way things are going, this isn’t such a bad strategy. The only issue is his choice of pick, Mark “Pudding” Padun. The heavy-set guy from Bahrain-Merida likes his Victoria Sponge, but this finish is no cakewalk. Nick is going with López, which has to be a wise move considering the way he danced away from the GC group on Wednesday. From this point on, Nick shall be known as mini-Rob Hatch, thanks to his helpful pronunciation tips. The real Rob Hatch has gone with Chaves, as the wee man has previous on finishes like this, but he did show weakness the other day. Ben is on another talented Colombian, Dani Martinez. EF Education First had an awful day, with Urán and Carthy abandoning the race. Martinez is a great climber, but not long back from a nasty hand injury.
Verdict – the break can’t win again, can it? This type of finish is why I love the Vuelta, I’m sure most of you will agree. Mini-Rob Hatch is correct when pointing out that it could be just a bit on the long side for Valverde, and I also agree with him that Miguel Ángel López will win this stage.
Rob Hatch is commentating on the 2019 Vuelta a España in the English language for Eurosport International