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 Cleverly: Nairo Quintana – Movistar
A typically brutal Andorran stage. Only the very best climbers are going to be fighting this one out at the end. So long as he doesn’t have to play second fiddle to Valverde’s GC ambitions, I can see Quintana landing another one here.
Andy McGrath: Tao Geoghegan-Hart – Team Ineos
It’s been a bit like entering the lottery, this Top Manaña lark. Confidently make a pick, have a day of misplaced conviction of success then get nowhere near the win. Over and over again. At least it hasn’t cost me any money.
Maybe Tao can get me off the mark. He has been open about targeting this stage, lives in Andorra (like seemingly half the modern peloton, mind), knows the roads and is no threat to the maillot rojo. This could be a turning point for him after a crash-curtailed Giro and illness in the Vuelta’s first week.
Nick Christian: Wout Poels – Team Ineos
Punchy af! A shark’s teeth studded, sub-century stage that shoots skywards from the start has big break (not in a Jim Davidson way) written all over it. Stage 9’s is a similar enough profile to the final stage of the Dauphine that Poels won earlier this year. Ineos need to get something from this stage and it’s a coin-flip between Wout and Tao who’s gonna get it.
Ben Ward: Miguel Ángel López – Astana
Having yet to pick ‘Superman’ so far, I’ll go for him on this one. With a rest day to recover I think he’ll want to take as much of a lead as possible before going into the fairly long time trial that will surely see him losing a chunk of time.
Eurosport’s Rob Hatch: Miguel Ángel López – Astana
Today’s the day the climbers need to make count. Miguel Ángel López often loses serious time in TT’s, but this short, big mountain stage suits him. He has a ridiculously strong team and I’m backing him to take a stage win, and pull on the red jersey for a 4th day.
I correctly predicted it would be a break, but didn’t manage to find the winner. Picking the winner of a breakaway stage is similar to winning the lottery, twice! Ah well, we move to stage 9, the hardest day in the whole race. We head to Andorra, where half the peloton live. I hear it’s a beautiful part of the world, with many things to keep people entertained, it’s absolutely nothing to do with the 5% tax rate.
This is the big day in the GC battle, even if we’re only nine days into the race. The GC battle is already down to four men: López, Roglič, Valverde and Quintana. Monday is a rest day, and Tuesday is a hugely demanding time trial in Pau. We all know that Roglič will make massive gains that day, which also means the others must try to distance him in Andorra. Movistar have two cards to play, they have the tactical advantage, but Valverde isn’t usually a fan of these stages. Can the breakaway win? Short stages like this usually go to the GC men, there just isn’t enough time for the break to establish a big lead.
Looking at the picks, both Andy and Nick are going for a breakaway win by an Ineos rider. Poels and Geoghegan Hart (try spelling that first time) have been looking frisky, but still not on top form. Poor Andy sounds like he’s not enjoying his Top Manaña experience, he needs to drown his sorrows with some artisan coffee. Ian’s on Nairo, which is a good pick. You can bet that Movistar have a cunning plan up their sleeves. Our red jersey, Ben, is on López, as is Rob. This is a very safe pick as he’s been climbing well. I should really follow suit, but my heart is telling me to do something different.
Verdict – I could play it safe and go with López, the stage favourite. To hell with it, go with your heart, it’s got to be a day for Nairo Quintana. The little Colombian was brilliant on Friday, and he should be allowed to attack from distance, hopefully when all the domestiques have been dropped. If it looks like he’ll win, I’ll switch to Colombian coverage of the race just to hear the commentators shouting, Nairo Quintana.
Rob Hatch is commentating on the 2019 Vuelta a España in the English language for Eurosport International