Stage 16 of the Vuelta a España follows the final rest day and the sprinters will be eager. With a series of high mountain stages to follow, their opportunities are dwindling. However, the plethora of short hills which are scattered throughout the stage could put paid to their chances.
Stage 16 profile
The Vuelta a Espana has now moved to Spain’s northern coast. Stage 16 departs from Laredo for the first time since 1974 — Gerben Karstens won one of his fourteen Vuelta stages that day. The stage concludes in Santa Cruz de Bezana, where race organisers are anticipating a sprint. However, almost 2,300 metres of climbing could put a spanner in the sprinters' plans.
In typical Vuelta style, the opening 100km are rolling with short hills making up the bulk of the parcours. The only categorised climb is the third category Alto de Hijas, which begins with 79km remaining. The climb is defined by steep gradients rather than its length, averaging 6.5% over 4.2km.
The uncategorised Alto de San Cipriano occurs 20km later, averaging 4.2% over 5.1km. These two climbs provide a clear opportunity for some teams to press on to drop the pure sprinters.
With 33km left, an intermediate sprint takes place in Santillana del Mar. Three short hills wait between here and the finish line, all of which total around 1km in length with gradients between 5% and 7%. This is the final opportunity to drop the sprinters.
The final kilometre is technical, so the leadout men have a crucial role to play if the stage is decided in a mass sprint. A sharp, left-hand hairpin occurs with 700 metres left. The road narrows on exit, so the riders at the front have a substantial advantage. A sweeping right-hand bend with 500 metres left is next, which is subsequently followed by a left-right chicane with 300 metres remaining. The sprinters will be ready to unleash their assault on the finish line as they pass through the final corner.
Magnus Cort after winning stage 12 (Image credit: Luis Angel Gomez / Photo Gomez Sport)
Although the sprinters are among the stage favourites, there are various factors which reduce their chances. Firstly, the climbing. If the pace is high, some of the fast men may struggle to hold on to the peloton.
Adding to that, after Jasper Philipsen abandoned La Vuelta, Fabio Jakobsen looks to be the fastest rider left in the race by some margin. Deceuninck-Quick Step still found a way to win when Jakobsen struggled on stage 13 with Florian Sénéchal beating Matteo Trentin. This means that Deceuninck will be relied upon heavily to chase and reel in the breakaway. Will they be willing to ride on the front all day for Jakobsen, where his presence is not guaranteed?
This is also one of the final chances for anyone that struggles in the mountains or time-trial, meaning a multitude of riders will be targeting the breakaway. A large group of escapees will be challenging to control, putting a mass sprint finish into question.
Ineos Grenadiers haven't won at La Vuelta since Chris Froome took the stage 16 time trial in 2017 en route to overall victory. Their best chance of ending that drought could be with Dylan van Baarle in a breakaway. The Dutchman is a long-range attacker, a tactic he used successfully at Dwars door Vlaanderen earlier this season.
After Jhonatan Narváez and Richard Carapaz abandoned, Tom Pidcock is the other breakaway option for the Grenadiers. The Brit had suggested that his form was not at the standard required to win a stage. However, he joined the stage 14 breakaway and finished fourth on Pico Villuercas. If his form is improving, don't write him off.
Magnus Cort has been one of the standout performers over the first two weeks of competition. The Dane has a highly versatile skillset — he resisted Primož Roglič on the Alto de la Montaña de Cullera on stage 6, before powering to victory in a reduced bunch sprint in Córdoba. He may need those sprinting skills again here, though Cort is also capable of attacking to victory solo. Can he make it a Vuelta hat trick?
Like Cort, Michael Matthews and Matteo Trentin are strong sprinters and capable climbers. The pair have seven Vuelta a España stage victories between them, yet despite numerous opportunities, they are yet to win at the 2021 edition. If neither rider can join the breakaway, Team BikeExchange or UAE Team Emirates may choose to increase the tempo in the peloton in a bid to drop Jakobsen and catch the escapees.
Other riders with a chance include Quinn Simmons, Andreas Kron, Jan Tratnik, Edward Planckaert and Sep Vanmarcke. Vanmarcke is vying for a place in the highly competitive Belgian World Championships squad, so he'll be desperate to make an impression on terrain that suits him.
If the stage is decided in a mass sprint, Fabio Jakobsen is the clear favourite, but also look out for Arnaud Démare, Alberto Dainese, Jon Aberasturi and Piet Allegaert.
Cover image: Unipublic/Charly López