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 17: 219.6km, Aranda de Duero – Guadalajara
Ian: Max Richeze – Deceuninck Quick Step
The longest day. And one of the flatest. Hard one to call with this team, as stage 4 winner Fabio Jakobsen would normally be the designated sprinter, but Richeze deputised very well to take second on stage 14 behind Sam Bennett. Perhaps young Jacobsen is feeling it after two weeks of full-on racing. So, if the Irishman falters (that’s a big ‘if’), I’m backing the veteran Argentinian to win in Guadalajara.
Ben: Sam Bennett – Bora Hansgrohe
With Sam Bennett being such an obvious pick for this one, I do wonder whether the other sprint teams will be bothered to do any chasing. But I’ve not been allowed to choose ‘Random Spaniard from a Pro Conti team’ as my pick and I really don’t have the time to research them all, so I’m just going to go with the favourite.
Andy: Tosh van der Sande – Lotto Soudal
Feeling like Willie Smit at the moment, limping towards the end of my Vuelta challenge feeling a bit battered. Time to turn it around.
This stage is a tad harder to judge than it looks – everybody in the bunch is knackered and can the other sprinters’ teams really be bothered to keep a break on a tight lead for five and a half hours on the race’s longest stage only for Sam Bennett to blow past everyone again? So I’m hedging my bets, going for a dangerous Belgian who likes an uphill finish and could challenge from a break or by pre-empting a bunch kick, as he did on stage 14.
Nick: Zdeněk Štybar – Deceuninck Quick Step
A long old stage, this. I’m skeptical Bora will have the capacity to keep the break on a short leash all day (and reel it in again), and I don’t think they’ll get much help, either. Štybar not only has the tekkers for a stage of this shape, but he’s looked hungry for a win.
Eurosport’s Rob Hatch: Sam Bennett – Bora Hansgrohe
Sam Bennett once more. The team are committed to controlling and in Oviedo the rider showed how much of a class act he really is. Another day with over 2,000m of altitude gain but I’m backing the man from Carrick to continue his formidable form.
Stage 16 was another day where I correctly predicted the break would win, but didn’t have the winner. I could moan that I had Fuglsang the day before, but it’s not my style. More fool me for putting my faith in Jesús, it’s not the first time he’s let me down. We’ve had a rest day to recharge the bodies, I’m pretty sure the Rouleur team were getting down with some team bonding sessions, green tea, yoga and feng shui. Bring it on!
Stage 17 and it looks like one for the fast men, just their fourth chance in the whole race. They’ll have been dreaming of this day, but it could quickly turn into a nightmare, especially if the weather forecast is correct. We’re talking winds of around 35mph and it’s crosswind for the opening half of the stage. That means we’ll see Movistar trying to drop Roglič and put him under severe pressure. Will any of the sprinters survive? The problem is that most of them will have to ride for their GC rider, meaning they sacrifice their own chances of success. A word of warning, when echelons are predicted, they never seem to happen. Once we get into the finale, the final 3km rises at around 3%, this isn’t an easy finish.
The Rouleur team have clearly been far too busy working on their latest scoop to check the weather forecast, what a bunch of amateurs. Andy is a broken man, he’ll no doubt ease his soul by visiting his nearest scarf shop, it is nearly winter after all. His pick of Van Der Sande isn’t too bad actually, Tosh is a great bloke and I’d love to see him taking a win. Ian and Nick are on QuickStep, which is never a bad idea in any race. Ben is again playing it safe; he sits in the race lead and by picking the favourite, he’s playing a clever game. Will I risk it all by going against Sammy B? Or play it safe like Ben and Rob?
Verdict – I’m stuck in a dilemma. Ben is one ahead of me, and Rob “Last Minute” Hatch is level with me, both of whom have gone with Bennett. Do I play it safe and also go with the Irish sprinter? For me, that would be unthinkable. I’m the best previewer in the world, people should follow me!
The wind to blow and QuickStep to shine. Bennett will have to work for Majka, and in the utter chaos that will ensue, we’ll see Philippe Gilbert take the win. Please note, predicting a stage based on a weather forecast is utter madness, welcome to the world of the CyclingMole.
Rob Hatch is commentating on the 2019 Vuelta a España in the English language for Eurosport International
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