Stage 8: 166.9km, Valls to Igualada
Ian Cleverly: Wout Poels – Team Ineos
Never mind ‘Where’s Wout’. Where’s Team Ineos? Having missed the boat as early as stage 2 and thrown in the GC towel, they need to land a stage or two to avoid this race being a complete waste of time. Poels is probably their best bet – although I fully expect to see a fourth stage win in a row for a rider from Spain. No idea who, though. It’s that kind of race.
Andy McGrath: Thomas De Gendt – Lotto-Soudal
Is this a day for Thomas De Gendt?… Yes. He’s looked oddly restrained at the Vuelta so far, clearly saving his energy for the right moment. This stage is too tough for the sprinters and the GC men will be after another quiet day before battle truly commences in Andorra. Probably…
Nick Christian: Sam Bennett – Bora-Hansgrohe
This stage could go either way but on Stage 7 Bennett made it over the first three categorised climbs with the bunch before letting go on the penultimate. Tomorrow only has one and I think its summit is far enough from the finish that, even if he can’t quite hang on, his team should be able to help him rejoin it. Coming second to (future team-mate?) Jakobsen hurt and he’s motivated to re-establish himself as the supreme sprinter of La Vuelta. I can see this stage being where he does just that.
Ben Ward: Sam Bennett – Bora-Hansgrohe
Although it’s tempting to just pick a random name with the sole justification of ‘breakaway’, I’m going to go for the obvious pick here. Despite or perhaps because of the win by Fabio Jakobsen on Stage 4, it seems most likely that Sam Bennett will prove his bouncebackability again and take another sprint win.
Eurosport’s Rob Hatch: Sam Bennett – Bora-Hansgrohe
There aren’t many chances for the sprinters, and the fact that Sunday’s stage is a big GC day should make this one easier to take. I’m backing Sam Bennett to get over the climb, win the sprint and take back his green jersey.
Movistar decided they wanted to chase, and they made the right decision. After keeping the break on a tight leash, they set up the stage perfectly for Valverde. On the steep slopes of the final climb, the top four riders of the race were in dominant mood. When the dust settled, Valverde took the win and Ben now moves onto two stage wins, I can imagine the scenes in the Rouleur offices.
Stage 8 is another day that suits the breakaway riders. We have a cat 2 climb cresting with just under 30km remaining, it is harder than your usual cat 2 climb, coming in at 7.1km at 6.9%. This is too hard for the sprinters, so their teams won’t chase. It’s not hard enough for the GC riders, so their teams won’t chase. This is why almost the whole peloton will be trying to make the morning break.
Ian’s going with Wout Poels, hoping that Ineos can somehow reverse an awful start to the race. He’s a tremendous rider, but this stage doesn’t look hard enough for him, if that makes sense. Rob, Nick and Ben have suckered by the organisers, they won’t be they only ones. They look at this stage and see a simple cat 2 climb and nothing much else, then immediately think it’s going to be a sprint. The climb is way too hard for any sprinter, not just Sam Bennett. A poor move by our leader, possibly letting me in to level things up! Andy got the memo. He’s recognised that this is too hard for the quick men and has taken a small risk on De Gendt.
Verdict – Classic breakaway day = Classic breakaway rider. Step forward Thomas De Gendt.
Rob Hatch is commentating on the 2019 Vuelta a España in the English language for Eurosport International