Start location: Utiel
Finish location: Olica
Start time: 12:57 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:30 CEST
We’re in winemaking country for stage seven, taking place in the Requena-Utiel region famed for its reds. The stage sets off from the town of Utiel, where the surrounding vineyards have been used for wine ever since the seventh century BCE, later advanced by the Romans, and peaking in popularity during the nineteenth century when trade routes opened up via railways and the nearby port of Valencia. Bobal is the resident grape variety grown, boasting a deeply coloured and red berry flavour, and goes well with Valencia’s staple dish, Paella. Underneath the town is a network of secret underground passageways connecting hundreds of wine cellars, open for tourists and wine-lovers to enjoy.
Positioned between the high plateau of La Mancha and the Mediterranean coast, Utiel’s vineyards enjoy the benefits of being at high-altitude, while the riders will today enjoy the benefits of heading downhill from here to the latter, for a stage finish at the coastal town of Oliva. While Utiel was all about wine, Oliva is for lovers of beaches, and features an 8km coastline of sandy beaches, notable for their formation of sand dunes. It’s an area full of natural beauty, most notably the thermal springs and the rare species of waterfowl found in the La Marjal Oliva-Pego natural park to the south of town.
Stage seven profile sourced via the Vuelta website
Upon descending the plateau Utiel is located on, the riders will head eastwards towards the Mediterranean coast, before turning southwards along the coastline to the finish, not encountering a single climb along the way. At last, the organisers have offered the sprinters what they’ve longed for: a flat stage that looked nailed on to be a bunch sprint finish.
But is it as straightforward as it looks? It might be a flat day in the saddle, but it’s also a long one, as one of only two stages in the whole race to exceed 200km. If the temperature’s hot, as it often is at this time of year this far south, this could be an uncomfortable day out. Animating the stage on a hot, long day would make a rider unpopular in the peloton among those who’d wish for a nice, simple day’s racing, but it could also prove fruitful.
And if the weather isn’t hot, but rather blustery, what of the threat of crosswinds? The entire final 100km of the stage takes place along the Balearic coast, leaving the riders exposed should the wind blow, potentially turning this easy sprint day into a dramatic GC struggle. It would be the last thing most overall contenders would want during a first week that has already called them to arms most days, but would certainly make for great entertainment for us spectators.
Despite two stages already being decided in a bunch sprint, the two previous sprint stages still had its complications for sprinters in the form of category three climbs. However, on this flat stage, there is nothing that stands in the way of the fast men not reaching the finish line first.
Dominating the sprints is Alpecin-Deceuninck’s Kaden Groves, who has won two out of two sprints so far. The Belgian squad have proved that they are the team to beat for these faster stages, and with not many sprint opportunities in this year’s Vuelta, the team will want to sweep up as many results as possible. Groves also looks in phenomenal form, adding another hurdle for his rivals to get over in order to beat the Aussie.
Alberto Dainese (Team DSM-Firmenich) is a rider on the hunt for a stage win at this year’s Vuelta. After being caught up in the crash on the first sprint opportunity, he proved to be a rider to watch on stage five, where he just missed out on a podium spot, placing fourth. His team looked to be working well in the run-in to the finish, but Dainese said he made a mistake on the final corner, causing him to fall back from those at the front. So, we expect to see him on the podium in this stage.
Another rider targeting stage wins is Edward Theuns (Lidl-Trek). He possesses a fast finish and has proved to be back to his best after suffering from sickness earlier in the season that impacted his performance. His best result so far this Vuelta has been third place on stage four, and he will want to challenge for the first place podium spot.
Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) threw his name into the mix on stage five, where he sprinted to secure a second place finish. But with a time trial looming, the Italian might be looking for a few easier days in the peloton, working for the team's GC, before going all out for the race against the clock. If he goes for the sprint finish in this stage, he could be close to challenging Groves, finishing only half a wheel behind him in the previous sprint.
After coming second on stage four, Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates) was caught up in the crash on stage five, coming in 116th place. But with this being a prime sprint opportunity, we expect he could be in the final mix for the stage win.
Lewis Askey (Groupama-FDJ) has been within the top 10 of both sprints so far and could be a contender for today’s stage, as could stage five’s third place finisher Dries Van Gestel (TotalEnergies).
We think Kaden Groves will take the stage once again, making it his third win of this year's Vuelta a España before the end of week one.