The Vuelta a España returns to the mountains. The GC favourites must be at their best if they are to stay in contention on a day that contains two first category climbs. Odd Christian Eiking clings on to the red jersey, but will it remain in his grasp at the top of the Pico Villuercas?
Stage 14 profile
After leaving Don Benito, which hosts a stage start at La Vuelta for the first time, the road is flat for the first 50km. Over this period, there will undoubtedly be countless attacks from riders trying to join the breakaway. However, they may struggle to escape and build a substantial lead on flat terrain. This means that by the time the first categorised climb begins 79km in, the breakaway may be in its primitive stages, or yet to form at all.
The first categorised ascent is the Puerto Berzocana. The third category climb averages 5.2% over 7.7km. After a short plateau section, the first category Alto Collado de Ballesteros gets underway. We've compared multiple climbs to ‘walls’ in our Vuelta previews so far, however, none have suited that term quite so well as this one. The climb averages a whopping 14% over 2.8km. After a long descent, there will still be over 55km left.
The next 35km are characterised by rolling hills, which could provide the platform for an attacker to catch their rivals off-guard and gain an advantage prior to the final mountain. An intermediate sprint also occurs in Alia, 42km from the finish.
The Pico Villuercas will conclude the stage. The climb is 14.5km in length and averages just over 6%. As per usual at La Vuelta, the gradient will change constantly as the mountain is ascended. Finding a consistent rhythm may be challenging, while attacks must be timed carefully. The riders will gain almost 1,000 metres over the course of the Pico Villuercas, taking on a max gradient of 15%.
Pico Villuercas profile
Enric Mas (Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
After taking the lead of the race on stage 10, Odd Christian Eiking holds the red jersey. The Norwegian isn’t expected to challenge for eventual victory, and Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert aren’t setup to defend the race leadership in the mountains. This could cause a lack of control in the peloton. It would require a phenomenal performance from Eiking to retain the red jersey.
Primož Roglič sits third in the GC, yet he is in consummate control of the race. He has won two stages already and was the strongest from the GC group on the Alto de Velefique. Sepp Kuss and Steven Kruijswijk have grown into the race too, so we can expect them to support Roglič onto the foot of the Pico Villuercas.
Movistar are down to six riders after losing Johan Jacobs and talisman Alejandro Valverde, which means they must spend their remaining resources prudently. However, Enric Mas has been in fine form throughout the Vuelta, while Miguel Ángel López closely follows Mas and Roglič in the overall standings. This could be the perfect chance for Movistar to put Roglič under pressure.
Bahrain-Victorious entered La Vuelta with one of the most distinguished mountain teams. Gino Mäder, Mark Padun, Damiano Caruso, Jack Haig and Wout Poels would all ride in support of Mikel Landa. However, the Spaniard has dropped out of the GC battle after struggling on the Alto de Velefique, which opens the door to chasing stage victories from the breakaway.
Mikel Landa (Image credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Instead, Haig has risen to become Bahrain's GC leader. Haig was third best from the GC group on the Alto de Velefique. If he can continue in a similar vein, a podium finish may not be out of the question.
Bahrain-Victorious possess the tools to heavily influence the stage — they can pack the breakaway with strong climbers, or choose to pull in the peloton for Haig. After Damiano Caruso’s solo victory on stage 9, perhaps they’ll look to pull off a similar feat again.
Egan Bernal is Ineos Grenadiers' best placed rider in the GC, though the Giro d’Italia champion struggled on the Alto de Velefique and is almost three minutes behind Roglič already. Adam Yates is only sixteen seconds behind Bernal, so the Grenadiers still have options. However, they must find a way to play their cards wisely. Should they continue with their dual-pronged attack, or focus solely on either Bernal or Yates? Richard Carapaz has a free card, meaning he could be a threat from the breakaway.
Cofidis' Guillaume Martin currently holds second place in the general classification after moving up via the stage 10 breakaway. This almost mirrors the Tour de France, where he jumped to second overall after joining the breakaway on stage 14. The Frenchman won the king of the mountain’s jersey last year, but will he be strong enough to compete with the primary GC contenders? This is his first real test, and depending on how Eiking performs, this could be Martin's chance to move into the red jersey.
Other riders to keep an eye on for the GC include David de la Cruz, Alex Vlasov, Felix Großschartner and Louis Meintjes.
As well as the aforementioned Landa and Carapaz, we should look out for Romain Bardet, Michael Storer, Jay Vine, Rafał Majka, Rémy Rochas, Juan Pedro López and Ion Izagirre from the breakaway.
We are backing Enric Mas to win stage 14 of La Vuelta a España. The Spaniard has closely tracked Primož Roglič throughout the race, and looks to be his biggest threat in the chase for the red jersey. Can he win the second Vuelta a España stage of his career?
Cover image: Tim de Waele/Getty Images