Start location: La Bañeza
Finish location: Íscar
Start time: 13:15 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:30 CEST
At last, having spent the past seven days amid the high peaks of the Pyrenees, the Basque Country and Cantabrian Mountains, the Vuelta a España heads south back into the flatlands. While the focus of these past stages has been the GC, with the top contenders battling out over the highest summits to determine which of them are poised to win the red jersey, this is the day that the race begins transitioning to the finish in Madrid, and the 177.5km south-easterly kilometres covered today brings them tantalisingly close.
All of those 177.5km will be within the boundaries of the Castile y León, which the race returns to again having left the region during the second week to enter the Pyrenees. This time, though, they will set off from the far western side of the region with a start in the small town of La Bañeza. Though it did host a Vuelta stage back in 1989, when Eddy Planckaert triumphed in a bunch finish ahead of Spaniards Joaquín Hernández and Manuel Jorge Domínguez, the residents of La Bañeza are more familiar with bikes of the motorise kind rather than the ones that will be in town today. Every August the La Bañeza Grand Prix is held here, which, unlike most other motor races, takes place not on a separate circuit, but on the actual streets of the town.
Stage 19 profile sourced via the Vuelta website
This is not a Vuelta a España that makes it easy for the sprinters. There have been scant flat stages for them to go for victory up until now, and they’ve been made to wait the very last three days of the race for two of the clearest opportunities. The message from the organisers seems to be that they must earn the right to chase stage wins, by putting themselves through the pain of surviving the race’s many mountains.
Most of the best sprinters in the world have deemed it not worth the effort, and few decided to ride the Vuelta, but even of those that did, how many will have made it through the mountains without being caught outside of the time limit at any stage to still be around for their chance today? Without a single climb to contend with, this does look like a nailed-on bunch finish, but for that to happen there still needs to be at least some sprinters willing to put their teammates to work to chase down the day’s break. We’ve already seen at the Tour de France this year how flat stages in the final week of a Grand Tour don’t necessarily end in bunch sprints, when Kasper Asgreen won from a three-man break that just about held off the peloton on the finishing straight, and specialist escapees will be acutely aware of that when they try and get into the breakaway at the start of the day.
After hauling their way through the past few stages dominated by steep gradients, the sprinters will be thankful for little to no climbing in this stage. And many of this year’s sprinters are still in the race and will want to give it their all for the stage win.
A rider who is having a very successful Vuelta is Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck). He is the points classification leader currently and has scooped up two stage wins so far. He’ll be keen to secure another win after missing out on victory on the last two sprint opportunities and will be one of the favourites if it comes down to a bunch sprint finish.
UAE Team Emirates may choose to send Juan Sebastián Molano for a second stage win after he outsprinted Groves on stage 12 with the help of teammate Rui Oliveira. Another sprinter with a stage win to his name is Geoffrey Soupe (TotalEnergies), an unexpected winner of stage seven to Oliva. He’s demonstrated that he can outsprint the best of the rest, so if he positions himself as well as he did on stage seven, he’ll be one to watch for a second stage victory.
Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) also displayed his sprint abilities on stage five, taking second place. The Italian has been the only success for the British team in this Vuelta, winning the individual time trial. With opportunities now running out and only three stages remaining, they may opt for Ganna to try and secure another victory for the team.
Alberto Dainese (DSM-Firmench) is still in the race and could be a contender for this sprint stage, so could Marijn van der Berg (EF Education-EasyPost), who has been in the top 10 for most of the sprint stages.
Lidl-Trek’s Edward Theuns is still on the hunt for a stage win and will target the first-place position on this stage. Other riders to watch will be Milan Menten (Lotto Dstny), Dries Van Gestel (TotalEnergies), and Lewis Askey (Groupama-FDJ).
After the disappointment of the last two sprint opportunities, which were visibly displayed on his face, we think Kaden Groves will race full throttle in this sprint opportunity, making it a third win for the Australian in this Vuelta.