Five predictions for ‘week two’ of the Vuelta a España
The Vuelta a España has been so compelling to this point that it’s hard to believe we’re only nine days into the race. Full credit to the organizers for planning a route that has offered some thrilling stages, without leaving fans feeling likeh the race is already decided.
Some big days await at the Spanish Grand Tour as the race heads into its second stretch of stages, which should mean plenty more excitement in week two of the Vuelta.
As we pointed out during the Tour de France, technically the second week started before the rest day, but pedantry is no fun. Predictions are, however, so here are five for “week two” of this year’s Vuelta a España.
Jumbo-Visma will take control of the race
The climber-heavy field at this Vuelta will have a rude awakening as the race has its lone individual time trial on Tuesday’s stage 10. Heading into the TT, things are pretty close at the top of the general classification, but that likely won’t be the case any more after Jumbo-Visma’s Primoz Roglic picks up a boatload of time on the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana). The Slovenian should start stage 11 in red—anything else would be a disappointment.
And then? Look to Sepp Kuss, George Bennett, and the rest of a strong Jumbo squad to impose their will on this race. Once Roglic has the lead, Jumbo will try to do its best Sky/Ineos impression and race hard tempos on the climbs to discourage attacks. The way the team has looked so far in the Vuelta even without the race lead, it seems likely that their rivals will find Roglic a tough nut to crack in the mountain stages ahead.
Movistar’s leadership situation will remain unsettled (and entertaining)
Oftentimes when teams head into a race with multiple leaders, things just work themselves out over the course of the event. I’m not expecting that to happen for Movistar in week two.
Both Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde look very strong in this race. Valverde will likely pick up time on his teammate in the TT, but Quintana probably has a bit more for the high mountains. Most importantly, neither one seems likely to dial it back with the overall win at the Vuelta still very much in play, especially now that Quintana is officially bound for Arkéa-Samsic in 2020.
Plus, I’m not sure how much it matters for Movistar to rally around one guy. They’re up against a big engine in Roglic, so both riders will benefit from making this an aggressive race. And as for “attacking each other,” if one Movistar leader drops the other, that probably means the guy off the back wasn’t going to hold off a Roglic or a López anyway. Bring on the drama!
Breakaway specialists will feast on the coming stages
Every one of the next week’s stages except the time trial could conceivably go to the breakaway. In true Vuelta style, week two is full of lumpy profiles that will offer escape artists opportunities to get clear and stay clear.
If this were the Tour de France peloton with the Tour’s sprinters and their teams, Stage 11 might come down to a bunch kick. Considering the composition of the Vuelta peloton, however, keeping things under control will be a tall order for the handful of teams with potential sprint winners.
With that in mind, I would be surprised if more than one of the stages in between the first and second rest day comes down to a sprint. Instead, look to the aggressive types that also have strong finishes to thrive on the intermediate stages to come. Keep an eye on Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), who may be planning to work his way into form over the course of the race with the World Championships to follow.
As for the high-mountain stages, I don’t expect either Movistar or Jumbo-Visma to put much effort into chasing down the breaks either, so there could be big opportunities ahead for the more aggressive climbers too.
Tadej Pogacar will work his way into the GC conversation
UAE-Team Emirates has to be happy with 20-year-old Tadej Pogacar, who already has a Grand Tour stage win to his name in his three-week debut. I don’t expect him to stop there.
Pogacar was clearly the strongest rider on stage 9, picking up a big chunk of time on several big GC names. He currently sits fifth overall, with most of his deficit coming thanks to his team’s crash in the stage 1 team time trial. While the race looks like a battle between Roglic, Quintana, Valverde, and López at the moment, Pogacar could force himself into the conversation with another performance like the one he delivered on Sunday.
He’s not bad against the clock, and should still be in fine position heading into the tough climbing stages of the second week.
Bike handling skills will play a role in the GC battle
Crashes have already left a big mark on this year’s race, with Steven Kruijswijk, Rigoberto Urán, and Tejay van Garderen among the many big names out of the race after hitting the deck, and both Primoz Roglic and Miguel Ángel López continuing on after crashes on stage 9. There could be some nerves in the peloton as the race heads to Spain’s north coast, where wind and at least a little bit of rain in the forecast could make things even trickier over the coming days.
There is plenty of up-and-down on tap for week two that will require strong descending skills. Hopefully, any gaps that open up there will come not as a result of more crashes, but via well-timed downhill attacks. With both Roglic and Valverde in the hunt for the overall win, that seems like a distinct possibility.
We’ll see how it all plays out soon enough. Racing resumes at the Vuelta a España on Tuesday.