Chris Froome eyes Vuelta a Espana win: Stage-by-stage guide

(l-r) Alberto Contador, Romain Bardet and Chris Froome

Chris Froome, Romain Bardet and Alberto Contador all rode in the Tour de France and will renew hostilities in the Vuelta

Britain’s Chris Froome is aiming to become just the third man to win the Vuelta a Espana in the same year as the Tour de France.

The four-time Tour winner has finished runner-up three times at the Vuelta and says he has “unfinished business”.

Only French greats Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) have won both races in the same year.

This year’s Vuelta, which starts on 19 August, covers more than 3,300km (2,050 miles) over 21 stages and features nine summit finishes, including the feared Angliru.

The 72nd edition of the race starts in Nimes – just the third time it has begun outside of Spain.

Saturday, 19 August – Stage 1: Nimes, 13.7km (8.5 miles) team time trial

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The stage: It’s not a particularly long race against the clock, but the tight and technical circuit around Nimes will provide a tricky opening for the nine-man squads to negotiate. The clock will stop when the fifth rider crosses the line so the general classification contenders not only need to keep themselves upright, they need their team-mates to do likewise.

Team to watch: Team Sky – with race favourite Chris Froome in their ranks, the British team will want to get round safely but they are generally decent at this discipline. Could they nick a few seconds off their rivals?

Sunday, 20 August – Stage 2: Nimes – Gruissan, 203.4km (126.4 miles)

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The stage: On paper, this looks about as formulaic as Grand Tour sprint stages can be, with its almost pancake-flat profile – watch an early breakaway disappear down the road and the peloton then set about bringing it back in time for a bunch dash for the line. However, a look at a map suggests the general classification men will need to be watchful with the coastal route offering up the chance of crosswinds which can decimate a peloton in seconds.

Rider to watch: Adam Blythe – in a race where opportunities for sprinters are rare, the 2016 British road race champion will be keen to get a first Grand Tour stage win for himself and for his Irish team Aqua Blue Sports.

Monday, 21 August – Stage 3: Prades Conflent Canigo – Andorra la Vella, 158.5km (98.5 miles)

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The stage: An early climbing test for the riders as the race enters Spain via the Pyrenees mountains. A couple of category one mountains should not split the general classification this early in the race, although the final category two climb could prove a launchpad for anyone who fancies a tilt at stage glory.

Rider to watch: Vincenzo Nibali – the Italian, winner of this race in 2010, missed the Tour de France after finishing third at the Giro d’Italia. The final climb and descent to the finish will suit him and he may already be chasing after the opening time trial.

Tuesday, 22 August – Stage 4: Escaldes-Engordany – Tarragona, 198.2km (123.2 miles)

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The stage: The race tumbles out of the Pyrenees and through the Catalan region of north-east Spain to the Mediterranean coast at Tarragona. A bunch sprint looks likely.

Rider to watch: John Degenkolb – the German has won 10 stages at the Vuelta, the most of any active rider, and with only a couple of other opportunities to follow, will be keen to add to his tally. The Trek-Segafredo rider had a second and a third at the Tour de France in July.

Wednesday, 23 August – Stage 5: Benicassim – Alcossebre, 175.7km (109.2 miles)

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The stage: In isolation, none of the categorised climbs will hurt the riders and it is unlikely they will split the general classification contenders. But the rolling terrain will sap energy and an uphill drag to the finish should provide the fireworks. It’s only 3.5km but has an average gradient of 10% with several sections at 20%.

Rider to watch: Alberto Contador – the Spaniard is racing in his final Vuelta and this first summit finish will give an indication if he has the legs to chase the big prize and add to his tally of three wins.

Thursday, 24 August – Stage 6: Vila-real – Sagunt, 204.4km (127 miles)

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The stage: A profile that looks perfect for a breakaway. Expect a lengthy selection process because numerous riders and team managers will have earmarked this day as one where they can maximise exposure for their sponsors. The general classification riders will have their eyes on the bigger prize.

Rider to watch: Julian Alaphilippe – the French rider is as tough as they come and if on a good day will relish the terrain.

Friday, 25 August – Stage 7: Lliria – Cuenca, 207km (128.6 miles)

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The stage: The longest stage of the 2017 Vuelta is likely to come to life in the closing kilometres as the race visits the Unesco World Heritage Site at Cuenca and its steep stone pavement climb. If you are in need of picking up a few seconds it will be the perfect place to escape with a short descent to the finish line to follow.

Rider to watch: Nicolas Roche – the Irishman is riding his seventh Vuelta, having twice finished in the top 10 and won two stages of the race. His BMC Racing team has ‘loose’ general classification ambitions meaning he could be free to get in the break and the final ascent will suit him.

Saturday, 26 August – Stage 8: Hellin – Xorret de Cati, 199.5km (124 miles)

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The stage: Another medium mountain stage which has a nasty sting in its tail. Both the category three climbs are longer than the Alto Xorret de Catí but it earns its category one status by ascending more than 400m in 4km and featuring ramps of up to 20%. It’s not long enough to cause huge time gaps between the general classification riders but, coupled with a speedy descent to the finish, precious seconds could be won or lost.

Rider to watch: Esteban Chaves – the Colombian’s season has been hampered by a knee injury. The Orica-Scott climbing specialist is sharing team leader duties with Britain’s Adam Yates and this finish could determine if the Australian-based outfit need to amend their tactics.

Sunday, 27 August – Stage 9: Orihuela – Cumbre del Sol, 174km (108.1 miles)

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The stage: The race returns to the coast for the final push of the opening week but who will have the energy for one more uphill kick at the finish? A breakaway will look to take advantage of any winds that may blow in off the Mediterranean Sea, while the wise may wait for the category two climb 40km from the finish to launch an attack.

Rider to watch: Bob Jungels – the Luxembourger won the best young rider jersey at both the 2016 and 2017 Giro d’Italia races (beating Britain’s Adam Yates this year) and the final ascent may see him try to put a few seconds into his rivals.

Monday, 28 August – rest day, Provincia de Alicante

Tuesday, 29 August – Stage 10: Caravaca Ano Jubilar 2017 – ElPozo Alimentacion, 164.8km (102.4 miles)

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The stage: The general classification riders should be able to enjoy a steady return to hostilities after the rest day. Those chasing stage glory will have different ideas though. Anyone who does fancy the break will need to be able to climb and descend though with the day’s major ascent, the Collado Bermejo, preceding a speedy run-in to the finish.

Rider to watch: Omar Fraile – the Spaniard has won the King of the Mountains jersey in each of the previous two editions of the race by hoovering up points in breaks. Will he be chasing the jersey again this year?

Wednesday, 30 August – Stage 11: Lorca – Observatorio Astronómico de Calar Alto, 187.5km (116.5 miles)

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The stage: While the breakaway riders will no doubt be excited about the possibility of an attack going all the way to the finish, expect those chasing overall victory to reel them in on the final climb. The race has reached its midway point and those hoping to stand on the top step in Madrid will need to start clawing back any time they may have lost so far.

Rider to watch: Warren Barguil – the Frenchman won the King of the Mountains prize at the Tour de France and if he wants to double up, there are plenty of points on offer on this day. Before the race he said he would consider “losing time early to enjoy more freedom later on”.

Thursday, 31 August – Stage 12: Motril – Antequera, 160.1km (99.5 miles)

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The stage: Another day with the potential for a breakaway to succeed. Neither climb is serious enough to create gaps in the general classification but both are well placed for attacks to stick.

Rider to watch: Adam Hansen – the Australian is riding in a record 19th successive Grand Tour – he has finished each of the previous 18. The Lotto-Soudal rider was not in his team’s initial squad but was drafted in after an injury to Rafael Valls. He is a breakaway specialist and may fancy repaying his team’s faith.

Friday, 1 September – Stage 13: Coin – Tomares, 198.4km (123.3 miles)

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The stage: A break. A catch. A sprint. On paper. The general classification riders will be hoping the day is that simple as they try to shelter in the peloton, preserving energy, for the bigger battles to come.

Rider to watch: Sacha Modolo – the Italian comes into the race in decent form, having won stage two at the Tour of Poland in late July.

Saturday, 2 September – Stage 14: Ecija – Sierra de La Pandera, 175km (108.7 miles)

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The stage: The first hors categorie climb of this year’s Vuelta could shake up the general classification but will those riders also be fighting it out for the stage win? Much will depend on the state of the race and the time gaps of the leading contenders.

Rider to watch: Fabio Aru – the Italian won the Vuelta in 2015 and if he harbours hopes of repeating that win he will need a strong showing in the Sierra mountains.

Sunday, 3 September -Stage 15: Alcala la Real – Sierra Nevada. Alto Hoya de la Mora. Monachil, 129km (80.2 miles)

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The stage: The biggest day in the mountains so far as the Vuelta reaches its roof. The final two climbs basically morph into one monster of around 30km. Who will show their hand first? A rest day follows so there are no excuses for not leaving everything out on the road.

Rider to watch: Romain Bardet – according to Strava, the Frenchman holds the record for the quickest ascent at a little over 96 minutes. However, the AG2R rider, who finished third at the Tour de France, is tackling a second Grand Tour in the same year for the first time. With a 40km individual time trial coming up after the rest day – his weak spot – he knows he needs to be ahead after today if he hopes to win the title.

Monday, 4 September – rest day, Logrono

Tuesday, 5 September – Stage 16: Circuito de Navarra – Logrono, 40.2km (25 miles) Individual time trial

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The stage: Following an 800km rest-day transfer from the south of Spain to the north, the riders must tackle the only individual race against the clock in the Vuelta. There’s nothing too tricky here but the time gaps could well be significant between those that can time trial and those that cannot.

Rider to watch: Ilnur Zakarin – the Russian time trial champion is making his Vuelta debut. He was fifth at the Giro d’Italia in May and could claw back time on the better climbers. Today’s stage will also give Chris Froome an excellent chance to either catch up if he’s lagging, or extend his advantage if leading.

Wednesday, 6 September – Stage 17: Villadiego – Los Machucos, 180.5km (112.2 miles)

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The stage: After a relatively quiet first half, the stage explodes into life on the descent from Portillo de Lunada. The final ascent is the shortest of the day but deserving of its hors categorie status with gradients of 31% near the bottom, 15% in the middle and 12.5% at the top. The concrete-paved road has gaps every foot or so to help cars gain traction in wet or icy conditions. They are not likely to help cyclists though. Any rider having an off day will lose significant amounts of time.

Rider to watch: Adam Yates – he has a best Grand Tour finish of fourth at the 2016 Tour de France, in the process becoming the first British rider to win the best young rider jersey (a feat matched by his twin brother Simon this year). He is an expert climber and will need to be on a good day if hopes to make the podium in Madrid.

Thursday, 7 September – Stage 18: Suances – Santo Toribio de Liebana, 169km (105 miles)

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The stage: After the exertions of the previous day, the general classification riders may well take it easy and allow the breakaway specialists their fun. That’s not to say they won’t be keeping tabs on each other on another punchy finish. Crucial seconds could still be won or lost on the final 3.2km ascent.

Rider to watch: David de la Cruz – the Spaniard won a similar finish on stage nine to take the race lead last year, on his way to seventh overall. That victory will have earned him respect within the peloton though and he may not be allowed the freedom again.

Friday, 8 September – Stage 19: Caso. Parque Natural de Redes – Gijon, 149.7km (93 miles)

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The stage: The general classification riders will undoubtedly have one eye on the stage that follows this and that will mean another day where the breakaway could stay clear. However, they will be watching each other on the final climb and descent to make sure nobody tries to sneak clear.

Rider to watch: Thomas de Gendt – chances are the Belgian will already have been on the attack several times during the race but this stage looks tailor-made for his aggressive style of riding.

Saturday, 9 September – Stage 20: Corvera de Asturias – Alto de l’Angliru, 117.5km (73 miles)

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The stage: The finishing ascent of the Angliru has only featured in the Vuelta six previous times but has already reached legendary status. It is where Bradley Wiggins lost the race leader’s red jersey in 2011 to Juan Jose Cobo, who would go on to win the race – Wiggins would finish third overall, behind then Team Sky team-mate Chris Froome who recorded the first of his three runners-up spots. In 2002, fellow Briton David Millar’s protest led to his disqualification from the race.

The 13.2km climb has an average gradient of around 10% with sections at 24%. Alberto Contador won here in 2008 on his way to overall victory. The race could well be won, or lost, on the penultimate stage of the race.

Rider to watch: Chris Froome – will the Briton become the third rider to win the Tour-Vuelta double in the same year? Jacques Anquetil (1963) and Bernard Hinault (1978) are the only others to accomplish the feat, although before 1995, the Vuelta preceded the Tour. We will know by the end of the stage with Sunday’s finish in Madrid largely processional.

Sunday, 10 September – Stage 21: Arroyomolinos – Madrid, 117.6km (73.1 miles)

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The stage: Tradition dictates the leader of the race will not be challenged as the peloton reaches Madrid for nine circuits of the Spanish capital and a bunch sprint finish.

Rider to watch: Alberto Contador – the seven-time Grand Tour winner is retiring after the race. He is one of only six riders to win all three Grand Tours and he is sure to be given a warm welcome as the race reaches its conclusion.

Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cycling/40933339

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