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11/04 - Stage 6 - Aia - 18.3 km

The route
It’s time for the final stage of this year’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco. If you watched stage 5, you already know what’s on the menu today. The course takes place on the last lap of 18 km the riders did on Friday. Everybody knows exactly what to expect.

According to the stage profile, the riders start descending right away. However, it does actually take about 400 meters before the downhill part starts. As you saw on stage 5, the descent is very fast but also has its technical parts. Good bike handlers who are strong on the descents will be able to gain a lot of time on their rivals on these first 10 km. There are also a few parts of false flat where you can push hard in the pedals.

Upon reaching the river in Orio, the riders turn right and start heading back towards Aia. Soon after, they reach the intermediate time check. After this, they take on the first of today’s two ascents on Alto de Aia. The 3.5 km towards the top have an average gradient of 8.7 % with parts of 20 %. The descent is fast and technical. The riders start on the final climb at high speed but it doesn’t take long before the pace slows down significantly. As everybody saw on stage 5, the 1.7 km towards the finishing line are extremely steep. This is clearly not a time trial for the usual specialists.

Due to the two completely different parts of this stage, some riders may decide to start out on a time trial bike and then change to a normal road bike for the climbs. However, such a bike change probably costs you around 15 seconds. Instead of hitting the climbs at high speed, you will almost start from zero, which will cost you a lot of momentum. I think we’ll see many riders using a regular road bike with a tri-bar for this time trial.

The candidates
This is a very difficult stage to call. Riders who can push a big gear and are good on the descents will be able to gain a lot of time on their rivals on the first 10 km. However, those riders are usually not very good on the steep gradients.

Michal Kwiatkowski can probably put in 20-30 seconds to the other GC riders on the descent. He doesn’t even need a time trial bike to do that. Still, he can also easily lose the same amount of seconds on the steep climbs. You really need to balance your effort perfectly if you want to win this stage and, more importantly, the race overall.

Personally, I think Nairo Quintana will do very well today. Of the pure climbers, he’s definitely the best time trialist. I think he’ll have a reasonable time gap to Sergio Henao and Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez at the intermediate time check. Quintana hasn’t been as strong as expected but he’s still the top favorite for the overall win. If he has a good day today, he can both win the stage and the race.

Sergio Henao has done well in demanding time trials in the past. The steep climbs suit him perfectly and, leading the race, he’ll be able to get all the other riders’ split times. Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez has lost many stage races against the clock. On a flat course, Purito would have had no chance of making top3 in this race. Today, however, he has a unique chance of securing a spot on the overall podium in a time trial. He will lose a lot of time on the long descent but nobody will be able to go up the two climbs faster than he will. The way he lost the Giro d’Italia in 2012 still haunts him. An overall win in Vuelta al Pais Vasco won’t make up for it, but it will give him the extra confidence he needs heading into the Ardennes Classics and especially the Tour de France this summer.

Katusha also has two other very interesting cards to play. Simon Spilak and Ilnur Zakarin have been very strong in this race. Both are good in these kinds of time trials. Spilak made top3 overall in Paris-Nice last month due to a great performance in the final time trial. He’ll be eager to repeat that performance today. Zakarin is the big surprise of this race. After serving a two-year doping ban earlier in his career, the young Russian has suddenly found some incredible shape. He’s been amongst the strongest riders uphill in the race and he’s very good against the clock. He’s definitely the dark horse today.

Usually, Tony Martin is one of the top favorites for the time trials. Personally though, I think it will be very difficult for the German to win this one. Even though the he most likely will lead at the intermediate time check, I can’t see him keeping such a lead on the climbs. They are simply too steep for him. Also, Martin worked hard in the break, and later for Kwiatkowski, on stage 5.

Strong time trialists like Tejay van Garderen, Vasil Kiryienka, Tom Dumoulin, Jean-Christophe Peraud and Rui Costa should be able to do well but I think they will suffer too much on the steep gradients to win this stage. Rein Taaramae proved to be in excellent shape on stage 5. On his best days, he can fight for the win in this kind of time trial. However, a long day in the break must have drained him a little.  

My personal outsider for this stage is Ion Izagirre. The Spanish champion has been extremely strong so far in the race. He’s been working hard for Nairo Quintana every single day. If he had been able to chase his own success, I’m sure he would have been better placed than his currently 8th spot overall. Izagirre is very good against the clock. He’s strong on the descents and won’t lose much on the steep climbs. Being a Basque rider on home soil, he’ll be more motivated than ever to do well. For Movistar, it’s also important to have a good reference time for Quintana. Therefore, I also expect Beñat Intxausti to do well today.

As you can see, the list of candidates for this stage is very long. Riders like Samuel Sanchez, Thibaut Pinot and Luis León Sanchez should all be able to clock a good time as well. GreenEdge’s Simon Yates sits 3rd overall before this final stage. It will be very interesting to see what the young Brit can do today!

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv

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