For each stage of La Vuelta, the Rouleur panel of ‘experts’ will give their picks for the following day’s race. Top tipster Cycling Mole, meanwhile, will dismantle our choices and give his own prediction for the likely winner. In a change to last year’s rules, selection’s don’t have to be unique. Who’s going to take risks? Who will play it safe? Most importantly of all, who will come out on top?
Stage 5: 170.7km, L’ Eliana – Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre
Ian Cleverly: Esteban Chaves – Mitchelton-Scott
Here we go then. Enough of that sprinting nonsense. Let’s get stuck into the real nitty-gritty. It’s been a long way back from illness for everybody’s favourite smiley Colombian. He may not be back in the running for GC contention just yet, but a stage win on this typically Vuelta-esque nasty finish is well within his grasp. Vamos Chavito!
Andy McGrath: Esteban Chaves – Mitchelton-Scott
He’s usually a quick starter in Grand Tours, this tough climb will be to his liking and leapfrogging rivals at this stage can’t hurt. The obvious big question: is “Chavito” truly back, and on form to beat the best? Here’s suggesting a feel good triumph for the Mitchelton-Scott man. (Otherwise, it’ll be his countryman Miguel Angel Lopez).
Nick Christian: Dylan Teuns – Bahrain Merida
This stage will be all about the final 11km. According to Fernando Escartín Alto de Javalambre is “not an overly steep climb”- despite six of its kilometres averaging more than 10%, with one at 16%. I don’t think it’ll be a GC day but instead could suit one of the riders who can stay with them, doesn’t have a leader to look after and therefore won’t be pulled back when he clips off the front.
Ben Ward: Alejandro Valverde – Movistar
It’s been a while since he’s had a win, and with the Tour de France in his legs I think he’ll want to get one under his belt early doors rather than waiting too long.
Eurosport’s Rob Hatch: Sergio Higuita – Team EF
First real mountain test, and some seriously silly gradients in the final 6km or so. Can see a small climber winning this, and my eye has been on Sergio Higuita in the opening days. The first uphill finish is always difficult to predict, and more so at the Vuelta.
Well, well, another day without a winner, but it was a close one. Sam Bennett decided to give everyone else a chance by going the wrong round a roundabout, and only launching his sprint with 50m to go. Turns out Sammy B likes a challenge. No one had Jakobsen, so it remains 1-1. Time to head for the mountains.
The stage has almost 3700m of climbing, despite only three categorised climbs. We end with the cat 1, Alto de Javalambre, which is a monster of a climb. Look at our Nick, namedropping Fernando Escartín, how very hipster. Now go back to your beard oil and let the Mole do some name dropping of his own. A certain Hugh Carthy told me that this is a really hard climb and he expects big gaps. Nick, if you’re going to name drop, make it current.
Before I get to the picks, let me just point out that Miles is down as a DNS. Yes boys and girls, just four days into the grand tour, Miles has decided to let down his teammates by stepping off the typewriter. It looks like poor Miles’ private school upbringing just didn’t prepare him for my very own version of Scottish banter, such a shame. Anyway, the rest of the Rouleur squad battle on, but expect more dropouts as the racing/victimisation continues.
Andy clearly is getting confused, maybe it’s altitude sickness or his cardigan is on too tight, but he’s trying to get away with two picks! Someone get that man some sparkling water ASAP. Ian and Andy are both going with Esteban Chaves, which is actually a good pick. The little Colombian was rumoured to be hitting top form in recent training and he’ll love the steep slopes of this finishing climb.
Ben is on the world champion, who looked very strong on Sunday, it’s another good pick. Hatchy is on Sergio Higuita, you might remember I told you he had a fast finish, looks like Rob’s just noticed. This is a totally different finish to Sunday; I don’t think the wee man will be sprinting for the win. Nick is the only one who’s decided to go rogue and picked Dylan Teuns. He is a rider who loves steep slopes, but he cannot win from the GC group, and he won’t be allowed to join the break. Bad Nick.
Verdict – I don’t think the break will survive; this is going to be a GC showdown. Make no mistake, this is a brutal climb and I think the best climber will win. That’s why I’m going with Miguel Ángel López.
Rob Hatch is commentating on the 2019 Vuelta a España in the English language for Eurosport International