Unsurprisingly, we did manage to predict the stage 19 winner and runner up, in the form of Chris Froome and Jonathan Castroviejo. We had no idea how much time Froome would be able to take on Quintana, but there are two good answers to that question we can now give: both ‘lots’, and ‘probably not enough’. As Froome hit the first checkpoint at 16km (out of 37), he’d already taken 40 seconds on Quintana, and that was the hilliest part of the course — the part that should have best suited the Colombian. He continued to shed time for the remainder of the course, not because he rode badly, but because Froome rode such a blinder. He eventually came in 11th, 2:16 down on Froome. But this served simply to remind us how big the G.C. gaps had been, and Froome still lags behind the Colombian by 1:21, with only one opportunity left to take any time at all.
Before we talk about stage 20, we should mention some other good time trial rides from stage 19. We suggested Tobias Ludvigsson would go well, but on the day he flew around the track, taking third place behind a powerful performance from Castroviejo. Yves Lampaert was fourth, only a few seconds down, and he knocked his compatriot Victor Campenaerts off the top spot early in the stage — Campenaerts held on for fifth. Further down, Alberto Contador put in a strong enough ride to finish in 8th, less than 2 minutes down on Froome, and way ahead of Chaves and Yates. He’s finally climbed his way on to the podium of the Vuelta overall after a rocky start to his tour, with over a minute back to Chaves. Beating Contador in the TT was Andrew Talansky in 7th, who now continues his slow G.C. climb by leapfrogging Yates in 5th.
It’s obvious to say that Sky need to control and dominate stage 20 if Froome want a chance of taking the red jersey from Quintana. He still has a significant amount to make up, but the task is now more doable. A large breakaway will probably lead over the four category 2 climbs in the first 150km, though they should be kept on a tight leash. Expect the sub-plot of Elissonde vs. Fraile to develop once again as they tussle over the final KOM points, and the overall in that competition. It will be a worthy winner in either rider in our view, and it’s great that it’s been such a closely fought contest.
So who are we looking at? Well, Robert Gesink seems like a strong bet for breakaway success, after two near misses and an emphatic hit on similar stages so far this tour. Luis Leon Sánchez might have a final go here, and we’d expect to see Jan Bakelants in the break. Will Fabio Felline, amongst the most active riders in this tour, have a go? Maybe, but he’s got the final sprint into Madrid to think about, and we’re privately hoping he wins that. We’d like to see Thomas de Gendt go for the win here, and it’s the sort of finish that might well entice him out of the pack. Finally, there’s the duo of Kenny Elissonde and Omar Fraile. Of the two, we’d pick Elissonde for a stage podium.
If, however, it does come back together for the final climb, then it’s going to be between Quintana and Froome. We’ll go with Froome in that case, but we don’t think he’ll get more than a second on the Colombian — let alone over a minute.
Robert Gesink from the break, Chris Froome from the peloton.