Well, our primary pick of Gianni Meersman was a good one for stage 5, though who could have guessed it would be such an accident-prone finale for the speeding bunch? In the first of two big pile-ups Steven Kruijswijk hit the deck hard, and ended his Vuelta early. It’s a sorry close to his season, which can be accurately described as ‘mixed’ but which had some genuine highlights. A second crash brought down a large number of riders mid-peloton, and almost wiped out the favourites, including Froome. Race leader Atapuma lost ground, and Chavez hit the deck (without any serious injury) but both were covered by the three kilometre rule. It was up to Etixx to lead the way into Lugo, with Stybar doing a long final turn for Meersman. With Felline on his wheel, it came down to the most powerful rider to have safely got past all the crashes, and that was Meersman. Meersman now leads the points contest by 25 points ahead of Geniez and Valverde. It is testament to Valverde’s great versatility as a rider that he finished in sixth on this tough day of racing.
Stage 6 poses some uphill challenges, though not many of them will yield polka dot points for the riders. With only one categorized climb, the cat 2 Alto Alenza, there’s not a huge amount to tempt a breakaway — especially as the day’s intermediate ‘sprint’ also occurs at the summit of the Alenza. However, there is in fact a lot of uncategorized climbing to be done, with at least a couple of cat 3-worthy climbs flanking the cat 2, and a sharp rise and descent to be taken before the run in to Luintra. This looks like the sort of rolling terrain that would suit a committed break after all.
Who are the men to watch? Well, it could well be another day for the punchier sprinters, which means Gianni Meersman could be right there amongst it again, with Fabio Felline hot on his heels. It’s certainly a lot less straightforward than the previous stage though, so it will throw a class of riders like Simon Gerrans into contention. We’d also rate Zdeněk Štybar here — he was very active in the stage 4 breakaway, and rode hard till the line. He’ll want a piece of the action if he can get it, and the finish suits him. The same goes for Enrico Battaglin, who could win from a break or from off the front of the pack. Out of the G.C. group, it’s clearly another day that suits Alejandro Valverde‘s attacking style, with that rise and then descent before the finish. Expect Froome and Chaves to lose little to no ground on him in the finish, though.
If the break lasts, and there is a decent chance it will, we’d have to go with Thomas de Gendt, Alexandre Geniez, or perhaps Nathan Haas to have a go for this one. If Sky want to play a card that isn’t Froome, then this, on paper, looks like a good place for an attack from Michal Kwiatwkowski.
Sod it! Gianni Meersman to score a hat trick. For an outsider, we’ll go with Zdeněk Štybar.