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Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 17's Alto de los Machucos 'monster climb' with 28% ramp could shake up GC

Stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana to head to the Alto de los Machucos with maximum gradients of 28%

With frequent visits to the Alto del Angliru and Lagos de Covadonga often on the agenda, the Vuelta a Espana is no stranger to the steepest of climbs. This year will be no different, with Stage 17 of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana set to finish atop the Alto de los Machucos. 

At 9km long with an average gradient of 9%, this would usually be a formality for the top General Classification riders.

Yet, where this differs from the usual climb is its maximum gradient. 

At 2.5km into the climb, Los Machucos rears up to an eye-watering 28%. The knee-crunching gradients do not finish there with pitches of 22% and 17% coming later in the climb.

This has seen the riders reaching for the lowest gear ratios they can get their hands on.

The road is so steep that at parts the ground are concrete slabs instead of the usual asphalt.

Adding to the riders' difficulty will also be the narrowness of the road. At points the road is only wide enough for two abreast, which will be made even more difficult if spectators are allowed onto the climb.

Additionally, the road will be too steep and narrow for support cars. This will mean the riders will have to rely on neutral service bikes for any mechanicals.

Teams may even be forced into sending key domestiques into the day's break in order to offer any mechanical support to their team leaders on this summit finish.  

The race will tackle Los Machucos at the end of a 180.5km stage that will also see the riders take on the category 2 Portillo de Lunada and category 1 Puerto de Alisas.

Chris Froome's lead at the top of the GC was improved by his win on the Stage 16 time trial, and although his victory looks almost assured a mechanical or hunger flat on climbs like these could easily shake up the top 10 and put a new man into the red leader's jersey.

Los Muchucos will not be the only summit finish that sees the peloton climb above 20% this year. 

The penultimate stage of this year's Vuelta will take on the Angliru, which at 12.5km long maxes out at 25.5% in gradient. 

The organisers will hope that the Angliru can still play a pivotal role in the battle for the red jersey coming so late in the race.

In 2011, the climb proved its difficulty with then race leader, Sir Bradley Wiggins, losing the jersey and race to Juan Jose Cobo.

Stage 17: The contenders

Alberto Contador

Impressive in the Stage 16 time trial, Alberto Contador only lost 59 seconds to Froome to move to fifth overall.

We have learnt to expect all-or-nothing attacks from the Spaniard, and perhaps Contador will put his top 10 on the line with an attack on the Puerto de Alisas in an attempt to drop Froome’s domestiques, hold off the GC group on the final ascent and climb into the top three.

Miguel Angel Lopez

The Colombian sensation has been the only rider to distance Froome uphill in the Vuelta thus far. He is two minutes off the podium, but considering his climbing talent and the strength of his Astana team, he may use the day’s final climb to springboard to third place.

Chris Froome

Gianni Moscon, national time trial champion of Italy, finished second to last in the TT stage.

Moscon and the rest of Froome’s domestiques, bar Wout Poels, will arrive fresh for Stage 17: it would be a sensational success for Team Sky to take a third stage win; they have the resources in Stannard and Knees to keep the early break in check, and Moscon, Mikel Nieve and Poels should be able to stay in the group to help Froome in the finale.

Perhaps this is vain hope for a team renowned for being boring; with a comfortable margin it is likely Team Sky will just ride defensively.

Formigal will still be keeping Froome up at night - expect the team to chase any attacks down from a GC rider.

Vincenzo Nibali

Despite losing 57 seconds to Froome in the time trial, the ‘Shark of Messina’ is the only rider who poses a serious threat to the red jersey.

Given his decsending abililty his best chance of holding off the Sky train may be an attack on the descent to Arredondo, and take on the final climb as a mountain TT.

Thomas De Ghent

Our favourite breakaway rider of 2017, the Belgian is suited to a stage which requires a large engine and strength on the climbs.

The Yates twins

Adam and Simon Yates have failed to animate this year’s Vuelta: Simon looked well off his best when he blew up trying to hold Lopez’s wheel on stage 15.

But Orica-Scott are without a stage win, and considering they are far down on the overall standings, if either is launched on the second to last climb, he has a hope of staying away.

Movistar

The Spanish squad are still without a stage win in their home race, despite the strength of their squad.

Expect them to pack the early break with riders and send some flyers up the second-to-last climb: Moreno, Oliveria, Carapaz and Rojas could challenge for the stage from a breakaway.

Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 17 profile

Puerto de Alisas: 10 kilometres at 6%, 1st Cat

Alto de los Machucos, Monumento Vaca Pasiega: 7.2 kilometre at 8.7%, Hors Cat

Lead Image: @Vuelta2017