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After two transition stages, la Vuelta a Espana reaches the Pyrenees to commence three gruelling stages through both the Spanish and French sides of the infamous mountain range.
This first of three mountain stages, before the second rest day, crosses over the border in to Androrra. While only 155.7km in length, the stage more than compensates for that with the difficulty of the climbs.
An additional concern to the peloton shall be the inclement weather forecast for Stage 14. While the temperature will begin rather mildly between the high teens and low 20s (Celsius), the temperature could drop as low as nine degrees by the summit of the Port de Envalira.
Rainstorms and fog are also forecast to appear, with rain predicted to dog the peloton for most of the stage.
Peaking at a maximum altitude of 2,410m and featuring an accumulated 3,990m of climbing, Stage 14 will be horrendous for anyone not feeling on form.
The first climb encountered will be the Hors catégorie Port de Envalira, which at a distance of 26.7km, features several sections above 7% and a deceptive average gradient of 5.2%.
Commencing just 60.6km in to Stage 14, the Port de Envalira will whittle down the size of the peloton even before we reach the three remaining categorised climbs of the stage.
After which a much reduced peloton will descend 20.7km to the foot of our next climb, the Category 2 Coll de Ordino. This should not challenge the remaining riders left in the peloton, but at a length of 8.8km and an average gradient of almost 5%, will fatigue the riders further.
Following which, the peloton will descend another 18.7km to the foot of the Category 2 Alto de la Comella, whose slopes measure a mere 4km in distance, also at an average gradient of 5%.
After breaching the summit of the Coll de Ordino, the much reduced and fatigued peloton will descend 4.5km before climbing to reach the beginning of the Category 1 Collada de la Gallina.
While her slopes are just 7.2km in length, the Collada de la Gallina has an average gradient of 8%, with sections of up to 15%. Apart from one section at a mere 4.5%, the ascent never dips below a gradient of 7%.
In combination with the narrowness of the road, the ascent of the Collada de la Gallina includes several twists, turnbacks, and bends.
Riders will be keen to avoid the inside of the hairpin bends, where the gradients are higher than taking the outside line.
The team mechanics and riders will have to account for a section of gradient at 15% around halfway in to the climb, preceded by sections of 9% and followed by sections of 7%, with the final kilometre of the climb around 10% in gradient, and the road curving snaking its way to the finishing line.
Today should be a day for the General Classification to challenge either other through the mountains.
However, a breakaway claiming the stage victory would not be unlikely if the General Classification contenders insist on playing cat and mouse with each other.
Expect those riders with nothing left to ride for in the General Classification to be aiming for a stage victory somewhere in the mountains, so keep an eye out for the likes of Euskaltel-Euskadi and Luis Sergio Henao.
Joaquim Rodriguez narrowly missed out on winning a similar stage in Andorra during the 2012 Vuelta a Espana.
The Catalonian cyclist reportedly now lives in Andorra and knows the climbs very well. So expect “Purito” to be motivated to perform in front of his “home crowd”, where he will be hopeful of avenging last year’s defeat on the line to Valverde by winning today’s stage.
Chris Horner will be the dark horse for today’s stage, with the RadioShack-Leopard rider showing impressive form and fitness so far.
However, will his age and the fact la Vuelta a Espana is nearing her third week cause the veteran American rider to finally succumb to his younger rivals? Horner could once again get the jump on his General Classification rivals if they once again disregard him as a significant threat.
Alejandro Valverde will be another contender for today’s stage victory, if a breakaway attack does not claim it beforehand, and should the finish come down to a “sprint”. The Spanish Movistar rider will be hopeful of clinging to the group of race favourites containing Vincenzo Nibali. Valverde is still a major threat in the General Classification, and claiming the stage victory and the 10 bonus seconds up for grabs would be a massive boost to his chances of winning the 2013 Vuelta a Espana.
As current race leader, wearer of the Maillot Rojo (Red Jersey), Vincenzo Nibali naturally must be considered a strong contender for today’s stage.
The Italian will be beginning to come in to his peak fitness, as the third week of the race approaches.
With Team Astana bringing a strong team in support of Nibali, he should have plenty of support around him through the mountains. During the 2013 Giro d’Italia we saw the Italian assert his dominance with several aggressive attacks; will he do likewise today?
Other contenders for the stage victory include riders of the pedigree of Ivan Basso of Cannondale and Domenico Pozzovivo of AG2R Le Mondiale.
French FDJ.fr rider Thibaut Pinot would be a serious contender, but with his recent documented issues with descending, he could unfortunately be adrift of the group of favourites before they reach the Collada de la Gallina.
Our joker for the day could be Irish Team Saxo-Tinkoff rider Nicolas Roche, who has been impressive in his efforts to compete with some of the world’s strongest Grand Tour competitors.