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After a rest day to recharge the batteries, the 2013 Vuelta a Espana recommences with a 189km stage from Calahorra to Burgos. On paper this should be the penultimate sprint stage before la Vuelta’s conclusion in Madrid.
However, Stage 17 could witness yet another breakaway victory if the sprint teams are unable or unwilling to chase.
Currently the weather forecast is not smiling upon the peloton, with strong winds predicted to affect the stage.
The riders may have to battle a headwind from the beginning of the stage until the first intermediate sprint at Logroño, 41.5km in to the stage. With deadly crosswinds possible afterwards up until the climb of the Alto de Pradilla.
After which the peloton should get a favourable tailwind for the majority of the remaining stage.
Despite being categorised as a flat stage, the riders will still have to ascend an accumulated 1,641m.
With Stage 17 featuring two third category climbs, the Alto de Pradilla and the Alto de Valmala, and the uncategorised Calle Eras de San Francisco during the last half of the parcours.
The Alto de Pradilla measures 6km with an average gradient of 5.4 percent, while the Alto de Valmala is 5.8km at an average of 5.6 percent.
The final ten kilometres of the stage will be dominated by the uncategorised Calle Eras de San Francisco. With a technical and narrow descent to follow, contenders for the stage victory will need to be near the front of the pack.
At five kilometres remaining the terrain flattens out and straightens, with the stage finishing on a long straight road perfect for a sprint.
With several of the sprint teams missing personnel, Stage 17 could be another perfect opportunity for the breakaway to steal the stage victory.
However, the strong winds predicted in combination with their direction could see the advantage swing back to the peloton.
The massive question for the sprinters and their support will be if they are still in the right position after the Calle Eras de San Francisco.
Out of the remaining sprinters three names arguably stand out above the rest with Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky, Giani Meersman of Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, and Michael Matthews of Orica-GreenEDGE all on paper likely to survive the tricky approach.
However, should a breakaway not claim the victory, the sprinters will have to pacify the plucky opportunists.
With the sprinters lacking support riders to help chase down attacks within the final kilometres we could see someone like Juan Antonio Flecha attempt another last minute attack.
Fabian Cancellara would also be suited to attacking during the Calle Eras de San Francisco, with the proven power to hold off an onrushing peloton, while Euskaltel-Euskadi will certainly be eager to attempt something, as they continue to seek something from the 2013 Vuelta a Espana.
Personally I would favour the chances of the breakaway making it for yet another stage, but its success wildly depends on the composition of the breakaway.
Should a rather large breakaway with representatives from almost every team establish itself, the peloton behind may struggle to organise a proper chase.