Vuelta a Espana

Power Analysis: Vuelta a España stage 17

We dive into power numbers from stage 17 of the Vuelta a España, and a nail-biting final on the Alto de la Covatilla.

With 3 kilometers to go on the final mountain stage of the Vuelta a España, three weeks of racing lay in the balance as Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) went up the road, dropping the red jersey of Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) who was beginning to bleed time on the 12 percent gradients of the Alto de la Covatilla.

Roglič’s trusted mountain domestique, American rider Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), cracked for the first time in two weeks, having pulled all sorts of pain faces in vain when Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) and Carapaz attacked. Up ahead, David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) took the stage win while Carapaz raced his heart out, trying to gain 45 seconds back on Roglič to win the Vuelta a España. The Ecuadorian crossed the line in eighth place on the day and the clock started ticking…5 seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds, and then finally 21 seconds before Roglič crossed the line. However, this gap was more than enough for Roglič to secure the overall win at the Vuelta a España for the second straight year. This victory put an exclamation point on an incredible season punctuated by 10 individual wins, a monument in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, second overall at the Tour de France, and four stage wins and the overall at the Vuelta a España.

***

With only 18 stages in this year’s October reboot of the Vuelta a España, stage 17 to Alto de la Covatilla was the last mountain stage and final opportunity for the GC to shuffle ahead of the processional sprint stage into Madrid. Before the final climb was 165km of rolling Spanish roads, with five additional classified climbs on offer and a steep cobbled section just before the final ascent. With so much to play for, the race was on from Kilometer Zero, and soon a huge breakaway went up the road featuring over 30 riders including the likes of Rui Costa, David De la Cruz (UAE Team Emirates), Lennard Hofstede (Jumbo-Visma), Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Michael Storer, Jasha Sütterlin (Sunweb), Omar Fraile, Ion Izagirre (Astana), Bruno Armirail, David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Gino Mäder (NTT), and Imanol Erviti and Nelson Oliveira (Movistar).

Hofstede’s addition would play a crucial role in not only the stage, but also the entirety of the Vuelta, as we will see on the Alto de la Covatilla. Swiss rider Gino Mäder joined the breakaway during a huge effort made just 15 kilometers into stage 17.

Mäder – making the Breakaway
Time: 10:22
Avg Power: 382w (6.2w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 416w (6.7w/kg)

The data showing Mäder’s effort to make the break.

On the first categorized climb of the day, the category 1 Puerto del Portillo de las Batuecas, the breakaway pushed their advantage up to around three and a half minutes, while back in the peloton, Jumbo-Visma controlled the pace for race leader Primož Roglič. From the Strava files of Kuss in the peloton and Mäder in the breakaway, we can see that the break was already pushing the pace on the 14.1km climb, even with over 125km and five categorized climbs to go.

Mäder – Puerto del Portillo de las Batuecas
Time: 36:32
Avg Power: 325w (5.2w/kg)

Kuss – Puerto del Portillo de las Batuecas
Time: 38:23
Avg Power: 303w (5w/kg)

The breakaway continued driving the pace during the middle portion of the stage, but on the second categorized climb of the day, the Alto de San Miguel de Valero, Robert Gesink (Jumbo-Visma) did a major turn on the front and single-handedly pulled the gap down to three and a quarter minutes.

Mäder – Alto de San Miguel de Valero
Time: 15:07
Avg Power: 337w (5.4w/kg)

Gesink’s power graph while he was pulling the peloton up the second climb of the day.

Gesink – Alto de San Miguel de Valero
Time: 14:47
Avg power: 393w (5.4w/kg)

Movistar took control of the peloton on an unclassified climb with around 60km to go, flying up the 7 percemt slopes at nearly 25kph, with Kuss a few wheels back and helping shepherd Roglič towards the final few climbs of the Vuelta.

Kuss – unclassified climb at 60km to go
Time: 8:19
Avg Power: 356w (5.8w/kg)

The pace didn’t relent on the next climb of the day, the category three Alto de Peñacaballera – Kuss was again riding at 6w/kg for eight minutes just to stay in the peloton, and from here on out, the pace would only increase all the way to the finish line.

On the penultimate climb of the day, the Alto de la Garganta, Marc Soler (Movistar) attacked out of the peloton and soloed across to his teammate who had dropped back from the breakaway to help tow the duo back up to the lead group just as they reached the lower slopes of the final climb. Jumbo-Visma took over pacing duties in the peloton after Soler attacked, letting the Spaniard go up the road since he was not at all a threat to Roglič’s lead in the GC.

Kuss – Alto de la Garganta
Time: 25:11
Avg Power: 338w (5.5w/kg)
Peak 15min Power: 358w (5.8w/kg)

Instead of punchy five- to ten-minute efforts required during the middle portion of stage 17, the final two climbs were much longer, at 25 to 35 minutes each. After two and a half weeks at the Vuelta, and 140km of racing on the day, the steep pitches of the final climb to Alto de la Covatilla were about to break some of the strongest men in the peloton.

At 11.7km and an average of 6.9 percent, the Alto de la Covatilla is not to be under-estimated. After an easy start for the first few kilometers, the gradient kicks to over 10 percent for more than two kilometers, with steeper pitches that, when combined with a headwind on the day, nearly brought riders to a halt, even at over 400w.

Up in the breakaway, Gino Mäder followed the accelerations of Ion Izagirre (Astana) halfway up the climb, kicking at over 12w/kg around the 15 percent switchbacks. The Swiss rider clawed his way back to Izagirre, but no more than a kilometer later, a flying Frenchman in the form of David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) went straight past both of them, powering away to a glorious stage win and his second of the Vuelta. We can see the spikes in Mäder’s power file, following Izagirre on the steepest slopes, but then slowly fading away from the 6w/kg required to stay with the leaders.

Mäder – Alto de la Covatilla
Time: 35:02
Avg Power: 352w (5.7w/kg)
Peak 15min Power: 358w (5.8w/kg)

Mader’s effort on the final climb.

Back in the rapidly-shrinking peloton, Jumbo-Visma and Bora-Hansgrohe set the pace for Roglič and Felix Großschartner, respectively, until Carthy went on the attack with a few kilometers to go. Carapaz went across and immediately attacked over the top, and for the first time in a long time — Kuss, with Roglič glued to his wheel — couldn’t make a dent in the gap. Carapaz needed 45 seconds to take the red jersey off the shoulders of Roglič, and immediately after Kuss blew, Roglič attacked to try and get across. But with surprised eyes, we watched Roglič fail to close the gap for the first time this Vuelta, and soon Carapaz powered away, while Roglič drifted back to the group containing Carthy, Enric Mas (Movistar), and Alexander Vlasov (Astana).

We can see in Kuss’ power file the exact moment when he swings off – After 20 minutes at nearly 6w/kg, in the third week of the Vuelta, he made one last effort at over 500w, sacrificing himself for Roglič in the hopes that he could secure the overall win.

Sepp Kuss’ power data from the final climb.

In a move of tactical brilliance and overall team strength, Lennard Hofstede (Jumbo-Visma) was just a few hundred meters up the road when Roglič began to crack, and soon the domestique Dutchman came back to help pace a struggling Roglič. Hofstede waited for Roglič where the road flattened out with just 2km to go, and then pulled a huge turn with the Slovenian on his wheel, clawing back a few seconds on Carapaz, and possibly save the Vuelta for Primož Roglič.

Hofstede – pulling for Roglič on the Alto de la Covatilla
Time: 2:29
Avg Power: 424w (6.1w/kg)
Avg Speed: 24kph (15mph)
Grade: 5.5 percent

By the final few hundred meters, Roglič was all on his own. Carapaz crossed the line, then Carthy, and then Roglič came into view. With the clock still ticking, Roglič sprinted up the final pitches of the Alto de la Covatilla in the drops, and when he crossed the line just 21 seconds after Richard Carapaz, Primož Roglič knew he had again won the Vuelta a España.

***

Sepp Kuss summary data for stage 17.

Sepp Kuss – Vuelta a España Stage 17: 25th (+5:00)
(excluding neutral start)
Time: 4:59:16
Average Power: 282w (4.6w/kg)
Normalized Power: 309w (5.1w/kg)
Peak 20min Power: 356w (5.8w/kg)

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/4303082517/

Mäder’s power data from stage 17.

Gino Mäder – Vuelta a España Stage 17: 2nd (+0:28)
(excluding neutral start)
Time: 4:55:01
Average Power: 285w (5.6w/kg)
Normalized Power: 318w (5.2w/kg)
Peak 5min Power: 416w (6.7w/kg)
Peak 20min Power: 356w (5.8w/kg)

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/4303209739/

Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava.