If there was any doubt after last years race that the Vuelta a Espana has the potential to be the most entertaining grand tour race in the world then this years edition has confirmed it.
The shortest stage of the Vuelta, stage 15, couldn't have come at a more interesting time, with only 2 minutes and 28 seconds separating the top 5 riders and 5 minutes separating the top 10. Although improbable it is very possible that 10th place could win this tour, and after Alejandro Valverde's stunning flop on stage 14, plus potentially tired Tour de France legs, anything could happen.
Being such a short stage fireworks are almost a guarantee and this presents an opportunity for a rider who suffered yesterday on the Aubisque to rebound with a gritty performance and take back time on his rival.
The stage is the shortest road stage of this years race, and after yesterdays crazy queen stage legs and ego's will be feeling bruised and sore, and potentially smashed and shattered by the summit finish.
The stage is pretty much either up or down, the flat bit's are few and far between with the first climb, the Alto de Petralba 6.3km long at a gradient of 5%. After that the riders will hit the Alto de Cotefablo, 12.5km and a 4.3% gradient The final climb of the day, Aragon Formigal is 14.5km long and 4.6% gradient. The final climb gets steeper at the 3.5km mark, so time gaps shouldn't be huge, keeping the overall GC battle close.
Yesterday Simon Yates attacked early and then Orica BikeExchange rider, the Colombian Esteban Chaves attacked on the final climb to take small but still significant time on those ahead of him on GC, Froome, Quintana and more significantly Valverde.
That puts Chaves and Yates 3rd and 4th on GC respectively. The so called experts are still preaching the narrative that this race ultimately comes down to Quintana vs Froome, but the in form athletes yesterday were Chaves and Yates. Sure Yates had assistance with team tactics, but in the end it is the legs that have to do the riding, and team tactics don't mean a lot when the road is heading up and up.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Yates, Quintana and Froome only just finished riding the Tour de France, so the riders that didn't ride it, namely Contador (after pulling out injured) and Chaves (2nd in the Giro d'Italia in May), may improve as the race heads into the third and final week. Contador's injuries sustained in the first week of riding should be almost completely healed by now, so his strength may return. I for one certainly hope we see him 'dance' on the pedals as only 'el pistelero' can.
In the overall battle for the top step on the podium things will likely be closer than close. The penultimate climb doesn't appear to to be difficult enough to allow the top riders to gain any significant time but I'm betting that that doesn't stop those riders who are feeling good from giving damn good crack.
Prediction for the stage: Esteban Chaves