The Vuelta a España is closer to Madrid than at any other point in the 2023 race, but the challenge for the overall is not over yet. The final hurdle of a medium mountain stage through the sierras west of the city’s capital could yet prove a really tough one, say Jumbo-Visma’s rivals.
Sepp Kuss currently heads a triumvirate of Jumbo-Visma general classification contenders atop the overall ranking of the Vuelta a España and the team is just two stages away from becoming the first squad in cycling history to take all three Grand Tours in the same year.
Even if sports directors from rival teams recognise that the Vuelta tide is flowing very strongly in Jumbo-Visma’s favour, they will attempt to give the Dutch team and the other contender a run for their money one last time.
The constantly undulating terrain through the Madrid sierras of stage 20 on no fewer than ten little-known category 3 climbs is certainly the kind that could catch out the unwary or overconfident.
Totalling 202 kilometres from start to finish, it’s not just the longest stage in the Vuelta, possible bad weather and an elevation gain of 4,200 metres, the highest of the entire race in a single day, could represent a real sting in the tail for the 2023 race.
“Saturday is a stage where there’s very little room for recovery,” says UAE Team Emirates sports director Joxean Fernandez Matxin, whose rider Juan Ayuso is running fourth at 4:00, the best placed of all the Jumbo-Visma rivals.
“As a result of that, a lot of things can happen and we’ll hope to do battle as best we can, even if we’re also aware that the team Jumbo have is a very strong one.”
“We’ll have to find a weak chink in their armour, even if up to now there hasn’t been a single one, just strong points all around and they’ve dominated on the climbs.
“So tactically we’ve got to try something and look for an option.”
Destabilizing Jumbo-Visma’s tactics from early on will be fundamental, Matxin told Cyclingnews, “because otherwise if they control the race throughout, it’ll be much harder to do anything.
“So the attacks have to take place on the descents and ascents from the word go, and they have to be continuous by all the rival teams, trying to eliminate Jumbo’s support riders from the running so we can isolate the leaders.”
Ayuso could have valuable allies in teammates João Almeida, ninth on GC, and the ever-aggressive Marc Soler, active in the breaks in the mountains in Asturias.
“Ayuso’s more explosive, Soler too, and Almeida is more of…