Nairo Quintana appeared to have the red jersey sewn up after Stage 18 of the 2016 Vuelta a Espana, and perhaps still does, but Chris Froome’s blistering time in Stage 19’s individual time trial made Stage 20 — the last real day of racing — much more interesting. Froome dominated the field to win Friday, taking two minutes and 16 seconds from the Colombian overall leader, reducing Quintana’s lead to a still-healthy but not insurmountable one minute and 21 seconds.
Stage 20 features five categorized climbs en route from Benidorm to Alto de Aitana, the last an especial climb to a mountain top finish on which all riders will be emptying their tanks before Sunday’s promenade. This is for everything. If you want to watch the race live — and you surely do — NBC Sports Gold will be streaming it to subscribers promptly beginning at 5:50 a.m. ET.
Froome’s odds are long to depose Quintana, but he is the reigning two-time Tour de France champion after all. And Saturday’s route suits him well. The four punchy Category 2 climbs favor his legs more than Quintana’s, which prefer longer inclines. If Froome can make Quintana a ride pace he’s uncomfortable with, then the final climb could become a free-for-all.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Quintana’s time loss on the time trial was his first truly vulnerable showing at the Vuelta, and it wasn’t at all unexpected. He’s still perhaps the world’s best climber about to take on a decidedly climb-y stage, and his Movistar team has been the strongest at the Vuelta by far.
Froome has done superhuman things before, but even in his vast ouevre — err, wrong grand tour, I mean trabajo — winning the Vuelta on Saturday would be stunning. Both outcomes — Quintana’s strongest victory yet or Froome’s shocking upset — will make this one of the most memorable grand tours of recent history.
Vuelta a Espana Stage 20 profile
Stage profiles courtesy of the Vuelta’s official site.
Coverage for Stage 20 of the Vuelta a Espana on Saturday
Start time: 6:18 a.m. ET
Route: 193.2 kilometers from Benidorm to Alto de Aitana
Live streaming: NBC Sports Gold (subscription required), beginning at 5:50 a.m.
TV: Universal HD, 7-9 p.m. (replay)