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Vuelta a España 2019 - Mountains Classification analysis after stage 13

I'm one of these weird people who finds the Mountains Classification at Grand Tours fascinating. I think it's the combination of unpredictability , strategy and maths that I like.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here is my break down of where things stand and how this might play out.

Current standings (top 20 only)

Angel Madrazo Ruiz (32)
Geoffrey Bouchard (30)
Tadej Pogacar (25)
Alejandro Valverde (22)
Sergio Henao (21)
Primoz Roglic (20)
Wout Poels (17)
Jesus Herrada (17)
Mikel Bizkarra Etxegibel (16)
Jetse Bol (11)
Nairo Quintana (10)
Hermann Pernsteiner (10)
Pierre Latour (9)
Hector Saez Benito (8)
Alexander Aranburu Deba (7)
Philippe Gilbert (7)
Thomas De Gendt (7)
Marc Soler (6)
Tsgabu Grmay (6)
Miguel Angel Lopez (6)

Points remaining

Stage 14 - 3,2,1
Stage 15 - 10,6,4,2,1 / 10,6,4,2,1 / 10,6,4,2,1 / 10,6,4,2,1
Stage 16 - 10,6,4,2,1 / 10,6,4,2,1 / 15,10,6,4,2
Stage 17 - None
Stage 18 - 10,6,4,2,1 / 10,6,4,2,1 / 10,6,4,2,1 / 10,6,4,2,1
Stage 19 - 3,2,1
Stage 20 - 10,6,4,2,1 / 5,3,1 / 5,3,1 / 3,2,1 / 10,6,4,2,1 / 3,2,1
Stage 21 - None

Analysis

The competition remains wide open. often at this stage of the race there is someone high in the points but low in the classification who seems strong and just has to defend, but we don't have anything like that this time.

Madrazo leads but looks cooked. It is hard to see winning.

Bouchard (2-1) was strong again today. He deserves to be the favourite but in his first Grand Tour it is reasonable to wonder if he can maintain this level. I think his strategy should simply be to get as many points on the first climb each day. To bury himself for the first hour and then soft pedal to the finish with the only goal being to make the time cut. If he does this he could get himself up to 50-60 points and that may be enough to win it.

Pogacar, Valverde and Roglic of course aren't targeting this classification (except who really knows with Valverde, who did chase some small mountain points early in the race). In the Tour de France GC riders sometimes win the KOTM by accident but with the different points system at the Vuelta that hasn't happened since 2007. I don't see that changing this year, particularly as most of the remaining mountain stages shape up as breakaway days and even one of the more likely GC days (Stage 20) doesn't have big points at the finish.

Henao and Poels both have the quality to do it but were, I thought, pretty disappointing today (Henao especially, since he has been clear that he is targeting the mountains classification). I just don't think the form is there for either of them (although Poels in particular can turn things around quickly).

Herrada and Latour have picked up points so far and look to have decent form. Latour in particular will, I am sure, be on the attack after the disappointment of today.

What all this means is that the winner could easily be someone currently low on points or even someone without points at all. A big breakaway win on Stage 15 or 16 could vault someone from no points into, or close to, the lead.

So, who are the best candidates for this?

Mikel Nieve (0 points, 22-1) Has won the Mountains Classification previously at the Giro and is always strong in the final week of a Grand Tour. He sits 12th on GC and will surely try for a big breakaway stage win in the final week. His teammate Esteban Chaves is in the same boat but I think Nieve's form is stronger.

Tao Geoghegan Hart (4 points, 33-1) Sick earlier in the race but was strong on the Andorra stage and seems to have taken things easy since, with the obvious goal of a breakaway stage win.

Marc Soler (6 points, 50-1) I hope he will be given freedom now Valverde and Quintana are riding for nothing more than podium positions. He clearly has great legs at the moment and if he gets into a break will almost certainly be the strongest.

James Knox (0 points, 100-1) Surprised with how well he did today and is another targeting a stage win in the remaining mountains. My reservation is that he is only 23 years old and this is just his second Grand Tour (retired from the Giro with an injury earlier this year). His form is great, however, and at 100-1 is probably worth the risk.

Summary

As I say, Bouchard deserves to be the favourite but at 2-1 there isn't really any value. I am happy to be on him at 11-1.

Of the outsiders I'll plump for Marc Soler as the best option. However, the situation will likely change massively day to day from Stage 15 onwards.
 
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There are four absolutely massive stages left for the competition, most of those points are gonna go to breaks and all on all those stages there are more points on offer than the current leader has. This is as wide open as it gets and I could totally even see a guy who doesn't have a single point yet taking this
 

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