5,000m of climbing calls for some pretty low gearing as the pros prepare for one of the hardest Grand Tour stages of all time

Today’s stage of the Vuelta a España being is being billed by Chris Froome no less as one of the hardest of all time, and with six classified climbs totalling more than 5,000m of climbing over the 138km ride from Andorra La Vella to Cortals d’Encamp we’re not going to argue. Such a brutal stage requires some special gearing, with many teams and riders opting to steer well clear of the 53/39 chainsets and 11-25 cassettes that they will run on the vast majority of stages.

Tinkoff-Saxo were one of a number of teams who were digging out the 32 tooth sprocket for the cassette. With Rafal Majka sitting ninth in GC, the team’s support riders will be using an 11-32 cassette, with the team also using what looks to be a compact (or at least semi-compact) FSA K-Force Light chainset.

MTN- Qhubeka were another team using an 11-32 cassette to tackle the brutal stage. As well as the gold KMC chain (there for a bit of bling rather than any practical use), the Dura-Ace Di2 rear derailleur has been paired with an Ultegra medium cage in order to cope with the larger range of gearing, which should hopefully get stage 10 winner Kristian Sbaragli to the finish line at Cortals d’Encamp. The team also uses Ceramic Speed jockey wheels for an extra marginal gain.

The Campagnolo-sponsored team were also gearing down in preparation for the hills. Europcar‘s assistant directeur sportif Valentin Gaudin tweeted a picture of the “special” gearing that the team will be using – a 50/34 compact chainset to help the riders over the mountains, with an old five-arm spider Record crankset rather than an up-to-date four-arm version.

And it’s not just the domestiques scrabbling to make the time cut who are running easy gearing today. In fact race leader Tom Dumoulin is using a 50/34 compact Dura-Ace chainset for today’s stage (with a Pioneer power meter attached), although it does at least look like he is sticking with an 11-28 cassette.

And if you were in any doubt about the struggles that the riders will face today, then check out this video of IAM Cycling’s rest day “spin”, with the riders looking pretty chipper even as they struggle to haul their bikes up some pretty steep gradients.