After a couple of flat days at the Vuelta a España, the Spanish Grand Tour will resume with what it does best – racing uphill.
The GC riders will have barely caught their breath, stage nine have been a proper day off before their attention was briefly needed in the kick to the line on stage 10, and the next two stages provide another test to those vying for high places in the overall classification.
First of all comes four category one ascents in a row on stage 11, finishing atop the Alto de la Farrapona. The difficulty of the stage has been upgraded by race organisers from level four to level five, which means a wider time gap will be given for the gruppetto to make the finish.
The Alto de la Colladona is the easiest of the four category ones, with the subsequent Alto de la Cobertoria 9.8 kilometres in length with an average gradient of nine per cent. However, it does rise into double digits for a number of kilometres, maxing out at 13 per cent.
The Puerto de San Lorenzo follows, an average of 8.6 per cent for 10km, near the top there are 3km of more than 10 per cent, before a final kilometre of 13 per cent.
After that descent, there arae 25 kilometres uphill to the finish. The Farrapona starts with 16.5km to go and the average gradient of 6.5 per cent hides the devil in the detail. A final kilometre of eight per cent is preceded by 4km of 9.5 – 12 per cent gradient, giving the stage a sting in the tail, testing riders right up until the finish line.
The next day’s stage 12 doesn’t let up either, riders first taking on two third category climbs before getting straight back to business with two first categories and then the special category Angliru to finish.
The Alto de La Mozqueta comes after 60km of racing, 6.6km in length with an average gradient of 8.4 per cent, followed by the Alto del Cordal, shorter at 5.4km but steeper at 9.3 per cent.
These two are merely starters for the main course to come, however, with the infamous Angliru set to provide the second summit finish of the weekend.
At 12.4km with an average gradient of 9.9 per cent, it’s punishing to say the least. The first 22.5 per cent ramp comes in the second kilometre of the climb, before it settles down to the halfway mark, by which we mean the gradient hovers around seven and eight per cent.
A relatively flat kilometre then allows riders some brief respite and look up at the wall of road that lies ahead of them.
For the final 6km, the gradient doesn’t dip below 10 per cent, and with 2km to go hits a maximum of 23.5 per cent.
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) retook the race lead from Richard Carapaz (Ineos) on stage 10, having sprinted away to the line to pick up bonus seconds and draw level on time with the Ecuadorian.
“We have to be prepared for anything,” Carapaz’s DS Gabriel Rasch said. “It will be a very difficult weekend with good racing. I am convinced that Richard will do very well. He has been looking forward to these two mountain stages for a long time and the climbs suit him very well.”
As for Roglič, he’s buoyed by taking his third victory but says taking back the leader’s jersey doesn’t mean much at this stage.
“I’m in the red again, yes. But not much will change for the team. We have to maintain this momentum and stay focused, then we look at it day by day,” Roglič said.
Third-place Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), 25 seconds in arrears, is expecting fireworks, which could help guide the gruppetto up the final stretch of road, given it will be after 6pm local time when they are finishing.
“Calm before the storm. Huge weekend ahead. Setting out to enjoy it. Anything from now is a bonus,” the Irishman said. “Headlamps mandatory for the grupetto.”