Uphill finishes are the trademark of La Vuelta in its modern era, since 2010. There are usually between seven and ten of them. This year, there are eight. But there are many more climbers in contention!
As early as on stage 2, the day after the inaugural 8-km individual time trial in Málaga, La Vuelta returns to the Caminito del Rey where Esteban Chaves won a stage classified as an uphill finish in 2015. It’s not the case this year. “This time, the finish line will be located in front of the Visitor Centre and not on the river dam”, explained technical director Kiko Garcia. “Therefore, the race will end a bit further down, after three to four kilometres of an uphill at 4 to 5%. We can expect a group of 50 to 60 riders to contest the stage victory. If he’s on good form, Peter Sagan can give it a try. It also suits riders with the same characteristics as Alejandro Valverde.”
The course of the 73rd La Vuelta has gradual difficulties. The first uphill finish is relatively short but seriously steep at Alcafar on day 4. On stage 9, Dan Martin will return to La Covatilla where he claimed his first Grand Tour victory in 2011. La Vuelta hasn’t passed there since. Three stages (13, 14 and 15) in the Asturias province look very promising. La Camperona, a gruelling nearby summit in the province of León, saw the victories of Ryder Hesjedal in 2014 and Sergey Lagutin in 2016. Les Praeres is an unprecedented finale with gradients up to 20 to 21%. On the other hand, Lagos de Covadonga is very well known. 20 stages of La Vuelta have ended up there since 1983, the latest winner Nairo Quintana being eager to doing it again.
The other novelty of the 2018 La Vuelta is the Balcón de Bizkaia. “It’s just as hard as Les Praeres”, Garcia warns. It’s a recently asphalted road on the Mount Oiz in the Basque country. The final part of the mountainous program is located in Andorra. Stage 19 is flat but set to be concluded at La Rabassa where Alessandro Ballan was the last winner in the history of La Vuelta in 2008, just two weeks before he won the world championship in Verona, Italy. Stage 20 is the big one on the eve of the final parade in Madrid. It features five climbs including three classified in the first category before the hors-category coll de La Gallina due to designated the overall winner of the 73rd La Vuelta. “It’s debatable whether stage 15 or stage 20 is the queen stage”, Garcia analysed. “They’re both very complicated with several difficulties before the uphill finish.”
This route must please Colombian climbers. Quintana, Rigoberto Urán and Miguel Ángel « Superman » López are on their toes, as well as Richard Carapaz, the Ecuadorian revelation of the Giro d’Italia. Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru, Richie Porte, the Yates twins, the Izagirre brothers, Wilco Kelderman, Steven Kruijswijk, Igor Antón, Rafal Majka, Ilnur Zakarin, David De La Cruz, Michal Kwiatkowski, Alejandro Valverde, Pierre Rolland, Michael Woods and Dan Martin are among the established climbers on the provisional start list. New ones are also knocking at the door and it’ll be interesting to follow Sepp Kuss, Jai Hindley, Bjorg Lambrecht, Jack Haig, Herman Pernsteiner, Nic Schultz, Edward Ravasi…
THE EIGHT UPHILL FINISHES
STAGE 4 | Alfacar. Sierra de la Alfaguara
STAGE 9 | La Covatilla
STAGE 13 | Valle de Sabero. La Camperona
STAGE 14 | Les Praeres. Nava
STAGE 15 | Lagos de Covadonga. Centenarios 2018
STAGE 17 | Balcón de Bizkaia
STAGE 19 | Andorra. Naturlandia.
STAGE 20 | Coll de la Gallina. Santuario de Canolich.
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