A summit finish at the top of a climb seventeen kilometres long to kick off the third week of the Vuelta long sounds like a major challenge for the peloton but whilst there are some very tired legs in the bunch, Fuente Dé is nothing like as difficult as the three previous summit finishes.
Climbing 690 metres in 17.3 kilometres, with an average gradient of 3.9 per cent, and classified as second category, the Fuente Dé climb is worth watching if only because it ascends right into the middle of the stunningly beautiful Picos de Europa mountain range in northern Spain.
But unlike the recently tarmacked goat tracks that the Vuelta had to deal with at Cuitu Negru or the brutally steep climb, the road to Fuente Dé is a broad ‘A’ road, in width, well-surfaced, smooth and a gentle rise with just a couple of steeper sections, about 15 kilometres to go and again about three kilometres.
Apart from several false flats, the road also swoops down about 600 metres from the finish, before swinging back up again with 200 metres to go for a finish on a left-hand bend. The road looks as if it goes on afterwards, but in fact, it doesn’t - the finish is in a natural mountain ‘basin’ and there is no other way out.
So it looks as if we could be on for a highspeed mountain top ‘sprint’ - the kind that Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge), were he racing, could win. Assuming a break doesn’t get away, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is another likely contender - he won a stage, years back, at Privas in the Dauphine 2008 that was very similar, with a very long but very steady climb leading up to the French town - and so, too, is Philippe Gilbert (BMC).
Whilst the warm, overcast weather does not seem like an extra challenge for the bunch, the approach road to the town of Potes at the bottom of the climb may cause more problems - running for 20 kilometres through a narrow, twisting gorge on very rough roads.