Mountains loom high in Vuelta's eighth stage

Eight classified climbs to make for a tough Sunday

The contenders for the overall classification of the Vuelta a España have so far kept quiet - choosing to avoid crashes and save their energies on the mainly flat stages and time trials of the first seven stages. But that will all change as the race heads into the high mountains for its first mountain top finish at the Alto de Aitana.

This 21.7km long monster of a climb is one for the pure mountain men. While maillot oro Fabian Cancellara hung on with the diminutive mountain goats to win the Tour de Suisse, there is no doubt he will wave goodbye to that leader's jersey on this massive 204.7km stage.

The route passes over no fewer than eight classified peaks, warming up with two category three climbs, the Alto de Beniarrés and Alto de Margarida before scaling the category two Alto de Tollos.

The category three Castell de Castells, the Alto de Guadalest at category 2 and third category Alto de Confrides all provide ample opportunity for attack before the long, twisting descent to the base of the final obstacle.

The second time trial of the Vuelta a España gave some indication of which general classification contenders are hot on form on Saturday, and it appears that Samuel Sanchez and Tom Danielson should be considered favourites for the first mountain top finish of the race.

Danielson already displayed great climbing form in the Vuelta a Burgos last month, and could well continue Garmin-Slipstream's dark horse history begun in last year's Tour de France with Christian Vande Velde and continued this year with Bradley Wiggins. Can the American find his climbing legs for the tough above-category ascent of the Alto de Aitana?

The reigning Olympic champion Sanchez hasn't done much yet this summer, but he proved that his home Tour is the focus of his season by putting in the best time trial performance of his career to take sixth on Saturday's rainy test.

If the rainy weather continues, expect the dare-devil Sanchez to bomb the final descent with the aim of putting time into his more timid competitors.

The question of the day will be, have Sanchez and Danielson used up precious energy ahead of what is one of the toughest mountain stages of the Vuelta? Cadel Evans, Alejandro Valverde and Danielson are separated on GC by mere seconds, all three just over a minute behind Cancellara heading into the stage. Which one will emerge with the golden jersey on Sunday?

Not far behind are Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Linus Gerdemann (Milram) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank), while Tour de France runner-up Andy Schleck and last year's bubble boy in the Vuelta, Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) have more time to make up.

The 21.7 km climb to Aitana, with an average of 5.7 and a maximum gradient of 9.5% should make for an exciting finish.

Stage 8: Alzira - Alto de Aitana, 204,7 kilometres. Bonus at the finish: 20, 12 and 8 seconds.

Alto de Beniarrés (3) km. 52,6
Alto de Margarida (3) km. 71,4
Alto de Tollos (2) km. 80
Alto de Castell de Castells (3) km. 100,7
Alto de Guadalest (2) km.131
Alto de Confrides (3) km.146,1
Puerto de Tudons (2) km.160
Alto de Aitana (Especial) km.204,7

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