By Antonio J. Salmerón
On Saturday, September 9, Cuenca will be the scene where the first individual race against the clock will take place in the Vuelta. In this stage, Alexandre Vinokourov will have a great opportunity to move himself up on the general classification.
The route for this 33 km stage is divided into two main parts. The first is uphill, with the third category El Alto del Castillo after 20. From there, the riders will descend and then hit the flat for the final nine kilometres. It's a stage that will test the riders' time trialing abilities to the maximum.
The 16th stage to the Observatory of Calar Alto, in Almeria, is in the last week of competition. Its finale should enable us to draw conclusions about the general classification. The stage starts in Almeria, near the Mediterranean sea, and finishes at over 2,000 metres altitude. The Calar Alto climb will actually be tackled twice, from different directions. But before that, the peloton will face the ascent of El Alto de Velefique, 1st category (km 56), which connects with the first climb to Calar Alto.
In the final ascent of Calar Alto top, the riders will climb 700 metres at an average grade of 8%. The finishing straight is of 300 metres long with a light gradient of 2%. In 2004, an exciting finish took place there, with victory for Roberto Heras, followed by Santi Perez and Francisco Mancebo.
The eighteenth stage will finish on La Pandera, a special category climb. The peloton will start in Granada and ride the El Alto de Encebras (Cat. 3) and Alto de Los Villares (Cat. 2). On La Pandera in 2004, Alejandro Valverde gained his first victory in the Vuelta.
The last stumbling block is located near Madrid, in Viciamadrid. Stage 20 is the second and final time trial stage. It is a tricky 28 km circuit, undulating and full of roundabouts and corners. The final winner of the Vuelta will be determined here.