Vuelta a España - Stage 18: September 17 - Talavera de la Reina - Ávila, 187km

Cobbled finale in Ávila

Proycling's Analysis: We’re quickly back to the sharp end of the race with a tough mountain stage through the stunning Sierra de Gredos. The first-cat Mijares is the toughest of four climbs. The two climbs closest to the finish are new to the race but don’t appear tough enough to split the leaders up. The cobbled climb up into Ávila tends to do that though.

Culture Vulture: At more than 1100m, it can be very cold and windy here but to the south-west is the often-overlooked Sierra de Gredos, a national park that offers many superb cycling routes.

Local hero: Ávila is home to 2008 Tour champion Carlos Sastre as well as Alberto Contador’s Astana team-mate Jesús Hernández. The Proycling's also passes through Sastre’s hometown of El Barraco, where his father runs the Local cycling club.

Vuelta Retro: Very much a fixture in the race nowadays, Ávila was bypassed until 1971 when Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk won a stage into the city.

Neil Stephens says: There's a bit of a surprise packet thrown in towards the end of the stage. The Ávila stage is a famous stage but this year they've taken a different route. We went and checked it out - you've got to be on the ball but it's not too demanding. You've got to be careful not to lose time so it's the type of stage where the guys have to be on the front; again, someone who's good enough to get over the climbs and a bit of punch at the finish, like Allan Davis, could make something of this day. 

2009 Vuelta a España stage 18 map

2009 Vuelta a España stage 18 profile

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