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All the best bikes, gear and other tech from the Tour de France
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Wednesday, September 8 - Vilanova i la Geltrú - Andorra, 208 km
Highest point: 1,900m
Terrain: Ramps up
Category: Road stage
Major summit finish
There's just one categorised climb on the longest stage of the race, but it's crucial since the ascent to the summit finish at Vallnord/Pal marks the real start of the battle for the red leader's jersey. Designed to accommodate the coach traffic to the ski resorts above the finish, it's a steady drag that shouldn't result in big time gaps between the main contenders. Last year's Tour of Catalonia featured a finish up here and just 37 seconds separated the top nine riders. It's tough enough, though, to clarify who's in with a chance for the GC.
Last time the Vuelta went into Andorra, the winner took the Worlds title a few days later. Today's victor probably won't emulate Alessandro Ballan, given the importance of this stage to the overall battle and the relative flatness of the Worlds course. There's sure to be plenty of climbing talent on display, though, and since most of this stage takes place in Catalonia, local hero Joaquim Rodríguez will be highly motivated at the head of the Katusha team.
Flashback Pyrenean Pal
A fixture on the route of the Tour de France since 1910, the Pyrenees only tend to feature every other year on the Vuelta's itinerary. The race first ventured into Andorra in 1965, when Spain's Estebán Martín took the stage win in the principality's capital, Andorra La Vella.
Twenty years on, the Andorran ski station of Pal was chosen as a stage finish for the first time. The day before the riders tackled the 16km mountain time trial, Colombia's Francisco Rodríguez had moved into contention with a stage win in Andorra La Vella. The Colombian, who was riding for the Spanish Zor team, won again here, beating race leader Robert Millar by 10 seconds, but only after the Scot had changed bikes twice.
The first time he swapped from a light bike to a heavier alternative fitted with disc wheels for the run to the finish. But when one of the experimental Michelin tyres punctured after just a kilometre, Millar had to switch back to his original machine. Later on in the race, Millar famously lost his GC lead when Pedro Delgado gained more than six minutes on the penultimate stage with a degree of complicity and assistance from other Spanish riders.