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Thursday, September 9 - Andorra la Vella - Lleida, 175 km
Highest point: 1,370m
Category: Road stage
Another apparently flat stage. This one drops out of Andorra, crosses the cat 2 Boixols – there's a fabulous descent from the top – climbs a little more and then drops again pretty much all the way to the finish. The Boixols offers the chance for breakaways to consolidate any advantage they may have gained, although it's not a tough climb and won't trouble many of the sprinters, if any. That should mean there's an energetic and persistent chase of breakaway riders, who will find it hard to maintain a gap on the long, straight roads over the concluding 35km.
When the Vuelta last raced into Lleida back in 1989, British sprinter Malcolm Elliott took the stage, which may prove to be a good omen for Mark Cavendish if he opts to prepare for the Worlds with a first Vuelta start. It might be an even better omen for Team Sky's Ben Swift, who's also got an impressive finishing kick and is, like Elliott, a Yorkshireman. The Rotherham rider rode the Giro with Katusha last year and is in line for his second major tour start, assuming his team don't opt to field him at the concurrently running Tour of Britain instead.
After a wobbly start to the 2010 Tour – and indeed, the year – Mark Cavendish found his form in emphatic and dramatic fashion. He'll be looking to display it here in abundance ahead of the Worlds if he chooses to attend the Vuelta.