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Saturday, September 11 - Burgos - Peña Cabarga, 178.8 km
Highest point: 1,340m
Terrain: Medium mountains
Category: Road stage
The first of three stages in the Cantabrian mountains is sure to see the main contenders slugging it out on the cat 1 climb of the Peña Cabarga at the end. The terrain is rugged well before the stage's final ascent, though, and this should favour the break's chances of going all the way. Riders in it will be helped by a cat 3 climb and a pair of cat 2 ascents, after which there's a 50km stretch of less testing road. Not dissimilar to stage 8's Xorret del Catí in difficulty, the Peña Cabarga starts abruptly and continues that way for 3km. Then there's some brief respite before the final, and toughest, 2km stretch to the summit.
It was surprising to see Euskaltel's Igor Antón overlooked for the Tour after he beat Contador to the summit of the Morredero at the Vuelta a Castilla y León in April. But his team feel Antón is a real contender for the Vuelta title, so he's being saved for his national tour. Taking fourth place at Flèche Wallonne suggests the featherweight Basque should respond well on the Cabarga's ramps too.
Flashback The Vuelta reborn
Although Spain's national tour has had significant issues in recent years, these don't compare with the bleak situation of 1978. Not only did Bernard Hinault hand the home riders a beating, but growing political problems in the Basque Country forced the race to a premature finish. Backed and organised for 33 years by Basque newspaper El Correo Español-Pueblo Vasco, they pulled out after the race finished in chaos.
The penultimate stage was shortened after protestors covered the road with nails and rocks. Later that day, the final time trial was annulled when objects thrown by the crowd hit riders. Salvation came in the form of Spanish Cycling Federation president Luis Puig, who brought in Unipublic to run the 1979 edition and drew on all kinds of contacts to ensure the race survived. The Basque Country didn't feature on the route but the climb of the Peña Cabarga above Santander did for the first time.
This year, the Cabarga climb appears for the first time since Angel López del Alamo won there 31 years ago, and there are growing indications that the Basque Country will soon return to the Vuelta too.