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Thursday, September 2 - Caravaca de Cruz - Murcia, 144 km
Highest point: 560m
Category: Road stage
Recounting past glories
Both of these towns featured in last year's race: Tyler Farrar won a sprint in Caravaca de la Cruz and Simon Gerrans beat three breakaway rivals in Murcia. Gerrans' success is the more significant today, because this finish replicates last year's route into Murcia with the late passage over the Cresta del Gallo.
The stage is straightforward up to the Gallo, but its steep ramps almost guarantee an unpredictable finish. It's the shortest cat 2 climb in the race, but should still see off most of the sprinters. Last year, a group comprising Gerrans, Ryder Hesjedal, Alexandre Vinokourov and Jakob Fuglsang went and stayed clear.
There's a degree of tribute to 2009 Vuelta winner Alejandro Valverde in this stage. It finishes in the capital of his home region of Murcia and includes the Gallo, one of his regular training climbs. Valverde won't be in the field, he's banned until 2012, but his Caisse d'Epargne team-mates and training partners are sure to show their support by targeting this stage. Francisco Pérez is both and looks like a good outside bet, having finished sixth here last year.
Flashback: Downright dangerous
The key to the Cresta del Gallo is not so much reaching the top of the climb in the lead position, but maintaining that place to the foot of its extremely poorly surfaced descent and beyond. Last year, Euskaltel's Beñat Intxausti and Milram's Linus Gerdemann both lost their chance of taking home a stage win when they punctured on the twisty drop down towards Murcia. Gerdemann's first misfortune led to a second when he crashed after getting a wheel from neutral service.
Behind the breakaways, who were eventually led home by Simon Gerrans, there was also plenty of action in the main bunch as race leader Alejandro Valverde went on the attack. Knowing the climb and its hazards well, Valverde wanted to ensure he had a clean line on the descent. The tactic paid off, and he wore the leader's jersey into his home city.