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Friday, September 3 - Murcia - Orihuela, 170 km
Highest point: 500m
Category: Road stage
A tribute to Hernández
On the centenary of the birth of Spanish poet and playwright Miguel Hernández, the Vuelta pays him tribute with a stage based around his home town of Orihuela. This is about as flat as Vuelta stages come. After passing through Orihuela early on, it heads out towards the coast on what are likely to be sun-baked roads, moves north for a cat 3 climb and then loops back down the wide, straight N340 into the finish. It looks like a sure-fire sprint, although the lead-out trains will have an eye out for late attacks on the small rise that may complicate things immediately before the finish.
Five-time Vuelta starter Tom Boonen is already looking towards Spain's national tour and the Worlds, having been forced out of the Tour de France by tendonitis in his knee. The Belgian won two Vuelta stages in 2008 but has only finished this race once. Instead, he tends to use it as a key stepping stone towards the Worlds, most notably when he took the rainbow jersey in Madrid in 2005. Although he's not the regular sprint winner he was, he'll need to be closely monitored by rivals if his knee clears up in time for him to race here.
Tom Boonen wasn't able to ride the Tour because of his knee troubles, which became severe enough to warrant an operation. If he's able to line up for the start of the Vuelta, he'll have plenty to prove on stages like this one.