With the GC effectively decided in the Vuelta, the final time trial will not have any effect on the top five places overall - unless they are extremely unlucky. But it is a testing course nonetheless.
Just 9.7 kilometres long, the route starts on the outskirts of Santiago de Compostela, close to one of its most modern public buildings, the Cultural Centre and finishes in the heart of the old city, a stone’s throw from the doors of its famous cathedral in the Plaza de Obradoiro square. This is where the famous Camino de Santiago - the Santiago pilgrims’ trail, running across Spain to Galicia - ends, hence the stage has been subtitled El Final del Camino - The End of the Road.
Before they get to the end of the Vuelta and their own end of the road though, the riders must tackle a short, but testing trial course.
It is certainly a little unusual, beginning with a very fast downhill segment on a broad boulevard of around 700 metres. Then after swivelling right at a roundabout and sharply left at another, the course then kicks uphill for a long, steady grind - its one segment of climbing, albeit not hard enough to be considered a classified ascent - on another wide avenue.
A quick clatter through the most technical segment of racing on narrower streets and with a couple of trickier corners leaves the riders with five kilometres - just over half the entire distance - left to race.
Barring two sharp-ish left hand bends, this second part of the course is far less technical, running on wide, flat, painfully straight avenues before heading back towards the old part of town and the finale. From hereon, taking or losing time is a question of power rather than technique.
Two kilometres from the finish, there’s another fast downhill segment as Santiago Cathedral’s spires appear on the horizon. Sadly, the main body of the building is under repairs at the moment and covered in scaffolding. Then in the last 1,000 metres there is a long segment of Santiago pavé - broad, flat paving stones - that bring the riders along a narrow avenue into the finish at the Obradoiro square.
The question of who can win is a moot one: the weather is very unpredictable in this part of Spain, and after some very heavy rain showers this morning, the sky is still overcast. However, there are occasional rays of sunshine breaking through. Even though it’s not forecast to be windy, the changes of weather could make for very different race conditions between starters at different times over the four hours during which the time trial takes place.
On top of that, the two top time trial specialists, Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory) nor Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), have both left the race. And at the end of a three week race, when most riders are running dangerously close to zero, forecasting a winner will be an even tougher call.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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