The third and most decisive week of the 2018 Vuelta a España is set to repeat 2017's tried-and-tested formula and open with a medium-length individual time trial. After that, it's back to the mountains.
The individual time trial is set to take place in Torrelavega in the northern region of Cantabria, the hometown of Vicente Trueba, the Tour de France's first ever King of the Mountains winner, back in 1933, and also of three-time world champion Oscar Freire.
The 2018 Vuelta would therefore repeat its 2017 formula, when it opened up the third week of racing with a medium-length, mostly flat time trial in Logroño, won by Chris Froome (Team Sky) en route to his overall victory in Madrid.
Torrelavega's time trial, sandwiched between two mountaintop finishes in Asturias and the Basque Country's Monte Oiz, would be the last opportunity for the GC's non-climbing specialists. The city has already hosted two time trials in the Vuelta a España, one won by Santiago Botero in 2001, the other by Eddy Merckx en route to his sole Vuelta victory in 1973, a year when Merckx won five stages, the prologue, the intermediate sprints competition and the points jersey, as well as the overall.
Although officially under wraps until its presentation in Estepona on January 13, little by little, the 2018 Vuelta's route is becoming more widely known. An opening prologue in the southern seaport of Malaga will be followed by a return to El Caminito del Rey summit finish, where Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) took the leader's jersey and stage win in his breakthrough year of 2015.
The Vuelta a España is then expected to have its first major summit finish near Granada on stage four before diving briefly into Murcia, Alejandro Valverde's home region. A long overdue trek up Spain's western side then follows, with a stage finish at La Covatilla ski station, last visited in 2011 when Bradley Wiggins, final winner Juan Jose Cobo, and runner-up Chris Froome moved into pole position on the overall and Dan Martin won the stage.
After two hilly stages in Galicia, the Vuelta a España's toughest segment is expected to include an ascent of La Camperona, where retired Canadian rider Ryder Hesjedal won in 2014. The race will probably then head towards the Lagos de Covadonga summit finish, an emblematic mountain battleground in the Vuelta, probably immediately prior to the Torrelavega TT.
An ascent of the tough Monte Oiz ascent in the Basque Country is likely to follow on the Wednesday of the third week, with the mountain showdown expected in two very difficult days in Andorra, immediately prior to a lengthy transfer to Madrid. The Vuelta a España finishes on September 16.
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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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