Stage 4: Venlo - Lieja
Proycling's Analysis: It’s odd to see the Vuelta paying tribute to the northern Classics with this stage that takes in parts of the Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège routes. It’ll feel odd to a lot of the Spanish riders too, since many of them won’t have raced in these parts that often. The key points for the race’s longest stage are the two climbs of the Cauberg (its zenith is where Amstel concludes) and Mont Theux, which was once a regular Liège rendezvous. These should break up the race but still expect a big group to dispute the finish.
Culture Vulture: Liège will become the first city to host all three major tours when the Vuelta comes to town. The city thrived as one of the world’s major steel-making centres but the industry collapsed in the post-war period. Many Spaniards immigrated during this period in search of work.
Local hero: After winning the penultimate stage of the Giro then missing the Tour de France, Philippe Gilbert will be building up to the World Championships at the Vuelta. This stage will be a key one for him because he knows these roads better than anyone.
Vuelta Retro: Mont Theux played a notable role when the Tour de France visited Liège in 1995. Four-time champion Miguel Indurain attacked on the climb and only Belgian rider Johan Bruyneel could stay with him. Bruyneel hung on to win, commenting that trying to stay with the Spaniard had been “like riding behind a motorbike”.
Neil Stephens says: I initially thought it was like Liege-Bastogne-Liege until I went round some of the roads a couple of days ago; it's more like an Amstel Gold race. Very pretty, but it's up and down, left and right... what will happen will also depend on what the wind's doing. For a team like ours, riding for general classification, we'd like to win the Vuelta. Those four days in Holland and Belgium are where you could possibly lose it.
It's one of those typical days when you might lose a minute and a half and then you may well end up losing overall by that margin.
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