This stage will highlight much of the best of the País Vasco, especially in its final moments in and around Bilbao, where three third-category climbs are sure to be packed with Basque fans, the last of these hills leading into the heart of the port city passing Athletic Bilbao's famous San Mames football stadium to finish a stone's throw away from the iconic and quite unforgettable silver curves of the Guggenheim Museum.
Starting at the Circuito de Navarra motor-racing venue that has become a regular haunt for the race, the route heads north-west across Navarra, crossing the third-category Alto de Azázeta to reach Vitoria-Gasteiz. Beyond Otxandio, the route drops from the high plains towards the coast, running initially to the east of Bilbao to tackle the first of that closing triptych of climbs, the Alto de Urrutzimendi, 2.5km at more than nine per cent.
After descending quickly off it, the riders will soon be climbing again, now on the Alto de Vivero, the highest and longest of these hills, averaging close to eight per cent for more than 4km. This descent is longer and leads into the centre of Bilbao for the intermediate sprint, which is immediately followed by the savage Alto de Arraiz, which averages a shade over 12 per cent for its 2.2-kilometre length.
Cresting that final ascent with 10 kilometres to the line, the course drops back into Bilbao, the road twisting its way down to the line, giving any riders who are clear at the front every chance of contesting victory between them. The likelihood is that they will come from a breakaway that forms early and is not chased down by a peloton where the GC teams will be thinking ahead to tomorrow's far more testing mountain stage.
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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