Stage 19: Avila - Toledo
This stage linking the home cities of two of Spain's Tour de France winners, Carlos Sastre and Federico Bahamontes, won't suit the climbers hoping to emulate this illustrious pair by capturing a Grand Tour victory. Instead, it offers what is almost certainly a final chance of success to those teams who don't have a GC contender or an in-form sprinter to bag a stage win before the Vuelta finishes in Madrid in two days' time.
Beginning in the spectacular walled city of Ávila, where Sastre set up home having been brought up in nearby El Barraco, it heads south initially, crossing the only classified climb, the third-category Alto de la Paramera. Passing through El Barraco on the descent, the route drops down onto the huge plateau south of Madrid, the altitude barely changing as it heads through El Tiemblo and San Martín de Valdeiglesias.
Beyond Cenicientos, the route steps down again for the second half of the stage, remaining at an altitude of around 500 metres all the way into the finish in Toledo. Often by this point in the Vuelta, one sprinter will be dominating – last year it was Elia Viviani, the year before that Matteo Trentin – and the outcome of the stage will depend on how well disposed that rider and his team are to chasing the break. With no significant hurdles to negotiate and straight, wide roads all the way to the outskirts of Toledo, the pursuers should have an advantage over their quarry if they choose to commit.
Coming into the beautiful city of Toledo, things get more complicated as the route snakes around constantly, and particularly in the final two kilometres as it tracks the River Tagus and climbs into the old city, where there is a kilometre of cobbled road that twists and turns as it runs up to the finish.
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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