As has usually been the case in recent seasons when the Vuelta's route has tipped considerably towards climbers, the line-up of sprinting talent doesn't have much depth compared to the season's first two Grand Tours, and this stage through the mountains behind the Costa Blanca coast illustrates why. Even though it bumps up and down almost continually for 200 kilometres, it is one of the better opportunities for the small group of top-class sprinters who have made the trip.
Most of the riders in the peloton will be familiar with these roads thanks to the many pre-season training camps that take place around Calpe and Altea, and they'll know the categorised ascents well. Most of the climbing comes in opening half of the stage in the shape of the second-category Puerto de Confrides and third-category Alto de Benilloba, where riders from some of the smaller teams will be hoping to make an early splash by taking the best climber's jersey.
The riders will then head east and drop back to the coast for a first passage through the finish line with 45km remaining. Soon after, the sprinters have a chance to size each other up at an intermediate sprint, which leads almost directly onto the final climb, the Cumbre del Sol, which averages close to 10 per cent for three kilometres. Topping out just 24km from the line, this second-category test should thin the peloton out considerably, although any sprinters that aren't too far back should be able to work their way back up to the front on the fast drop back towards the coast.
On the back of three consecutive stage wins at the recent BinckBank Tour, Bora's Sam Bennett is the form sprinter and the man to beat. Fernando Gaviria's attempt to kickstart his injury-hit season with his UAE team looked to be on track at the Tour of Poland, and the Colombian should be another big name to watch for.
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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