Stage 20: Arenas de San Pedro - Plataforma de Gredos
The beautiful and often bypassed – by visitors as well as the Vuelta – mountain wilderness of the Sierra de Gredos is the setting for the final battleground. The stage should be a cracker, with half a dozen climbs on the itinerary, two of which featured in one of the most celebrated days of racing in the Vuelta's history, when Bernard Hinault, aided by Grand Tour debutant Laurent Fignon, torched race leader Julián Gorospe's hopes in 1983, with "The Badger" going on to claim his second victory in Spain's national tour.
From the start in Arenas de San Pedro, the riders will cover little more than a dozen kilometres before starting to climb. Ahead of them, there's barely any flat for the next 175 kilometres. First up is the first-category Puerto de Pedro Bernardo, long at 18.4km, but steady. Above it lies the nine-kilometre drag of the Puerto de Serranillos, where Fignon's pace-making put Gorospe into the red and Hinault finished him off, the Spaniard losing 20 minutes by the finish.
The Serranillos is rated second-category, as is the subsequent Alto de Navatalgordo, beyond which the route turns west to follow the northern edge of the Gredos massif. It follows a series of ups and downs, but more of the former, to reach the third-category Puerto de Chía, from which there's a long descent to the often very windy plateau on the northern side of the Gredos National Park.
Here, there are a dozen or so kilometres of flat road into Piedrahíta and the start of the 14-kilometre ascent of the Peña Negra, where Hinault's Renault team began their offensive in 1983. It's spectacular if the weather's clear and probably offers the best chance for unseating the race leader given its difficulty compared to the final third-category ascent to the line.
The Peña Negra delivers the riders back into the heart of the Gredos range and towards the final hurdle of the Plataforma de Gredos climb. Gentle to start with, it rises at around seven per cent over the closing 4km, with some double-digit sections in the final 500 metres.
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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