Stage 7: Onda - Mas de la Costa
The Vuelta's reputation for conjuring up the spectacular is well founded, and here's another example of it with a finish that is sure to test the GC favourites and could well see one or two lose that status on the final ascent that's like four Murs de Huy soaring upwards one after another.
This impressive stage begins in an equally striking setting in the town of Onda with its castle of 300 towers. It sets out towards the Mediterranean coast, reaching it at Castellón de la Plana. After heading north to the resort of Benicasim, then returning southwards, it moves inland towards the first of five classified climbs, the third-category Puerto del Marianet. It quickly bumps over two more climbs, a second-cat and then another third-cat, and the rollercoaster ride continues as the stage heads into what should be a dramatic finale.
This commences with the ascent of the wonderfully named, second-category Puerto del Salto de Caballo – Horse Jump Pass. Although 10 kilometres in length, it's not particularly arduous, but the undulations continue on the approach to the extremely testing first-category climb of the Mas de la Costa.
Within a few hundred metres, this final test rears up to 22 per cent, settles back down very briefly, then steeples up once again, this time without any easier ramps on which a little recuperation might be possible. The next kilometre averages 15 per cent, the next two 12, with a final La Planche des Belles Filles-style kick up to the line at 17.5 per cent.
It's a finish for the Latin American mountain goats, the likes of Miguel Angel López, Esteban Chaves, Dani Martínez, Sergio Higuita and Giro d'Italia champion Richard Carapaz. Ineos's Wout Poels, once a winner on the abrupt slopes of the legendary Angliru, is arguably the old continent's best prospect.
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