Stage 8: Valls - Igualada
With a mere 2,618 metres of vertical gain, this stage between two towns that regularly feature on the Volta a Catalunya itinerary gives the sprinters a chance to return to the centre of the action. There is only one categorised climb all day, the second-category Puerto de Montserrat, topping out 27 kilometres from the finish.
From the start in Valls, home town of Xavier Tondo, who died in a tragic accident during a training camp at Sierra Nevada in 2011, the route sweeps north and east into the heart of Catalunya, rolling gently and then dropping towards the intermediate sprint at Sant Joan de Villatorada. Continuing south through Manresa, the riders will then climb up on to the Montserrat massif on the eponymous pass.
Averaging 6.6 per cent for its 7.4-kilometres, the Puerto de Montserrat is today's critical point. If the break can maintain a significant lead going over the top, it should survive to the finish. However, if the sprinters' teams can keep the deficit on the escapees in check and ensure their sprinters are in, or at least close to the peloton at the crest of this climb, a sprint contested by a large proportion looks more likely.
The run-in to Igualada is straight and flat. After sweeping around a right-hander going into the final kilometre, the course sweeps left with 400 metres remaining, then jinks past a roundabout and then it's heads down and elbows out all the way to the line.
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