Stage 9: Andorra la Vella - Cortals d'Encamp
The final stage before the first rest day takes place entirely in Andorra and will take the race above 2,000 metres for the first time at the summit finish of Cortals d'Encamp. Less than 100 kilometres in length, it has a similar look to the penultimate day of last year's race, won by Enric Mas as Simon Yates wrapped up the overall title. Although neither of those riders is in the field this year, this explosive test, featuring almost 3,400 metres of vertical gain, is sure to highlight the serious contenders to succeed the Briton as the Vuelta champion.
From the start in the capital, Andorra La Vella, the riders will immediately tackle the first-category Coll d'Ordino, although from the opposite flank to last year. Averaging just five per cent for its 9km, this is the easier side, a chance to fully heat up legs that will undoubtedly have already been well warmed on turbo trainers just prior to the start.
From the Ordino, the riders will sweep down through La Massana and Andorra La Vella to the other end of the little principality to climb the special-category Coll de la Gallina. This is a far harder test, more than eight per cent for its 12 kilometres, with long sections in double figures. After hurtling back down into the main valley and through the intermediate sprint at Santa Coloma, the second-category Alto de la Comella is up next. It's short at 4km, but not very sweet at an average of almost nine per cent.
The road drops for a mere 2km before ascending the next second-cat climb, the Alto de Engolasters, which is 5km at eight per cent. This leads onto a short plateau, where route director Fernando Escartín has unearthed a four-kilometre stretch of gravel road. Anyone suffering a mechanical issue here could be significantly penalised as this sterrato leads straight onto the final ascent, which kicks off with two kilometres close to 11 per cent, before easing over the closing 3.7km that carry it above the 2,000-mark to the line.
There is still plenty of time to regain any small losses incurred here, but this unrelenting mountain stage is sure to finish off the GC hopes of some hopefuls.
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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