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Vuelta a España 2021: Stage 18 preview

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Profile stage 18 of 2021 Vuelta a España

Profile stage 18 of 2021 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Unipublic)
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Map stage 18 of 2021 Vuelta a España

Map stage 18 of 2021 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Unipublic)

Stage 18: Salas - Altu d'el Gamoniteiru

Date: September 2, 2021 

Distance: 162.6km 

Stage timing: 12:38 - 17:30 CEST

Stage type: Mountain

Vuelta a España stage 18 preview video

The organisers have pegged this stage as featuring “an elevation gain rarely seen before in La Vuelta”. Bearing in mind how tough the previous day’s racing will have been, there are sure to be some GC casualties at the summit of the Gamoniteiru, the Altu d’el Angliru’s near neighbour and equally intimidating twin, which sits high above the Altu de la Cobertoria pass.

From the start in Salas, the route heads south through Balmonte to reach La Riera, at the foot of the first climbing test, the first-category Puertu de San Llaurienzu (San Lorenzo), a regular feature on the Vuelta, including in the last two editions when Frenchmen Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën) in 2019 and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) in 2020 were first to the top. Extending to 10km and averaging 8.6 per cent, its western flank rises in steep steps, the first 3km averaging 11 per cent, followed by a brief respite, then another 3km at 11 per cent, a short easing, then a final kilometre at 10 per cent.

The descent away from the San Llaurienzu is more consistently steep and shoots down into the valley beyond, location of the intermediate sprint at Bárzana. Soon after, the riders will be on the early slopes of the first-category Cobertoria. Its western side isn’t as tough as the eastern flank, but is still pretty fearsome, averaging 8.6 per cent for its 7.9km, the gradient easier in its first half, then sticking to around 10 per cent in its second.

Once again, the descent is steep and fast. Down in the Caudal valley, the route follows the river downstream through Mieres to reach the northern side of the Altu del Cordal, another Vuelta favourite. It’s a second-category test from this side, averaging a mere 3.8 per cent for its 12.2km. The short descent, though, couldn’t be any more different. It’s steep, technical and very fast. It’s got a reputation for being dangerous too.

The road barrels down into Pola de Lena and onto the special-category Gamoniteiru, which averages an eye-watering 9.8 per cent for no less than 14.6km. Its first half rises to the Cobertoria, steeply for the most part, a stretch of 5km averaging 11.4 per cent, before some relief arrives approaching this pass. Now, though, the riders will reach the new section to the Gamoniteiru, the slope’s angle increasing the higher they climb until a final kilometre at 13 per cent and, just before the line, a ramp at 17. It’s going to be epic.

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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