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Vuelta a España 2021: Stage 9 preview

Stage 9: Puerto Lumbreras - Alto de Velefique

Date: August 22, 2021 

Distance: 188km 

Stage timing: 11:55 - 17:30 CEST

Stage type: Mountain

Vuelta a España stage 9 preview video

The most mountainous stage of the Vuelta a España so far, the 188 kilometres between Puerto Lumbreras and the summit of the Vuelta’s first special-category climb, the Alto de Velefique, features around 4,500 metres of vertical gain, with the majority of the climbing packed into its final third.

Soon after the start, the race departs Murcia for Andalucia, running south-west through Huércal-Overa and on towards Líjar, where the first classified climb begins, the second-category Alto de Cuatro Vientos, which is little more than a couple of dozen kilometres from the top of the Velefique as the crow flies, but is still 110km away by the roundabout route the riders will be taking.

From the Cuatro Vientos, which lies to the east of the finish, the riders will loop right over to the Velefique’s western side, tracking northwards at the beginning, to Olula del Río and then Tijola, location of the intermediate sprint. Leaving this town, the stage’s most testing section begins, the riders climb first to the first-category Alto Collado Venta Luisa, which averages a benign 4.4 per cent but stretches for a whopping 29km, topping out at just under 2,000 metres.

The descent from the Venta Luisa is considerably shorter, but a good deal steeper and leads directly into the third-category climb of the Alto de Castro de Filabres. This is another long one, but rolls throughout its 20km, gaining only 500 metres in height over that time. This summit is a bonus point, the first three riders gaining eight, five and two seconds.

Once again, the descent is much steeper, dropping quickly to Velefique and the start of the final ascent. It first featured on the Vuelta route in 2004 and last appeared in 2017, when Romain Bardet led over the summit as the race headed for the nearby Calar Alto observatory. Extending to 13.2km, the Velefique averages 6.4 per cent, but its opening 4km are closer to 10 per cent, the gradient easing back thereafter to around six as the road climbs through a series of sweeping hairpins to the summit.

Race director Fernando Escartín has said this stage resembles the one in 2009 that finished on this same summit. Victory that day went to Ryder Hesjedal, the Canadian finishing a second clear of Spaniard David García. The gaps behind this pair weren’t substantial, the first dozen riders finishing within 28 seconds of each other.

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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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