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While the Giro’s ethos was ‘to be more
humane’ and the Tour’s was ‘time trialists v climbers’ this year’s Vuelta is
all about climbing. With just over a week of racing gone, the riders in Spain’s grand tour find
themselves battling their second major summit finish on Saturday.
The 2012 Vuelta a España stays firmly in the north
of the country and organisers couldn’t resist their regular visit to Andorra on
stage 8. The small principality has the perfect parcours to test the GC
contenders and has been a firm feature in the Vuelta, most recently appearing
in 2010 and 2008.
Igor Ánton came up roses two years ago,
after chasing down Ezequiel Mosquera within the final 4km. He took hold of the
leader’s jersey, but crashed out two days later on the road to Burgos.
1965 saw the first venture into the
principality, which was won by Estebán Martín. This year’s route finishes in
Pal for only the second time in the race’s history. The stage starts in Lleida,
where 15 previous stages have started, and heads north.
While there are only two categorised
climbs, which both come in the final 20km, you would be mistaken in thinking
this is an easy day. The opening kilometres are relatively flat with only a few
minor bumps to contend with. But on the approach to the panoramic town of
Cubells things begin to get a little lumpier. The wide roads will make life a
little easier for the peloton and they can really put the pressure on any
The twisting nature of the roads could
still play into the hands of a break, as the peloton could lose visual contact
with them relatively easily.
At 150km the first climb of the day, Alto
de la Comella, rises up before them. The climb comes in two sections with a
small descent in the middle.
The first section is 4.35km with an average
gradient of 7.8 per cent. Just after the town of La Comella the peloton will
hit the ‘first summit’ and descend to La Plana for just over a kilometre. With
a further kilometre under their belt they will head skywards once more. While
not the toughest of terrain, it is harder than the first half of the climb,
peaking at 9.5 per cent in the opening kilometre.
After a 10km descent what remains of the
peloton will begin the final climb of Collada de la Gallina. Situated in the La
Massana parish, it forms part of the traditional Andorra summit finish. The
climb won’t hit the riders immediately as it eases them in at four per cent
before reaching 12 per cent. This isn’t a smooth ride up as the gradient is
ever changing. It will be difficult for riders to settle into a rhythm and
should be perfect for attacks from those looking to break their rivals. Just
before the 6km mark is the climb’s steepest section at a challenging 18 per
cent. The 11.8km climb will play a big role in shaking up the general
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